I’m sure most of you have thought about why so many elected officials have a net worth that is far above the average American citizen. Their annual salaries aren’t overly large when you consider the cost of living in Washington DC and travel and other expenses. I imagine that some of you have a suspicion why that is.
Take Bernie Sanders. He has been a public office holder for most of his life, yet he is a millionaire. Then there is Joe Biden, who has also been in public office for decades. How about Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Barack and Michelle Obama. The answer is that wealthy donors and lobbyists find ways to enrich our public officials if they vote in a particular way, or write favorable executive orders, or issue “desirable” pardons.
Of course, there are public officials in both parties who engage in corrupt behavior to enrich themselves and their family members. Having read about it, I can’t see how it can be stopped. The corruption exists from the top to the bottom of our Federal government. From Schweizer’s previous book, Secret Empires:
Many D.C. lobbying firms spend lavishly on politicians’ family members. Back in 2012, the Washington Post reported that “more than 500 firms have spent more than $400 million on lobbying teams that include the relatives of members [of the House and Senate].”
Many elected officials see public office as a business enterprise, with family members orbiting around them, positioned to strike lucrative deals with foreign and American entities eager to curry favor from the powerful. In this charade of public service, bloodlines grow wealthy at the expense of public policy and the American public takes a backseat to the highest bidder.
There are many stories Schweizer tells about how family and friends have benefitted from their relationships with Congressmen, Senators and Presidents.
There is a long and enlightening story about Barack Obama’s special friend from Chicago, Marty Nesbitt, and how he profitted financially because of his special relationship with the President. Nesbitt is so close to the Obamas that he and his family vacationed with them every year in Hawaii, and Nesbitt visited the White House without having to schedule appointments. He and Barack golfed together and stayed together at Camp David.
The short version of the story is that Nesbitt formed a company, Vistria, that invested in highly regulated industries. When the Obama administration would go after a certain industry, the value of the targeted businesses would drop, and Vistria would buy them up. Schweizer explains:
A curious pattern began to emerge. Obama and his administration would attack industries with government power, which led to substantially lower valuations for these companies. Nesbitt and Vistria, or others close to Obama, could then acquire those assets for pennies on the dollar.
The Obama administration had several industries in their crosshairs, deeming them destructive to the environment or exploitative of people. Industries such as coal mining, offshore energy companies, cash advance companies, and for-profit colleges became targets for litigation, regulatory squeeze, or denial of access to government services or funds. A circle of investors including Vistria and others linked to Obama would consistently purchase companies in these sectors once their valuations dropped under the government onslaught.
Schweizer, Peter. Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends
And that is just one example.