As several media sources have noted by now, Barney Frank has admitted that he helped his boyfriend get a job at Fannie Mae, the federally backed mortgage giant, which Frank, as a Congressman, would help to regulate. A decade later, Frank would argue against the Republicans who were worried that Fannie Mae and its sister organization were making too many risky mortgates. Frank suggested that it was prudent to roll the dice, and not crack down on risky mortgages.
Frank complans that:
"If it is (a conflict of interest), then much of Washington is involved (in conflicts)," Frank told the Herald last night. "It is a common thing in Washington for members of Congress to have spouses work for the federal government. There is no rule against it at all.
There is, of course a difference between having a family member or close friend who works somewhere in the federal government, and getting an organization over whom one has power to hire a friend. As the Boston Globe notes, at the time Frank called Fannie Mae and asked them to hire his boyfriend, he was in a position directly to help or harm Fannie Mae.
But it can be difficult to determine who is, and who is not, in a position of influence. And Frank's larger point is correct. Nowadays, it seems that most of our important politicians have spouses and other close relatives who are in the same business, or who stand to benefit from their actions. That was always the case to a certain degree--just look a the Kennedys and Fitzgeralds in Massachusetts, among other cases. But the rise of the two career couple has drawn the circle tighter.
That being the case, I suggest we regulate such nepotism (and its close associated) much more heavily. Given the rise of the two-career couple, such regulation may very well reduce the importance of Washington, DC in American life, by making it a harder city for political couples to live in. It just might return some political influence from the ceter to the periphery, rendering our government closer to the people. Even if it won't make much of a difference in that regard, it would be good for the rule of law, by reducing the importance of special connections among parts of government.