Washington corrupts, and Congressman Stephen Fincher is proof.
"I may not be a polished politician," Fincher said when he announced his first run for Congress in 2010, "but as a lifelong farmer I know that most problems can be solved with a little common sense. When I'm elected, I'll put that common sense to work for everyday Tennesseans, not the special interests. Trillion-dollar bailouts, bloated budgets and boondoggle spending packages aren't working, at least for my friends and neighbors ..."
It would be an understatement to say Fincher has come to terms with boondoggles and special interests.
Fincher, once an opponent of the Export-Import Bank —a federal agency that subsidizes foreign buyers of U.S.-made goods — now is trying to undermine his party's leadership by teaming up with Nancy Pelosi and her party in order to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank as President Obama and his big donors in the business lobby have demanded.
The obvious explanation is that Fincher has pulled up his Tennessee roots and is now firmly planted in D.C. Instead of serving Western Tennessee, Fincher, who sits on the Financial Services Committee, now represents Wall Street and K Street.
Fincher has raised a quarter-million for his re-election, according to his most recent campaign finance filing. Exactly two of his approximately 150 donations have come from Tennessee residents. Tennessee residents have given Fincher a combined $750, which rounds to 0 percent of his money raised.
Fincher has raised more money from the K Street firm Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers than he has from individuals in Tennessee. More than 99 percent of the money powering Fincher's re-election bid comes from political action committees (almost all of them corporate PACs) and K Street lobbyist types.
Studying this lengthy list of Fincher's PAC donors is revealing.
Fincher introduced his bill to reauthorize Ex-Im on Jan. 28. Two days later his campaign deposited a $2,000 check from General Electric, Ex-Im's second-largest beneficiary and most ruthless defender. GE in recent days has announced it was moving jobs to Canada and Europe to chase those countries' export subsidies — though all of those jobs appear to be either nonexistent or already slated to go offshore for other reasons.
Boeing (which benefits from 40 percent of Ex-Im subsidies) and United Technologies chipped in about a week and a half later. All of Ex-Im's top beneficiaries, exporters and lenders (notably Ex-Im's leading lender JPMorgan), have given to Fincher's re-election.
Other corporate welfare recipients give to Fincher and benefit from his votes. Fincher has voted to protect the federal sugar program, whereby our government keeps out foreign sugar and issues taxpayer-backed loans to guarantee high prices for U.S. sugar growers. This hurts families, U.S.-based foodmakers and the economy, while benefitting a handful of privileged sugar companies.
Tennessee produces no sugarcane or sugar beets, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2012 Ag Census. But Fincher's donors do.
Sugar Cane Growers of Florida PAC, American Crystal Sugar PAC, American Sugar Cane League PAC, Florida Sugar Cane League PAC, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-Op PAC and the U.S. Beet Sugar PAC are all Fincher donors and all beneficiaries of the corporate welfare Fincher supports.
Fincher's top two sources of funds, according to OpenSecrets.org, are the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and Regions Financial. Both of these bodies profit from and lobby to expand the federal crop insurance program. Fincher, of course, voted to expand federal crop insurance by $9 billion over 10 years.
Unlike sugar protectionism, though, crop insurance directly benefits farmers in Fincher's rural district. For instance, Fincher himself pocketed $3.48 million in farm subsidies between 1999 and 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group, making him the second most subsidized farmer in Congress. In 2012 alone, his federal farm subsidy was $70,000.
That same day Fincher voted to cut food stamps. He later explained that vote this way: "The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country."
Fincher's hypocrisy on welfare — favoring it for his corporate donors and opposing it for poor families — sadly isn't unique in the Republican Party. His evolution from outsider to a tool of the lobbyists is also a typical tale in Washington.
It would be unfair to say Fincher was extraordinarily corrupted by Washington. It's more accurate to say Fincher represents what's worst about the Republican Party.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.