Is it wrong for a man to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving family? Well what if his family don’t like bread? What if they like skiing in Gstaad?
Washington is filled with techniques for the modestly paid to live life as if they were rich. Leadership PACs are the trick for Members of Congress. Set up a PAC designed to give money to fellow Members, and then all activities related to fundraising for that PAC can be paid for by the PAC: Fancy dinners, vacations in luxury resorts, hired cars driving you everywhere, etc. The truth is that Members of Congress are wildly underpaid (or maybe, we get what we pay for). Many must sleep in their own office. Justices on the Supreme Court are paid at the level of mid-tier lawyers at big New York law firms. And when you’re paid less than you think you’re worth, you find ways to justify what most would think corrupt.
The only real solution is to pay all of them more. (Or at least for Members of Congress, to give them a per diem covering food and lodging for their time in session). Yet we’re not going to do that anytime soon. So in the meantime, we live with these sorts of compromises, some more vicious (Leadership PACs) than others (vacations with friends).
That’s Larry Lessig, Harvard Law professor, explaining why you can’t really blame Clarence Thomas for accepting lots of “gifts” from “friends,” because
(a) Who knows, maybe everybody else on the SCOTUS does this as well;
(b) You can’t blame a man who isn’t rich, or more precisely REALLY RICH, from trying to soften the financial blow a bit because he chose a life dedicated to public service, and the economic devastation that comes from this act of self-sacrifice.
Stats: Clarence Thomas has a salary of $285K per year, which puts him in the 98th percentile of INDIVIDUAL income in the USA. This seriously understates his true economic position, however, because
(a) He’s guaranteed this salary, COLA adjusted, for life, even if he were to quit tomorrow; and
(b) He. can make as much money as he wants publishing books — or “books” — via whatever wingnut welfare publishing outfit wants to help a brother out; and
(c) His wife gets oodles of money from those same sources for her work, or “work; and
(d) Larry Lessig makes about $600K per year as as senior HLS professor for teaching two classes a year and bloviating via an army of research assistants, so maybe he’s not the ideal person to be evaluating the struggles of the “upper middle class” in the slums of Adams Morgan; and
I can’t even any more.