THE BLOG
12/11/2013 11:39 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

We Just Dumped a Bag of Money on a Congressman -- Here's Why

Congressman Jim Himes has drawn the ire of a budding American anti-corruption movement. Not because he broke any laws, but for something astonishingly legal: he let lobbyists for his top donor, CitiGroup, write their own Wall Street-friendly bill, and led it to passage in the U.S. House over the last month.

So, at a town hall meeting in Hartford, CT, an anti-corruption activist upended a briefcase full of money on Rep. Himes to show Congress exactly how this kind of corruption looks from where The People are standing.

Rep. Himes first caught our attention when he co-sponsored and helped push a bill called H.R. 992 through the House. The bill would further deregulate derivatives, a financial instrument that played a major role in the 2008 crisis. The White House and Senate are opposed to the bill, but a Wall Street-friendly group of Congressional Democrats is doing their best to change that.

As an anti-corruption advocate, I don't have a position on derivatives trading. What I do have a position on is corruption, and H.R. 992 is a textbook case of the way corruption has turned the People's House into an auction house.

An investigation by the New York Times revealed that H.R. 992 was written by big bank lobbyists: 70 of the 85 lines in H.R. 992 were written by lobbyists for CitiGroup. As it so happens, Jim Himes has received more money from CitiGroup than any other member of Congress. In fact, the only politicians who received more money from CitiGroup in the 2012 election cycle were Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. 7 of the top 10 interests funding Jim Himes' campaign committee and leadership PAC were financial services institutions.

The Congressman who co-sponsored and aggressively campaigned for a bill written by big bank lobbyists is completely dependent on those same banks to get reelected. Jim Himes also sits on the House Financial Services committee, and is the fundraiser-in-chief for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). He's supposed to regulate the financial sector, and instead he's letting their lobbyists write our laws. It's flagrantly corrupt, and astonishingly legal.

To be fair, Mr. Himes isn't the only one at fault here. H.R. 992's primary sponsor and eight co-sponsors received, on average, almost 17 times more money from Citigroup than other members of the House. This is the new face of corruption in the United States: What used to be a shoebox full of unmarked bills has been replaced with a handful of checks from a lobbyist. The nature of corruption has evolved, and our laws have failed to evolve with it.

Why? Because up until now, the movement to combat the corrosive influence of money in politics has failed to hold politicians like Jim Himes to account. "I won't dispute for one second the problems of a system that demands immense amounts of fund-raisers by its legislators" Himes told the New York Times when asked about concerns over special interest influence. "It's appalling, it's disgusting, it's wasteful and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption. It's unfortunately the world we live in."

This is why I'm highlighting Congressman Himes: Because he knows exactly what he's doing. Given his role at the DCCC, he's in a unique position to understand how the never ending chase for campaign cash warps the legislative agenda. He recognizes what happens every single day in Washington as conflicts of interest and corruption, and he's content to go along with it because that's "just the world we live in." As if only he were in a position of power, he could do something about it. That guy should really run for Congress.

High-profile critics of efforts to limit money in politics like Senator Mitch McConnell draw a lot of attention from reform advocates, and rightfully so. But equally at fault is every Member of Congress who fails to make real anti-corruption reforms a top priority while our Republic is bought out from under us.

Politicians like Jim Himes love to pay lip service to transparency and accountability, and If you bring up money in politics, they'll feed you some variation of the go-to line: "believe me, no one is more disgusted with this system than I am, but that's how our system works." But those politicians are usually the first ones to turn around and enthusiastically work that same system to stay in office for as long as possible rather than risk losing their seat trying to change something they all know is terrible.

Political figures shouldn't expect a pat on the head for pointing out a problem that the rest America is already well aware of -- We need leaders who actively fight for solutions. If politicians like Jim Himes really want to do something about the corruption they claim to find so appalling, they should start by looking in the mirror.