Monday, September 19, 2011

Full Disclosure

Instead of working to solve the nation's financial problems, Congress appointed a “super” committee to study the issue. Who did they put on the super committee? Super people, of course. Well, at least not ordinary people. They would have a hard time appointing ordinary people, because more than half of all congresspeople are worth at least a million dollars. Compare that to the wealth of an average American. Only about one percent of the U.S. population is worth that much. John Kerry, one of the members of the super committee, is worth, by his account, more than 167 million dollars. He may be the wealthiest member of the committee. Republican Senator Max Baucus claims that he isn't worth anything. It's a hard claim to dispute, but if it was true, he probably wouldn't be able to rent an apartment without putting up several month's rent in advance, which he wouldn't have.

The reports about congresspeople's incomes and assets are designed to allow them to give us very incomplete information. For example, although the reports are supposed to show what a congressperson's assets are, the congresspeople don't have to include the value of their homes. Since a personal residence is the largest asset that most people have, this is a very peculiar exclusion. It means that what are probably some congresspeople's biggest assets can be entirely ignored. And on top of that, congresspeople don't have to disclose the value of vacation homes if they have them. Or multiple vacation homes. There is no limit to how many properties a congressperson can own without having to disclose any of them.

Congresspeople are also allowed to exclude almost everything else that they own other than investments. They can have antiques, art collections, even vaults filled with jewels and gold bullion, and nobody ever finds out about it.

Even if the reports were complete, they wouldn't be of much use, because almost no effort is made to insure that the reports are accurate. The congresspeople aren't required to file any proof that the figures they put on the reports are true, and once the reports are filed by the congresspeople, they are never verified, checked, or audited. They are just filed away and that's that. If you try to open a checking account, you have to give more complete information than the congresspeople have to, and if the information can't be verified, the bank won't open the account and you'll have to pay your bills with coins and paper money. Oh, I forgot, you won't have any bills, because no one will let you charge anything until you disclose your financial situation and pass a credit check.

The personal financial disclosures that congresspeople make are, like the information that congresspeople have to provide about their campaign contributors, not as informative as they are supposed to appear to be. Did you ever wonder why so many of the big contributors to campaigns are listed simply as “housewife” or “retired?”

Of course, none of this matters much. The Supreme Court has destroyed campaign finance limitations, and people have grown numb to the influence of money on elections. Dick Cheney got away with funneling billions to his own company. Obama got elected despite revelations about his shady real estate deals. The slimy, sleazy connections between money and politics are accepted as “just the way things are.”

If anyone expects the super committee to come up with solutions to our financial problems, they ought to consider that the solution these congresspeople came up with for their own problems was to let money flow into their pockets without any meaningful scrutiny. Super.

1 comment:

  1. And if John Kerry is willing to disclose that he is worth 167 million, how many more millions is he 'hiding' in homes/vacation condos/Heinz stock?