A couple of notes on the Barney Frank-Donald Sussman kerfuffle. To review, the Boston Herald reported Wednesday (Oct. 13) on a Christmas 2009 trip Frank and his partner, Jim Ready, took to the Virgin Islands with Sussman, who heads up Paloma Partners, and Sussman’s fiancĂ©e, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine). Frank, who represents Massachusetts’ Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and who serves as the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, didn’t pay anything for the trip. Not for the flight aboard Sussman’s luxury jet or to stay at Sussman’s mansion.
In today’s Herald, a Frank spokesman defended the trip, saying, “They’re friends. Are you not supposed to have friends if they’re wealthy?”
Which, of course, is a ridiculous question on its face and isn’t the point at all. The point is that by taking the trip with Sussman, who runs a firm that conceivably could fall under the purview of Frank’s committee, and not paying anything, Frank not only appears to be walking a fine line with respect to conflict of interest, but he’s reinforcing the notion that there are two sets of rules: one set for people inside The Club of Wealth, Power and Influence, and one set for people outside The Club. Most of us are not in The Club.
From the Herald: “Gural said Frank reported all required expenses.” That’s a classic hair-splitting statement. “All required expenses.” Who makes the requirements regarding reporting of Congressional expenses? Congress, which is not a body known for being overly hard on its members.
“Before he did any of this, he went to the Ethics Committee and cleared it. He wanted to make sure he stayed within the lines completely,” Gural said.
Right. Those would be the lines drawn by Frank’s fellow representatives. Those lines often seem to those outside The Club to be dotted.
And of course, Frank’s Republican opponent in the 4th District House race, Sean Bielat, and other Republicans have slammed Frank at every opportunity. Which is laughable, too, since neither Barney Frank nor Democrats have cornered the market on marginally or even blatantly unethical behavior. The Club knows no political boundaries. The only criteria for acceptance are money, power or other influence, and the willingness to put those to work for one’s own best interest. Just wait, Sean. You may find out for yourself.
For the record, Barney, the correct response to your friend Donald Sussman, when he asks if you’d like a free ride on his private jet to stay at his private mansion in the Virgin Islands this Christmas, for free, is “Thanks so much, Don. I really appreciate it. But as a public servant I just can’t do it. I’m sure you can understand the appearance of a conflict of interest. While I’m in office, I have to pay my own way. But we’d love to fly down on our own dime, stay in a hotel on our own dime, and hang out.”
It doesn’t seem so difficult, but apparently it is.
No, Barney, it’s not a crime to have rich friends. And it’s not a crime to vacation with them. But as a public official, you are held to a higher standard. If you don’t like it, don’t hold public office. Then you can take all the free trips you want with Sussman, or anyone else.
The same goes for the rest of the elected/appointed public officials out there. There should be a double standard when it comes to public service, but not the one currently being observed by members of The Club.