Congress cuts back on services while fattening its own slush fund accounts
publication date: Mar 9, 2011
URL LINK N/A - VIA WAYNE MADSEN REPORT
While the Congress and the Obama White House continue their "Kabuki dance" that will, in any event, see drastic cuts in federal spending on social safety net programs, including Head Start, Pell Grants, and food safety, members of Congress and their senior staff members have ensured they enjoy tax-free subsidies from legal slush funds.
WMR has been informed by a long-serving Congressional source that members and senior staff are liberally helping themselves to money in what are known as "Member's Representation Allowances" or MRAs. The allowances are only to be used for duties of an official nature or involving constituent representation. Some members call the accounts the "member's reserve accounts," an indication that they consider the funds to be a type of supplemental income to be used at their personal discretion.
The House Ethics Committee stipulates rules for MRA use:
*The MRA may be used only for official expenses.
*The MRA may not be converted to personal or campaign use or applied toward any unofficial activity.
*As a general matter, only the MRA and Members’ personal funds may be used to defray official expenses.
However, WMR has been informed that one member's senior staffer purchased a $35,000 suburban utility vehicle for personal use from funds in the member's MRA. Other members and staffers have purchased personal items from the accounts, including big-screen plasma televisions and office equipment for personal use.
The abuse of MRAs hearkens back to the two-decades old House Banking scandal that saw members of Congress regularly bounce checks that were covered by the House Bank. Some members were allowed to leave their accounts overdrawn for up to eight months. The scandal came amid the Congressional Post Office scandal, in which stamps and vouchers were used to launder money by members of Congress, including powerful Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski.
The level of misuse of congressional MRA's, WMR is told, is on the level of the British Parliament's members' allowances and expenses scandal that rocked British politics in 2009. In that case, although there were rules established for the use of expenses by parliamentarians, the money was used for a number of personal reasons, including real estate investment purchase schemes.
Although the House Ethics Committee has disciplined members over misuse of MRA funds, the discipline rarely extends beyond a "reprimand," i.e., a slap on the wrist.
So, while Americans are being forced to cut back as the government claims that it is broke, next time you run into your member of the House or senator, ask him or her: "What are you spending your MRA on and is it all legitimate?" The reply will undoubtedly be: "Of course." And your reply should be: "Show me." Congress has been reluctant to make MRA information available electronically and the paper records can take an inordinate amount of time to wade through. It has been designed that way for a reason.