For more than a year, Ron Johnson (R-WI) told anyone who would listen that he had discovered election-shattering wrongdoing by Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. But in September, his committee released a report that, as the Washington Post summarized, didn’t “back up Trump’s actual conspiracy theory — or anything close to it.”
The smear was an embarrassment for the Senators who encouraged it and made a mockery of their legitimate oversight duties in the process. But that hasn’t stopped the floundering Trump campaign from using the younger Biden’s conduct as a pillar of its message as the election comes to a close.
Even after the New York Post published embarrassing content allegedly retrieved from Hunter Biden’s laptop, Johnson and his allies never had any real evidence for their claims: that Joe Biden pushed for the removal of a Ukranian prosecutor to benefit his son’s company, or that Hunter Biden’s role influenced U.S. policy. There is evidence, however, that the Senators behind the smear attempt engaged in systematic self-dealing to enrich themselves and their families — the exact type of conduct they wrongly accused the Bidens of.
A new report from the Congressional Integrity Project found that of the eight Republican members of Johnson’s committee, six have or have had immediate family members in government and political jobs that overlap with their duties. And their campaigns and political organizations have paid at least $7,443,053 directly to family members or companies that they run or work for.
In some instances, these senators have brazenly used their office to grow their fortunes. Sen. Johnson, whose wealth has likely doubled since running for the Senate, leveraged his position as the deciding vote on the 2017 tax bill to increase the value of his family business. He finalized the sale of that business right before Covid-19 tanked the economy. His committee colleague Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), meanwhile, broke his promise to keep his assets in a blind trust and transferred hundreds of millions to his wife — likely to hide his record of boosting his investments through official actions. Scott’s wealth grew by at least $55,677,932 over his first year in the Senate. Because of the way disclosures are structured, the real figure is likely much higher.
In other cases, their adult children have been allowed to play by a different set of rules. Johnson’s three children, for example, received special treatment that allowed them to skirt official policy and secure historic designations for their investment property in Oshkosh, WI. That served as a gateway to up to $2.1 million in “historic preservation” tax credits, leaving Wisconsinites holding the tab. The credits were approved by a major donor to Johnson’s campaigns.
For some members’ families, the money has been flowing for decades. Campaigns and a political action committee working on behalf of Sen. Mike Enzi have funneled close to $1 million to his daughter-in-law Danielle’s “consulting” company, Enzi Strategies, since 2002. Enzi Strategies does not have an office or any employees we could identify. Instead, it is based out of the home that Danielle shares with Sen. Enzi’s son, Brad, in North Cheyenne, Wyoming.
And then there is the old-fashioned back-scratching. A media firm that Sen. Scott’s gubernatorial campaign paid $500,000 hired his daughter, Alison Guimard, as a vice president despite having no experience; she used her father’s name to “drum up” clients in Tallahassee. As soon as Sen. Paul was elected in 2011, his wife Kelley was offered a job at a Republican consulting firm that Paul’s campaign had paid $4.3 million. She had no consulting or political experience to qualify her for the role, according to her LinkedIn page. Paul’s organizations have since paid the group millions more.
Do any of these senators honestly believe, to paraphrase Sen. Paul, that any of this would have happened without their influential last names?
These senators went so far as to cooperate with known Russian agents in futile effort to find something that could justify their smear campaign. They debased their office by wading eyeball-deep into conspiracy theories. And if the responses outside of Trump’s base are any indication, they have succeeded only in highlighting their own prodigious levels of self-dealing.
Voters of every party should welcome honest efforts to ensure that elected officials act in the public interest and not their own. We should cheer legitimate oversight of their actions and demand transparency when it comes to their finances. But we should also recognize efforts like the ongoing Biden smear for what they are: bad-faith attempts to manipulate our democratic process and protect the ability of the powerful to profit from public office.