US campaign finance laws are, well, less than ideal — or, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it in a House committee hearing this week, they make it “super legal” for lawmakers to be a “pretty bad guy.”
A viral video of Ocasio-Cortez during a hearing held by the House Oversight and Reform Committee on strengthening ethics rules for the executive branch swept across the internet this week. The video, put together by NowThis News, shows the high-profile New York Congress member playing a “lightning round” game with witnesses. The purpose: to highlight how it’s legal for congressional candidates to do a lot of shady stuff. And they’re held to a higher standard than the president.
“I’m going to be the bad guy, which, I’m sure, half the room would agree with anyway, and I want to get away with as much bad things as possible, ideally to enrich myself and advance my interests, even if that means putting my interests ahead of the American people,” Ocasio-Cortez said during the Wednesday hearing. “I have enlisted all of as my co-conspirators, so you’re going to help me legally get away with all of this.”
She then asked a litany of questions. Can she run a campaign entirely funded by corporate political action committees? Yes. Can she use that money to make hush payments and pay people off to get elected? Yes. Once in office, can she influence and write laws that might affect the groups from which she’s taken special interest money? Yes. And can she hold stocks in companies the legislation she’s writing might boost? Yes.
Walter Shaub, senior adviser to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and former head of the Office of Government Ethics who resigned under President Donald Trump, was one of the witnesses in the hearing. Ocasio-Cortez asked him whether the ethics limits placed on members of Congress and the president are comparable. “In terms of laws that apply to the president … there’s almost no laws at all that apply to the president,” he said.
“It’s already super legal, as we’ve seen, for me to be a pretty bad guy. So it’s even easier for the president of the United States to be one, I would assume,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She also took a bit of a swipe at her colleagues.
“We have a system that is fundamentally broken. We have these influences existing in this body, which means that these influences are here in this committee shaping the questions that are being asked of you all right now,” she said.
AOC made a confusing topic easy to understand
The NowThis video, published on Thursday, has been seen more than 13 million times. It is yet another example of Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most high-profile new members of Congress, making headlines and generating buzz.
She’s drawing attention to a topic — campaign finance laws in the US — that many Americans care about but don’t know the specific ins and outs of. People generally agree that money in politics is a problem that needs fixing: Pew Research Center polling shows that most Americans believe there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and groups can spend on campaigns and think that big donors have more influence than others. But campaign finance laws are complicated, so many people aren’t aware of what is and isn’t allowed.
Ocasio-Cortez, in her lightning round of questions, identifies a way to break down campaign finance laws — and all the surprising things they allow — in a way that’s easy to digest. That a politician can legally take money from, for example, the oil and gas industry and then, once elected, write laws that help the industry and invest in oil and gas stocks is pretty wild. As she puts it, it’s easy for her to be a “pretty bad guy.”
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