Family Ties

by Jim Geraghty
We have an opportunity society—at least for the children of lawmakers.

There is no “progressive aristocracy,” as this column previously asserted, and there are no fancy titles passed down from one generation to the next, no automatic ascension to lucrative positions of power based simply upon one’s genealogy.

The accusation that there’s an American political aristocratic class is nonsense. Just ask Senate majority leader Harry Reid; or his son Key, formerly a registered lobbyist with Patton Boggs LLP and Lionel Sawyer & Collins; or his son-in-law Steve Barringer, a registered lobbyist, formerly with MGN Inc. and currently with Holland and Hart LLP; or his son Rory, who was elected to the Clark County (Nevada) Commission in 2002 and was the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate in 2010.

Politico noted that “Reid has one daughter and four sons, all of whom are at least tangentially involved in Nevada politics,” but that’s surely coincidental. And when Reid’s campaign bought nearly $17,000 in merchandise from his granddaughter’s jewelry business, it was surely because her gifts were the best possible choice on their own merits.

Or you can ask House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, or her daughter, political consultant and DNC member Christine Pelosi, currently the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus chairwoman and member of the San Francisco Giants Community Board of Directors.

Or you can ask her son, Paul Pelosi Jr. The right-wing site Gawker noted that Pelosi Jr.’s LinkedIn page . . . pointedly omits his $180,000-a-year job as a senior vice president at InfoUSA, a marketer of consumer databases, which he started less than one month after his mother became House speaker, while simultaneously holding his job at Countrywide. InfoUSA CEO Vinod Gupta also paid Bill Clinton millions of dollars as a consultant, so many suspected Pelosi’s job was an attempt to win influence with Nancy Pelosi. Paul Pelosi’s explanation: He got to know Gupta as a client for whom he refinanced a house, and his experience as an investment banker was useful in evaluating acquisitions.

You can ask Vice President Joe Biden or his son Beau Biden, currently the attorney general of Delaware and a declared candidate for governor in 2016. Or you can ask the vice president’s other son, Hunter Biden, whom President Clinton appointed to two separate positions in the Department of Commerce and who then was appointed by President Bush to the board of directors of Amtrak and who currently is chairman of the World Food Program USA and a partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC and is counsel to Boies, Schiller, Flexner LLP, a New York–based law firm.

Or you can ask the House assistant Democratic leader, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina. Or you can ask his daughter, Mignon Clyburn, currently serving as acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. President Obama appointed her to the FCC in 2009, after she spent eleven years as a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC) of South Carolina. Or you can ask his son-in-law Cecil Hannibal, paid $55,350 for “campaign outreach” by Clyburn’s campaign in the 2010 cycle, or his cousin William Clyburn Jr., head of Clyburn Consulting LLC, which describes its role as “[making] the connection from possibility to actuality by understanding the issues and building strong relationships.”

There’s much discussion in Washington of creating anopportunity society”; that term is in fact a pretty good description of life for the offspring of lawmakers, as opportunities abound — campaign work, jobs in congressional offices, campaign committees, political action committees, lobbying firms, and the occasional steered earmark.

In 2012, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington examined the publicly disclosed financial ties to family members and found:

82 members (40 Democrats and 42 Republicans) paid family members through their congressional offices, campaign committees, and political action committees;

44 members (20 Democrats and 24 Republicans) have family members who lobby or are employed in government affairs;

90 members (42 Democrats and 48 Republicans) have paid a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit;

20 members (13 Democrats and seven Republicans) used their campaign money to contribute to a family member’s political campaign;

14 members (six Democrats and eight Republicans) charged interest on personal loans they made to their own campaigns;

38 members (24 Democrats and 14 Republicans) earmarked to a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

Only a true cynic would doubt that all of the above individuals reached those positions on their own merits or claim that organizations and institutions brought on these children of lawmakers in order to establish a connection or curry favor with their parents. That’s . . . aristocratic.

Some might dismiss the denial of an aristocracy and suggest all of these familial connections are troubling. They might even argue that the governing of the U.S. is now dominated by a small group of powerful families, some allied, some rivals, in a system more fit for Game of Thrones than a constitutional republic.

The good news is the issue will surely be discussed and resolved by a 2016 presidential race featuring Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush; we can all look forward to the MSNBC coverage from Ronan Farrow, Luke Russert, and Abby Huntsman.

 — Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO. His first novel, a comic satire of the federal bureaucracy entitledThe Weed Agency,” will be published by Crown Forum in June.

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