Red flags for Congress and COVID aid
What some have described as a “citizen legislature” approach to governance in the United States means that the overwhelming majority of members of Congress have private business interests. Inevitably, some of what they do affects their personal finances.
Quite a few of them have benefited from massive programs meant to curb damage to the economy from business and social restrictions linked to the COVID-19 crisis.
At least a dozen lawmakers are linked to companies and organizations that received money through the Paycheck Protection Program, The Associated Press reports. The PPP is a $659 billion initiative aimed at providing the private sector with funds it can use to keep on the payroll employees who otherwise would have been laid off due to COVID-19 slowdowns and shutdowns. It has helped millions of working men and women.
It also has been good for their employers.
Last week, the government released some details on recipients of PPP funds. High-profile beneficiaries included a hotel owned in part by the husband of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Also, a shipping business owned by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family received PPP aid. Her husband is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Several other lawmakers have links to firms and organizations that received PPP money.
In addition, business interests linked to a number of governors have landed help from the PPP.
Is all that evidence of widespread corruption in government?
Of course not. Government has become such a pervasive part of the economy that it would be surprising if local, state and federal funds often did not benefit office holders.
But, especially when high-ranking officials are involved, oversight is essential to ensure wrongdoing did not occur.
There are two keys to such monitoring:
One is whether insider information was utilized, as has been alleged regarding a few members of Congress and stock trading in the epidemic’s initial stages. Profiting from information not available to the general public is wrong — and illegal in most cases.
Another red flag is intervention. When public officials use their power and influence to steer public funds to personal interests, wrongdoing occurs.
Clearly, federal watchdogs need to look into each and every case in which lawmakers or others in government benefited from PPP spending.
If wrongdoing occurred, those responsible should be punished as severely as permitted under the law.