OPINION | Ken Pittman: The Hypocrisy of Joseph Kennedy III
For some reason, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III decided to publicly berate another public servant for using his position for financial gain.
Hold my beer...
A Kennedy taking exception to that practice? This is low-hanging fruit, folks. Where do I begin? It's like NAMBLA's president being concerned about a Level 1 sex offender moving into his neighborhood, or Omaha Steaks protesting with vegans outside of Smith & Wollensky's Steakhouse.
I'm in agreement that it is quite wrong for Scott Pruitt or anyone to use public office like Sergeant Bilko used the Army's warehouse. Republican and Democrat, it doesn't matter. But since he brought it up, let's look at the holocaust of skeletons in the Hyannis Kennedy Compound closets.
As a member of Congress, the dashing, young and "virtuous" Mr. Kennedy can walk into the offices of all of his colleagues (or have his staffers do that), or even call to determine the way any vote is heading before it reaches the floor. They can and do use that knowledge to make substantial financial gains. Let's say, for example, wind turbine subsidies. I imagine "Saint Joe's" calls go something like this:
"Good mohnin' Mistah' Speakah'. I was wondering how the Republicans were going to vote for the clean enah'gy act with regah'ds to the wind enah'gy investments we'll vote on latah' today...oh, you don't say? 239 'Yeas' so fah'?...Okay so you think it will pass...uh huh. Well thank you very much. Okay, see latah' today on the flooh'. .....Miss Hoopah', could you get my brokah' on the phone please...He's on line fouh'? Thanks...Hi Mike, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy the 3rd...yes, ..I know but...yes I know youh' my cousin. I just like saying it. Listen, I want you to sell $50,000 from my stocks in Petrobas and move it into Cape Wind...yes, immediately."
Now, for anyone else in the United States and most other civilized places on Earth, that is called insider trading, and the rest of us would either be fined or face criminal felony charges. Insider trading is "the illegal practice of trading on the stock exchange to one's own advantage through having access to confidential information."
For members of the Senate and House of Representatives, though, it is a typical practice. It is extremely hard for every single member of Congress to not walk away rich. But then again, how often do they actually walk away from this cash cow?
President Obama and Congress pretended to fix this sham on April 4, 2012, signing into law the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act. But, almost before you could get an "Atta boy," out of your mouth, large parts of the law with real teeth that enforce the rules and make financial transactions easily accessible for public review were removed by the same President Obama with the Amendment of April 15, 2013.
Oh, the "holier than thou" Obama played the game folks, and the press intentionally missed the amendment. NPR reported that it happened on April 15, 2013, a Friday afternoon, at 12:52 p.m. Many members had already left for the weekend or were on their way out. The whole process took only 30 seconds. There was no debate.
Don't believe me? See for yourself in the White House's one-sentence email.
So please, all of you liberals gushing over the Sweet Paulie Purebred Elizabeth Warren and Joe Kennedy 3.0, save it. I'm not buying it, today or tomorrow. As a matter of fact, as soon as Scott Brown won the election to replace the Kennedy's recently-deceased Uncle Teddy, he brought this outrageous advantage that Congress enjoyed for decades to the public's attention, and started out to write a bill to change it. Notice how fast they ran him out of town.
But focusing on Joe 3.0, his family invented financial gain through public office. Well, kind of how Edison "invented" electricity. Others were successful in the past, but like Edison, the Kennedys thought bigger.
Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Joe's great-grandfather, was an investor and somewhat successful, but after making a $50,000 donation to the campaign to elect his friend Franklin D Roosevelt, the donation was clearly an investment that would make the Kennedy family a dynasty.
Once the 1932 donation was in Roosevelt's hands, he sent his son James on a cruise to England in 1933 with Joseph Kennedy, his wife Rose and Joseph's mistress Kay Halle (a family friend of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill). While there, Kennedy had James Roosevelt and Halle arrange a meeting between Churchill and the three at Churchill's Chartwell home.
What is known is that Kennedy walked away with distribution rights to every bottle of Haig & Haig Scotch whiskey, Dewar’s, Gordon’s gin, and other imported drinks. He arranged this during prohibition, which made it illegal at the time, but he also timed it to start exactly as Prohibition ended. He founded the Somerset Importers company, and made about $8.5 million by the time he sold the company a decade later. Today that would be a wealth of around $120 million.
We also know that Churchill came up with some money that no one could account for, and invested in stocks in a couple of companies with direct ties to Joseph Kennedy.
Time Magazine had this to say about the Churchill-Kennedy business ventures that today would have called for a full federal investigation:
"Brooklyn Manhattan Transit and National Distillers Products Corp. These Churchill stock investments were clustered around the Kennedy trip—executed both shortly before the Chartwell visit and in the months afterward—and were known only to a few, perhaps not even to Randolph (Winston's son). Where Winston got the money for such investments is not clear from available documents. On their face, however, these transactions seemed remarkably risky for a man who had lost much of his fortune in bad investments, who feared he might lose his beloved home, debt-ridden Chartwell Manor, and who had previously relied on friends to bail him out financially. "
Senator Ted Kennedy also understood the value of office to make some big bucks. In Peter Schweizer's book Do As I say, Not As I Do, he walks you through a number of shady Kennedy moves. One in particular was a real estate purchase Ted made in north Washington, D.C., in a down-and-out, high-crime neighborhood. He's purchased a corner lot, had a large building constructed and "Voila!" An announcement soon followed that the Washington Metro transit system suddenly decided to construct a station right under the corner where Senator Kennedy's building was being built, and access to the station would be right on the sidewalk in front of the building.
Wow, what a stroke of luck that also was! Today, federal agencies occupy every office suite in that building and pay rent to the Kennedy trusts...which are, like almost every property the Kennedy's own, tax sheltered in the Fiji islands. The Kennedy's own almost $800 million in property in the United States, and typically pay about $150,000 in taxes!
Even the Arctic Royalty Trust, the Kennedy's little-known oil company, is sheltered from taxes, designed into law co-authored by Senator Kennedy to protect smaller oil companies the exact size as his, from burdensome taxation. Oh, by the way, according to Schweizer in his fantastic book, Arctic Royalty Trust leases out land for oil drilling in five states. Much of the land was accumulated by convincing poor rural black farmers to give away their “mineral rights,” not knowing what it meant.
So, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, spare me your outrage. You are the greatest product of financial gain through public office, maybe in the history of mankind.
“We are past the point where being a capitalist is the only way of becoming a politician, and we are dangerously near the point where being a politician is much the quickest way of becoming a capitalist.” -- G. K. Chesterton
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.