As anniversaries go, the tenth is called the “Tin Anniversary.” That might not sound like the most romantic metal, but it’s always a milestone and a great reason to look back at how far you’ve come.
May marks the tenth anniversary of the Government Accountability Institute, and on the latest episode of the Drill Down podcast, co-hosts Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers cast a backward glance – not a sentimental journey about GAI – but about how the tricks used by corrupt politicians have evolved since GAI started investigating it in 2012. The crooks have gotten craftier. The deals are better hidden. The beneficiaries are one or even two steps removed from “the big guy,” and the paper trail is thinner and harder to follow.
So naturally, we start with rats. Scientists have learned that rats are endlessly adaptable to different environments. They can eat anything. They can swim and tread water for days when they must. They can even squeeze through holes the size of a quarter. Peter hates rats.
But this kind of rat-daptability works for members of Congress and the rest of the political class, too.
GAI’s first big, national news story was about insider trading in the stock market by Congress in our 2012 book, Throw Them All Out. GAI’s investigation showed numerous examples where House members made very timely stock trades based on insider information they were privy to through their office. The splashiest example was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her husband, who got in on the ground floor of Visa’s IPO in 2008, buying shares at $49 that rose quickly to more than $86 a share while she was simultaneously determining the fate of consumer credit legislation pending in the House that would have a huge impact on Visa and other credit card companies. GAI partnered with CBS’s show 60 Minutes and correspondent Steve Kroft made Pelosi quite defensive as she tried to brush off any apparent conflicts of interest. But it was a straightforward deal, the money going directly to her.
New Jersey congressman Rob Andrews, (D-NJ), resigned following GAI’s revelations that he had used money from his congressional “leadership PAC” to finance family trips to Scotland. Announcing his resignation, Andrews told reporters, “Have I made mistakes in judgment? Of course, I have. I think everyone has,” he said. “But I have followed the rules and met the standards and I want to emphatically say this is a decision that I made because I believe it is an opportunity for my family to have a better life.”
For sheer chutzpah, though, perhaps nothing beats Rep. Grace Napolitano, (D-CA), who lent money to her own political action committee. Nothing unusual about that. Lots of politicians lend their personal money to their political campaigns. Except that she charged her PAC 18% interest on the loan and made $228,000 over a twelve-year period from the interest payments. These more sophisticated examples show a bit more rat-daptability: the money went to a PAC set up by the corrupt politician, then indirectly to the member himself or herself.
In the 2013 book, Extortion, GAI revealed, among other things, the price tags for getting on the most desirable congressional committees. The two political parties require members who want a seat on the most powerful House committees to meet high thresholds of money to the party in order to get a seat. This is a very simple example of what’s called “pay-to-play” corruption. The more powerful the committee, the higher the price to sit on it.
In 2015, GAI turned its attention to the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation. That investigation became Peter Schweizer’s New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash. GAI investigated numerous examples where wealthy individuals, major corporations, and even foreign governments made enormous donations to the Clinton Foundation while they had business pending before the US State Department during the Obama administration, when the Secretary of State happened to be… Hillary Clinton. GAI showed that the Clinton Foundation, a charitable organization, paid a lot of bills for Bill and Hillary Clinton as business expenses, while former president Bill Clinton’s raked in gigantic speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments who also donated to the foundation, while they had matters before the State Department. Note the ingenious rat-daptability here! The Clintons took the “leadership PAC” scam further, using their charitable foundation as a pass-thru for wealthy people to subsidize their lifestyle.
In 2018, GAI exposed the business dealings of Joe Biden’s family members, among other subjects. Hunter Biden’s looming indictment on tax evasion and probably other criminal charges is still in the headlines today, but the rat-daptability here is that corrupt money flowed to family members of Joe Biden, not to the politician personally. Where the Clintons used the Clinton Foundation as their “vehicle,” the Bidens create business relationships for family members. In both Secret Empires (2018) and Profiles in Corruption (2020), GAI detailed Hunter’s many dealings with Ukrainian and Kazakh oligarchs, Chinese businessmen connected to Beijing’s intelligence and military arms, and Russian Mafia – connected figures in Moscow.
The takeaway, as Peter says, is that the GAI team has shined the spotlight on the rats in the dark, and like rats everywhere, they scurry to a new spot each time.