How Many GOP House Members Are Mired in Conflicts of Interest? No One Knows

March 12, 2021
In The News

After Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program last year, pumping billions of dollars into small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic, reports surfaced that sizable chunks of that money went right back into the pockets of Congress. A slew of members, many of them already wealthy, received millions in federal aid for their personal businesses ventures under the auspices of job-saving. That reanimated debate about a longstanding, conflict of interest entrenched within the legislative branch: Members of Congress can hold positions in for-profit corporations while officially serving their constituents in Washington. Senate ethics rules address this conflict —but the House does not.... Currently, a significant pressure campaign — both within and outside Congress — is demanding greater accountability and transparency in the legislature. One major step forward is contained within H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, an omnibus political reform bill which, among other things, would overhaul campaign finance and ethical rules for both the Senate and the House. “H.R. 1 will set a new tone in Washington and usher in an era of greater political transparency and accountability,” sponsor Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., told Salon. “It will help ensure that members of Congress put the public interest first — not their personal financial interests or wealthy and well-connected special interests. Chief among these new ethical standards will be a ban that precludes members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards....” While the bill is decidedly imperfect, it has strong support from law and public policy organizations, which have hailed it as a solid first step. “Historically, Congress has exempted itself from a fair number of ethics and accountability and transparency laws that it's applied to the executive branch,” said Martha Kinsella, counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. “For instance, Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. There has been some movement over the years to change that double standard, and the ethics provisions in H.R. 1 are a big step forward.”