After being appointed as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee in January, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) joined representatives of the banking industry — the very people whom he is to regulate — for a ski vacation fundraiser in Park City, Utah, becoming the latest member of Congress to exemplify our broken political system.
While at this time, there is no indication that Hensarling acted in violation of campaign finance or congressional ethics rules, he is the latest example of what Americans have unfortunately come to expect from their politicians. A review of Hensarling’s funding reveals the unsurprising truth that his election was funded by big finance, and in no small part.
According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Hensarling’s 2012 election was largely bankrolled by insurance companies and big-banks, whose donations to his campaign totaled more than $1 million. Most of the funds were funneled through various PACs, however, the vast majority came from Hensarling’s personal PAC, the Jobs, Economy and Budget PAC — literally, the JEB PAC.
Contributions from the banking and finance industry dominate the JEB PAC's income, with big banks, finance, and credit unions out-spending all other primary contributors combined. When including credit unions, the JEB PAC took in $416,750 from the banking industry, but spending from the other 16 main contributors adds up to only $379,250. The disparity is so great that even if credit unions are considered ‘other contributors’, donations from big-finance still outweigh contributions from the other 17 industries.
The majority of Hensarling’s contributions were made in-state however, according to the Center for Responsible Politics. A review of the top donating zip codes finds that donations from wealthy Dallas areas dominated the geography of his top contributors.
Number one on the list is zip code 75225, which is part of University Park, Texas, a smaller, inner-suburb of Dallas. According to latest estimates from the Census Bureau, median household income of University Park is $151,862, and more than 40% of households have annual earnings in excess of $200,000.
Meanwhile, across the United States, median household income is reported to be $52,762.
With his funding made clear, it is no surprise that Hensarling is an outspoken critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created in response to the 2008 banking collapse preceding the Great Recession. Citing concerns of government overreach, Hensarling has joined the voices of other Republican representatives calling for the agency to be weakened. While the agency has drawn criticism from Republicans, smaller banks have also joined in on the chorus, concerned that implementation of the new regulations will increase consumer stability at the expense of their profit margins.
Unfortunately, with congressional approval ratings at historic lows, Hensarling’s behavior is, at best, anticipated. In a time when many Americans have lost faith in their government, and believe that their representatives are in the hands of well-financed interests, Hensarling provides just another name in the laundry list of politicians Americans feel disconnected from.
Undoubtedly, part of the problem is that this behavior is beyond reproach. Unless Congress places stricter ethics guidelines on itself, or sweeping changes to campaign finance laws are made, this disappointing expectation will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy in the arena of American politics.