Blurting It Out: No Ethics Here
Terry H. Schwadron
April 26, 2018
Remember Donald Trump promising to “drain the swamp,” and, upon office, immediately moving to issue an executive order aimed at keeping those who depart from the White House or federal service from becoming lobbyists within five years?
The idea was that entrenched interests, lobbyists in other words, have too much influence. Trump, said Trump, needed no money because he is a billionaire, and so, lobbyists beware. Indeed, the president promised that his White House would be influence-free.
Well, obviously it hasn’t worked out this way. The National Rifle Assn. meets with the president to guide any potential post-massacre gun legislation away from gun owners. The Cabinet itself is filled with people who come from the world where they expect to call the White House and get action. The president, and certainly his Cabinet officers, meet regurlarly with industry and business leaders.
This week we heard a remarkable statement on all this from Mike Mulvaney, the president’s budget director who also has taken over control to lessen the effectiveness of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, met with lobbyists and executives from the banking industry, promising further steps to gut regulations to prevent them from cheating customers.
More to the point, Mulvaney asked the 1,300 executives and lobbyists at the American Bankers Association to donate more money, and told them the more they donated, the more influence they would have. He said that as a congressman from South Carolina, he talked only to lobbyists who paid him, saying,“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”
New York Magazinecommented, “The levels of corruption in this administration are simply staggering, and they range from open self-enrichment to openly selling policy to the highest bidder. The completely accurate sense that Trump and his party are out to get themselves and their friends rich is the administration’s gaping vulnerability. What’s especially odd is that nobody in the administration seems to have taken even cursory steps to address or paper over this weakness. They’re all just grabbing as much cash for themselves and their allies as they can, while they can.”
Now realistically, it seems the most basic building block of ethics in politics that the people who pay into your campaign do so thinking that their views will matter to the candidate. Politics, after all, is money. And most members of Congress probably spend most of their time in office preparing for the next election by making constant fund-raising calls to take on increasingly expensive campaigns for re-election.
But even by those standards, Mulvaney’s remarks seem right at the edge of what is legal.
The United States just prosecuted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), unsuccessfully as it turned out, for accepting gifts in the form of trips and vacations from a donor. What’s the difference with what Mulvaney is now promoting as a benefit in office? Former Republican Virginia Gov. Robert McDonell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted on most counts of an indictment of similar gift-acceptance for gubernatorial attention before the charges were dropped on appeal.
Why have ethics and ethical behavior simply been pushed to the side of the road?
While in Mar-o-Lago, Trump went out of his way to promote the value of the property, saying that foreign leaders are clamoring for the chance to meet him at his palatial Florida home and golf course, a naked plea for more business. White House visitors in Washington are routed to the Trump-owned hotel. Trump has spent more than a third of his days in office at Trump-owned properties, with Secret Service and other federal employees paying for the privilege of doing their jobs.
New York Magazine quoted campaigner Trump as saying, “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.” The magazine said, “To the extent that Trump’s candidacy offered any positive appeal, as opposed to simple loathing for his opponent, this was it. He was a brilliant businessman, or at least starred in a television show as one, and he would set aside his lifelong pursuit of wealth to selflessly serve the greater good.”
“Mulvaney didn’t offer this as a sad concession to reality but an actual principle of governance he had personally abided,” notes New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait. “People in government might have always given their donors more influence over their decisions, but they at least pretended that was not the case in public. The Trump administration is not even bothering to put up a facade. . . The completely accurate sense that Trump and his party are out to get themselves and their friends rich is the administration’s gaping vulnerability.”
How about: Make America Honest Again.