An explosive new book alleges Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) collected over $200,000 in donations from executives and companies just days before holding votes on three bills of critical importance to their industries.
The new revelations come on the heels of calls by prominent conservatives like Sean Hannity for Boehner to be replaced as Speaker of the House.
Government Accountability Institute President Peter Schweizer’s book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, calls the vote scheduling donation extraction maneuver the “tollbooth” strategy.
“You pay money at a tollbooth in order to use a road or bridge,” writes Schweizer. “The methodology in Washington is similar: if someone wants a bill passed, charge them money to allow the bill to move down the legislative highway.”
The first bill Schweizer says Boehner used the tollbooth tactic on was the Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2011. The bill, which received broad congressional and public support, placed a five year freeze on state and local governments’ ability to slap taxes on cellphone users. Big phone companies like AT&T and Verizon strongly supported the bill. The Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2011 (H.R. 1002) was introduced in March 2011 and easily passed the House Judiciary Committee in July.
Instead of promptly scheduling a vote, however, Schweizer says Boehner sat on the popular bill: “Everyone expected Boehner, given his general aversion to raising taxes, to support the bill and hold a vote. But as the months went by and mid-October arrived, it was unclear whether the vote would ever come.”
Boehner finally set a vote for November 1, 2011. “The day before the vote, Boehner’s campaign collected the toll: thirty-three checks from wireless industry executives, totaling almost $40,000,” writes Schweizer. The bill passed easily on a voice vote.
Two more bills Schweizer says Boehner employed the tollbooth strategy on were the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act (H.R. 2940) and the Small Company Capital Formation Act (H.R. 1070). The bills were designed to help small businesses get easier access to capital by easing stock offering regulations. Brokers and venture capital and investment firms all supported the proposed law.
Once again, says Schweizer, Boehner collected a tollbooth fee hours before bringing the bills to the floor for a vote on November 2 and 3.
“The Speaker of the House took in $91,000 in the forty-eight hours of October 30 and 31 from investment banks and private equity firms, two days before the vote,” writes Schweizer in Extortion. “During the same time period, he took in $46,500 from self-described ‘investors’ and another $32,450 from bank holding companies. With the tolls paid, the votes took place on the full House floor. Both passed easily.”
Schweizer says the tollbooth strategy, while completely legal for members of Congress, could result in possible jail time for others.
“If an Army general were to ask for favors in return for performing his duties, he would be drummed out of the military and might even go to jail,” writes Schweizer.
The New York Times bestselling author’s last book, Throw Them All Out, uncovered and exposed insider trading by members of Congress, including then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) coveted access to a lucrative Visa credit card initial public offering (IPO) that yielded Pelosi a staggering 203% return on her between $1 and $5 million investment (politicians are required to report investments in ranges, not specific amounts). 60 Minutes and veteran CBS investigative reporter Steve Kroft then partnered with Schweizer to do an award-winning exposé on congressional insider trading that generated overwhelming bipartisan support for passage of the STOCK (Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge) Act. The law banned politicians from using nonpublic information to make personal investments. As Slate put it, Schweizer authored “the book that started the STOCK Act stampede.”
Now, with the release of Schweizer’s latest book, Extortion, he and 60 Minutes have teamed up again to reveal the tough legislative tactics politicians use to squeeze wealthy industries and individuals for political contributions–some of which they then convert into money to enrich their friends or family members.
On Sunday, Schweizer and CBS’s Steve Kroft set off a Capitol Hill firestorm on 60 Minutes as they revealed how several members of Congress use leadership PACs as “slush funds” to bankroll lavish lifestyles.