As health care reform dominates the news, we’re here to point you to the important stories you might have missed from around the country. Here’s your weekly corruption rundown.

Sec. Price spends $300,000 on private travel


In a departure from the status quo, the secretary chartered twenty-four private flights since May.

Another week, another Cabinet member taking expensive flights for less than obvious reasons. This time, it’s Department of Health and Human Services head Tom Price, who has flown at least 24 times on private flights since May to the tune of at least $300,000. Who picks up the tab? Taxpayers.

Previous secretaries of the department have almost exclusively avoided flying private, noting that past trips were canceled if they involved non-commercial travel. If you have some time, spare a minute to read POLITICO’s thorough refutation of the department’s boilerplate justification – “When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel” – in which reporters found several suitable commercial options to and from Philadelphia.

The bottom line: Private jets cost the taxpayers significantly more and can represent a serious misuse of public funds and the public office. That’s why federal guidelines ask government officials to fly commercial whenever possible.

Michigan candidates can now raise as much money as they want for “independent” super PACs


New legislation, signed Wednesday, could offer an effective workaround to campaign contribution limits.

The Wild Wild Midwest? Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation earlier this week that could profoundly change the landscape of elections in Michigan. Now, state candidates will have the power to raise unlimited contributions on behalf of independent expenditure committees – entities akin to super PACs. As on the federal level, these groups can raise and spend as much money as they please, provided they don’t coordinate with candidates about how they use the cash. Snyder praised the laws for putting the state in-line with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, but opponents note that allowing candidates to raise unlimited sums for these committees effectively neutralizes campaign contribution limits. Consider this scenario: you’re at a candidate’s event in Detroit, ready to cut a check. You could either send a limited amount to the campaign itself, or give as much money as you want to the candidate’s super PAC of choice, which can then use the cash to fund an ad backing the candidate (so long as they don’t talk to each other about it). Which check do you think is going to get the candidate’s attention?

The bottom line: It’s difficult to overstate the gravity of the change. This law absolutely has the power to open the floodgates of money into Michigan’s elections, with candidates shuttling cash to favored committees, unbound by dollar limits. And more states may follow suit.

Industry pressure helped defeat a Florida bill that would have mandated emergency A/C for nursing homes


Nine seniors died in a nursing home after air conditioning failed during Hurricane Irma.

Following a destructive hurricane in 2005, Florida legislators worked on legislation that would have required nursing homes to install generators to power air conditioning in the event of an emergency. As the Miami Herald reported, the efforts ultimately failed in the face of elder care industry pressure and a compromise bill to reimburse facilities for half the cost of upgrading their systems sputtered out. State regulators at the time were also less keen on generator improvements than they were on building out evacuation procedures. When Hurricane Irma struck the state earlier this month, nine residents died following a power outage and cooling system failure at a South Florida nursing home that lacked emergency air conditioning. Causes of death remain under investigation.

The bottom line: There’s no guarantee that the bills in question would have saved the lives of these seniors, but the tragedy serves as a sobering reminder of the dominant role interest groups play in crafting critical policies.

Money has come to control American elections, politics, and government


A New York Times opinion piece places America’s obsession with political money in a global context.

Finally, an opinion piece ran in the New York Times this week that nicely illustrates how the concentration of money in the nation’s political system breeds corruption and leads Americans to believe their voices aren’t heard. As Represent.Us has long held, there’s more to corruption than quid pro quo dealing. A considerable chunk of the problem lies in the nonstop influence-chasing that envelops our system of government, with billions spent lobbying officials and a fundraising cycle that never stops. That stands in contrast with countries around the world, the article notes, and while those systems are far from devoid of issues of their own, the money swirling around our politics sets us apart.

The bottom line: Effectively combatting corruption around the country requires dealing with the fundamental influence issues that undergird the political system. There’s no easy way around it.

And with that, we’ve come to the end of another rundown. Feel free to send any corruption stories that catch your eye to jnoland@represent.us.

About Jack Noland
Jack Noland has written about and reported on money in politics since 2015. He joins Represent.Us after earning a B.A. at George Washington University, where he studied political science and creative writing.
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