By Shane Ronen

Are most politicians profiting from their offices? Are all politicians on the take?

At times, a glance at the headlines may give that impression. Democrats are suing President Trump for allegedly using his office to win more business from countries like China and the United Arab Emirates. Sen. Robert Menendez is facing trial, having been charged with accepting bribes. Republican Rep. Chris Collins is being investigated for insider stock trading. Money slithers through every part of our political system, corrupting democracy and taking power away from the people. Big companies and billionaires spend millions to push Congress to adopt or block legislation. If they fail, they turn to lobbying federal agencies that are issuing regulations. And if they fail yet again, they run to judges in the courts to block those regulations from taking effect. But new evidence from state financial records suggest that those high-profile accusations are the exception, at least at the state level. Very few state lawmakers get rich while in office. Only the most electorally secure are financially rewarded while serving. Even then, they do not make much money for their efforts.

These politicians face a potent mix of incentives to use their offices for self-enriching activity. When not conducting the people’s business, these men and women live just like everyone else which mean working, investing and saving for retirement. They do not face media scrutiny or sustained public attention, particularly in a world of shrinking journalism budgets. At the same time, they wield enormous power over state budgets and set policy on matters including public health and attracting businesses.