As Eric Lipton recently explained in The Times, Financial Services has become known as “the cash committee” because interest groups donate more money to its members than to those of any other House committee. More than $10 million has been given to its members just this year, and most of it has come from the big names the committee oversees. Contributors included employees of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, the Credit Union National Association, the Investment Company Institute, Wells Fargo and many of the biggest accounting firms and insurance companies.
Committee members don’t seem particularly ashamed of the favors they do for those providing the cash. Andy Barr, a freshman Republican from Kentucky, promised to protect a tax break worth $500 million to credit unions. (They gave him $15,000.) And he introduced a bill that would allow banks to give mortgages to people who cannot afford them, undoing a federal rule at the request of the big banks’ lobbyists. (Banks have given him at least $47,000.)
That’s a lot of money for a little-known freshman. In fact, the $150,000 he has taken in from the financial sector in the last six months is almost as much as those interests gave Speaker John Boehner and other leaders. It’s the banks’ way of saying, welcome to the committee and our culture, we hope we can continue to do business. “We make an investment, and we are hopeful that investment produces a return,” an industry lobbyist told Mr. Lipton.
Many Democrats on the panel are just as eager to join the feeding line, but the biggest hypocrites are the Tea Party members who claim to be populists. Tom Cotton, a rising Republican on the committee from Arkansas, recently announced that he would run for the Senate next year because he was sick of seeing favors handed out “to the politically connected and the crony capitalists who bend the power of government for their own private gain.” But that didn’t stop him from accepting $381,000 so far this year from political action committees, mostly from finance and insurance interests with business before his panel.
The sleazy flow of cash cries out for a public financing system for Congressional elections that would give more power to small donors, along the lines of the Empowering Citizens Act, introduced by two Democrats, David Price of North Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. But the bill, opposed by Republicans, is going nowhere. At a minimum, committee members should be required to disclose every time they vote on an issue that affects donors from which they have accepted campaign cash. Voters, at least, should know why their lawmakers are so eager to make friends with the banks.