Updated: April 22, 2013 12:13PM
Americans’ frustration, if not disgust, with Congress is roughly at record levels as its members can’t seem to agree on anything except that they disagree.
The polarization between the parties and their political gamesmanship, exacerbated by the Democrats controlling the Senate and the Republicans running the House, has led to Congress’ public approval rating being somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent, depending on the poll. That’s down there with predatory lenders, Chicago aldermen and Donald Trump.
The periodic scandal doesn’t help Congress’ image, as we know all too well with the recent indictment and guilty plea by former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for using about $750,000 in campaign money for his personal use over seven years.
Now comes the disturbing news that Jackson and his wife were able to raid his campaign treasury for so long because, well, it’s easy to do — even when you spend as extravagantly as they did (doesn’t everyone need mounted elk heads and Michael Jackson memorabilia?).
It seems Congress, in its deep concern for the public interest over that of its members, years ago stripped the Federal Election Commission of its authority to oversee congressional campaign funds. The law says they can’t use campaign money for personal use, but with the FEC no longer able to perform random audits of these funds, our representatives and senators don’t have much to worry about in spending that money.
They have to turn in reports on where the money went, but it’s essentially an honor system — they don’t have to document where the money went or submit receipts. As the head of a citizens watchdog group put it colorfully, “There are no checks. ... Everything can be a lie.”
Jackson and his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, are Exhibit A of that. Their misuse of campaign funds might still be going on if they had been more discreet.
But something good could come from the Jacksons’ scandal, besides them being removed from public office. Reform groups plan to pressure Congress to strengthen checks on campaign spending. Now all we have to do is get Congress to agree.