Brent Scher - January 14, 2017
One of the newest members in Congress has spent the past decade and a half rising to the top of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's political corruption unit, and he is wasting no time putting his know-how to work through legislation.
On the day that Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Penn.) was sworn into office he introduced a package of anti-corruption legislation that would change the way Congress operates. In his first speech on the House floor on Thursday, he urged members on both sides of the aisle to join his newly created Congressional Citizen Legislature Caucus, which he hopes will emerge as a prime venue for reform measures.
Fitzpatrick wants to prevent corruption before it takes root.
"What causes corruption? Money and seniority, and that's what I want to fight while I'm here," Fitzpatrick said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.
"What I saw in my experience in the bureau was a direct correlation between the length of time in office and the existence of political corruption," he said. "It is rare that you indict an elected official that has been in office for two years and far more likely that they've been there for twenty."
"The straightforward reason is that when you enter a money-driven seniority based system, the lines that were really clear on day one are not so clear in year ten," he said. "Even the most principled, well-intentioned people that come into that system will learn that the system has the power to change you."
Fitzpatrick has suggested instituting term limits on lawmakers (12 years maximum) and putting an end to the congressional pension system that rewards members for sticking around. He wants a true citizen legislature to emerge, creating a healthier form of democracy.
"If we had a citizen legislature set-up—where you go in, focus on your area of expertise to make your country better, then go home and live under the laws you helped pass—I think that would be a healthier form of democracy," he said.
Fitzpatrick witnessed corruption in the hotbed that is the New York State Legislature.
His first major investigation was into a state legislator representing Queens who doubled as the boss of a major New York City labor union. Fitzpatrick flipped the legislator, Brian McLaughlin, and his cooperation led to a progeny of cases.
"Once they're confronted with charges, they're faced with the choice of sticking up for their family or for their colleagues who may have been involved in criminal activity," he explained. "Most of them choose cooperation."
"When you get a cooperator, it is a domino effect," Fitzpatrick said.
That domino effect eventually reached the top of the legislature this year with the arrest by FBI agents of powerful assembly leader Sheldon Silver.
Fitzpatrick became the national supervisor of the FBI's political corruption unit and was awarded the bureau's "Investigator of the Year" award in 2009.
Fitzpatrick's anti-corruption work took him overseas, where he was deployed to countries such as Ukraine as an expert on how to restore integrity to government institutions.
His work abroad, which included an assignment on an anti-terrorism task force in Iraq in which he was embedded with the military, also gave him an up-close view of the complexities of the war on terror.
"Counterterrorism is the top priority of the FBI, so even if you're not assigned to a counterterrorism division you are going to work counterterrorism cases," he said.
His experience in the war on terror, which included interrogating members of al Qaeda during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is already being leveraged by House leadership. Fitzpatrick was just named to both the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees.
"There are few representatives in Congress whose professional experience prepared them as well as Brian's," said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) in a statement announcing the committee assignments.
Fitzpatrick understands that there will be resistance to his drive to make serving in Congress more of a public service, but he is devoted to it nonetheless.
"It's not going to make me a lot of friends here because most people are interested in expanding their power base."
"The Founding Father's never envisioned a situation where we have a professional political class," he said. "The more people in our country that can have the opportunity to come to Congress and serve in this place, the better our country will be."