Scandal of the day: a businessman in Congress

Larry Ribstein —  4 July 2011

The NYT reports on a new scandal it’s discovered.  Mike Thompson lives in St. Helena, California and represents it in Congress.  Now, I recently spent three days in St. Helena so I can testify to what you see when you go there:  grapes (at the left is the view I woke up to every day).  Thompson’s father worked for a vineyard, his mother worked for a vineyard, and some of his best friends sell wine.

So it’s not too surprising that Thompson represents local vineyard owners’ interests in Congress, including fighting restrictions on direct interstate sales of wine.  As a drinker of California wine who lives elsewhere, he’s fighting for me on that issue too.

Where’s the scandal you ask?  Well, he owns a 20-acre vineyard, from which he made $18,000 last year.

At least the NYT thinks this is a scandal.  Some might think that he actually has personal knowledge of how his constituents make money, and his interests are aligned with those of local business people, which is more than most of his colleagues in Congress can say. One of his constituents likes this:  “So often people get elected, go to Washington, they get sucked in, and they kind of stay there. That is not what Mike is about.”

But maybe we do need to worry that he’s cutting deals in Congress that help his business along with those of his constituents.  At least Mickey Edwards, a former Congressman, tells reporters he’s worried Thompson’s contacts with the executive branch that benefit him as well as his constituents.  “That is very questionable behavior, not something you would think most members would be comfortable doing. It is a lack of good judgment, if nothing else.”

Maybe so.  But let’s spread this rule beyond Mike Thompson to Congresspeople in other professions who may be doing things that help the way they make money when they’re not making up laws. 

Like lawyers for the example.  Are there any lawyers in the House who write laws that benefit lawyers?  Even if the House members aren’t practicing law now, might they be interested in doing so in the future? 

I think there may be a couple.  So I guess that’s ok, then.  St. Helena should get rid of its grape-grower Congressman and elect a lawyer.  He will understand the problems of all the lawyers in the district.  I’m sure the folks there will be happier with that.

Larry Ribstein


Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

6 responses to Scandal of the day: a businessman in Congress


    Great post (and photo).




      The biggest example of this is environmental pork. Politicians “invest” in environmental schemes like ethanol, then mandate it’s use. They “create jobs” by creating new mandates on business that are actually useful to the public, then the parasite businesses that help the real businesses comply with their new requirements kick back some campaign money to their sugar daddies.

      The business side of environmentalism is created from whole cloth by politicians, affording truly astounding graft opportunities to those who define what’s green, who pays who to become greener, and who are the winners and who are the losers.

      And even “normal” businesses get a seat on the gravy train. G.E. didn’t get enough writeoffs to pay zero taxes without having friends in the government – specifically the green pork section, where they have lots of well-compensated friends.

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  1. DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Scandal of the Day: a Businessman in Congress - July 25, 2011

    […] Read it. Are there any lawyers in the House who write laws that benefit lawyers?  Even if the House members aren’t practicing law now, might they be interested in doing so in the future? […]

  2. July 25 roundup - July 25, 2011

    […] New York Times exposes scandal: businessman holds seat in Congress. Quick, replace him with another lawyer! [Ribstein] […]

  3. | PointOfLaw Forum: "Scandal of the day: a businessman in Congress" - July 18, 2011

    […] year), and the New York Times is shocked, shocked at the conflict of interest. But why stop there, Larry Ribstein asks: "Are there any lawyers in the House who write laws that benefit lawyers? Even if the House members […]