With the merry-go-round of Senate hearings and the whirlwind NBA Finals, you might have had a busy week. You could be thinking to yourself, “Gosh, I’ve just been so focused on weighing the morality of Kevin Durant – I wonder if I missed any stories about corruption this week.” Fear not, Represent.Us readers: we wouldn’t let you miss out on hearing how people are manipulating our political system for their own gain.
Here’s a peek at our favorite stories from the past week. Get your chamomile tea ready to calm you down – these’ll definitely piss you off.
This drugmaker is abusing the opioid epidemic to get rich.
A drug company is increasing their profits by lobbying legislatures, attacking other treatments and promoting the use of their own medication to fight opioid addiction.
As opioid overdoses rise across the nation, lawmakers are on the hunt for ways to combat the public health crisis. In a detailed investigation, NPR and Side Effects Public Media found that one drug company, Akermes, has pursued an aggressive lobbying campaign at the state and federal levels to build support for its addiction treatment medication, Vivitrol, “while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.” Their efforts have been effective. Fifteen states now have bills or laws that feature the drug’s name or specific characterization, often at the expense of other treatments.
The bottom line: Lobbyists have incredible power over legislatures around the country. As we’ve written before, one of the most effective weapons in their arsenal is to write bills themselves that directly benefit their clients and hand them off to the legislators that make them law.
In upstate New York, lawmaker reveals 25,000% return on investment for political contributions
A Dutchess County lawmaker reveals years of political contributions that have netted $38.9 million for government contractors.
Democrats in Dutchess County, New York, report that county Republicans have blocked legislation that would limit campaign contributions for their own benefit. No wonder: Assistant Minority Leader Francena Amparo “pointed to public records that showed the county Republican Committee accepted $151,685 in contributions over the last six years from the same 23 companies that received $38.9 million in contracts with the county over the same period,” according to the Mid-Hudson News. For those companies, that’s a return on investment of more than 25,000 percent.
The bottom line: By giving to campaigns and PACs, companies often win favor with the politicians who can give them massive government contracts. It’s cases like these that show the need for real limits on the kinds of political contributions these entities can make.
D.C. Mayor under fire for illegal campaign contributions
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was fined $13,000 for illegal campaign contributions, including donations from a property management company with more than 1,000 housing code violations.
With all the focus on the White House, it’s easy to overlook Washington’s local campaign finance issues. Here’s a big one: after pressure from good-government groups, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance loaded $13,000 in penalties on current mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign fund, which had accepted more than $11,000 in donations that exceeded legal limits. According to the Washington Post, much of the cash came from the housing industry, including Sanford Capital, “a landlord that her administration has since been slow to fine for more than 1,000 housing-code violations.” The company reportedly could pay more than $500,000 in penalties, “even as it receives millions in taxpayer subsidies.”
The bottom line:Contribution limits only matter if they’re enforced. Without serious penalties, campaigns will continue to skirt the law to take cash from the types of companies who’d like official eyes to look elsewhere.
Representatives make health stock trades while considering health bills
Two members of New Jersey’s U.S. congressional delegation were trading health company stocks while considering the biggest health care change in years.
The fight over the future of American health care may not be good politics, but it might be good business. New Jersey Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen and Tom MacArthur both made substantial health stock trades while Obamacare repeal bills were under consideration, NJ.com reports. Frelinghuysen, who initially opposed the GOP replacement bill but eventually voted for it, apparently offloaded shares in a health company when they were at their most lucrative. MacArthur, on the other hand, “bought as much as $800,000 in stock in health care companies this year,” according to the report.
The bottom line: After a much-publicized scandal a few years ago, members of Congress and their staff were banned from using inside knowledge to enrich themselves on the stock market. The problem is with enforcement, which still remains spotty, leaving room for representatives to make money off the industries they oversee.
Have a hot story you want to see in next week’s roundup? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org