As politicians, we all confront the same daunting challenge: How to wash our dirty bribe money clean?
It can be a vexing situation. Regardless of whether you’re Republican or Democrat, represent a rural state like Wyoming or an urban powerhouse like New York, or serve as a first-term senator like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or an incumbent like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
We all have to find a way to camouflage the deluge of Wall Street payoffs enriching us, without losing credibility with the gullible American voters who still think we represent them. This challenge is not the moral question some idealists make it out to be, because we all know that if we don’t sell our political influence to the highest bidder someone else will.
The painful truth is that “honesty is not the best policy” in America’s current pay-to-play political system. Instead, it’s the quickest and surest way to find oneself facing a well funded challenger backed by ruthless Wall Street multinationals.
Meaning, we’re really the biggest potential victims here as public servants. That means we have to take steps to protect ourselves in a political system that forces us to play dirty.
Former President Teddy Roosevelt said it best: “When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty.’”
Luckily, political scientists in both parties have been pioneering innovative new methods for political corruption which endeavor to address this dilemma by reducing our exposure to an embarrassing and inconvenient criminal prosecution. They’re also doing so with much the same degree of success as the architects of synthetic investment vehicles on Wall Street.
They’ve come up with everything from the excessive speaking fees of Bill and Hillary Clinton to the presidential expense padding of President Donald Trump.
More traditional methods still work, too. Like seats on corporate boards, foreign junkets and gifts of overseas real estate.
However, accepting a straight up payoff from a willing confederate in the private sector is just as ill advised today as it was during The Gilded Age, which preceded the Great Depression. Especially when the money can be tracked back to the donor.
It’s not just a bad idea because it’s illegal, but because once you commit such a crime the other party owns you until they expose you.
With that in mind, here are six of the best ways to wash your dirty political money clean without exposing yourself to accountability.
1) Excessive speaking fees
Bill and Hillary Clinton pioneered this method for accepting bribes, which they’ve used to take in more than $153 million since 2001. Most if it from big banks.
The banks don’t need to pay $250,000 for a speech. They choose to pay the Clintons that much.
Before the Clintons, the cost of a presidential speech typically ranged from $50,000 a shot for Jimmy Carter to $110,000 for George W. Bush. By offering higher fees to those seeking to purchase their influence, this political power couple was able to conceal outright bribes that would otherwise have been illegal. With zero exposure to criminal prosecution.
President Barack Obama was so envious of the windfalls generated via these bank speaking fees, that one of his first moves after leaving office was to work out a $400,000 payday from the Wall Street trading firm of Cantor Fitzgerald next month.
Why would Cantor pay so much for a speech by someone who is no longer in office?
What better way to tell future presidents where their wealth is going to come from.
So, why would the self-styled savior of America’s faltering middle class toss the masses to the curb for an audience of Predatory 1 Percenters?
Because that’s what being a professional politician in Washington, D.C. is really all about. Obama said as much before winning the presidency. As a senator, he fretted about losing touch with everyday Americans in 2006 as a consequence of his political fund-raising, and becoming more like his wealthy political donors.
“I spent more and more of my time above the fray,” he said. “Outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship (of the) people that I’d entered public life to serve.”
We should all be so lucky.
2) Padding Presidential Expenses
President Donald Trump is elevating this tried and true method of Treasury pilferage to new levels as we speak. By conducting much of his daily business at the 17 golf courses he owns, instead of The White House, Trump is drumming up huge pay days from the Secret Service charged with protecting him.
The 55 golf travel bills from Trump’s first six months in office amount to a staggering $61.8 million. The projected cost to the federal government for eight years of Trump golfing and golf club visits – he doesn’t even play most of the time – is about $960 million at this pace. That’s more than 10 times the $87 million spent by his predecessor.
The charges cover everything from club sandwiches to golf cart rentals. The tab for golf carts alone is already at $60,000 and could easily reach $960,000 by the time he leaves office, provided Trump wins re-election.
3) Insider trading tips
Congress has given themselves an exemption from the laws against insider trading. This loophole means CEOs can bribe you with timely stock tips. It’s a veritable license to print money.
All a CEO or lobbyist has to do is tell you whether their company exceeded its quarterly earnings target or fell short. You can make money either way, by purchasing shares ahead of the company’s subsequent earnings announcement or shorting them.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has led the way in utilizing this two-handed money grabbing style. It’s helped her parlay her career in public service into a $89 million fortune.
4) Bogus Charitable Donations
Ever wonder why your fellow politicians all seem to have charities now?
It’s not because there are no legitimate charities worthy of our support. It’s because charities are a great way for foreign interests – like Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and Israel – to influence American politics.
The nice thing about having a charity is you can employ your kids there, as well as those of your closest supporters. Afterall, the labor market is brutal right now. Just not for those of us in the 1 Percent. Right?
You can direct a charity’s expenditures just about any way you like, including toward fellow politicians and political action committees. With very little criminal exposure.
What’s the Internal Revenue Service gonna do: Audit your charity?
I don’t think so. Not when you control their appropriations each year.
By the way, political action committees enjoy the same tax free status as charities now. Thanks to another loophole your colleagues carved in the tax code.
The Saudis have funneled more than $1.47 billion to the Bush family, according to Salon. Including millions through their charities.
Which explains why Job No. 1 for Geedub was chartering a plane to fly Saudi royal family members home from the U.S. after the World Trade Center was destroyed by their countrymen on Sept. 11, 2001.
What’s it all mean?
Bon appetit player.
5) Low-show jobs for politicians’ kids and friends
With Wall Street’s cooperation, we now have a new bribery camouflage alternative. This one comes courtesy of our own spoiled kids.
Why keep giving them an allowance at 35, when you can snag them a bogus job at a place like MSNBC?
The Comcast Holdings subsidiary has provided national correspondent positions to a number of political kids in recent years, including Chelsea Clinton, Meghan McCain and Jenna Hager Bush. Neither relevant experience nor education is required.
The upside to a low-show job in the nation’s neutered news media is that it’s not like silver spoons are actually expected to work or are paid normal wages. Instead, they receive inflated salaries and are asked to perform almost no work to justify that income.
Basically, they get paid to play dress up and sit at a desk for a few hours each week.
Even better, the kids don’t need to know what fakes they are. They can view themselves as intelligent and productive members of society for a change, even if they are as dumb as a bag of hammers and as sheltered as a virgin keeping the books in a Bangkok brothel.
The downside is that they may actually try to produce a story at some point, which may not be a good idea if they don’t realize how sheltered they are from the real world.
For example, Chelsea made a fool of herself when she rolled out a hard-hitting investigative series on vegetarian dining trends.
The good news?
She still thinks it was good work.
6) Presidential libraries
This kind of scam only works after you leave office. Saudi princes love the setup and have donated more than $10 million each to the presidential libraries of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Why should Saudi Arabia – home to both Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 – care whether our presidents have libraries after they leave office?
They don’t. What they do care about is ensuring that future presidents know who they really work for.
Victor Epstein is a journalism lifer who has begun resorting to satire to educate voters in recent years. This lifelong government adversary is a former member of the White House Correspondents Association and a former staff writer with Bloomberg News, The Associated Press and Gannett News Service. He will not be adapting to the current climate of gutless journalism any time soon.