Congress Needs More Transparency to Reduce Industry Influence

Rostrum US House of Representatives
Rostrum US House of Representatives

By Iulia Gheorghiu | Project On Government Oversight

A Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigation showed outside entities are permitted to fund fellows who serve in the offices of Members of Congress. Although technically those fellows aren’t supposed to work on issues related to the industry funding them, there is so little—or no—oversight and POGO found that they sometimes assist with legislation and policy work that directly impacts the industries paying them.

POGO’s investigation revealed only a small corner of the larger picture. The Senate requires Senate offices to report each Congressional Fellow’s rate and source of compensation. After analyzing over 2,000 publicly available forms relating to the Senate’s Congressional Fellows, POGO concluded that Senators did not consistently comply with the rules, and several fellowships presented the appearance of a conflict of interest. As for the House, it doesn’t require fellowship information or funding sources to be reported at all.

POGO’s Lydia Dennett explains the investigation in an opinion editorial in The Hill:

“Many people are aware of the corrupting influence of lobbying, campaign contributions, and gifts, and all of these methods of influence are monitored to some degree. But the role of Congressional Fellows affecting the legislative process has largely escaped public notice.

“This kind of arrangement between Congress and outside groups—which can lead to blatant conflicts of interest—is not uncommon. In any given year, there are likely hundreds of Congressional Fellows sponsored by outside organizations who are given the opportunity to work on the staff of a member or Committee of the U.S. House or Senate. One Congressional Fellow this year received her $124,000 annual salary from the Sandia National Laboratory while working on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the committee with oversight and jurisdiction over the Sandia lab.”

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