Cookie Cake Lies: A Mooney Mystery
Congressman Alex Mooney posted a photo of a cookie cake celebrating the passage of H.R. 298. What transpired is a lengthy rabbit hole of discovery and deceit.
Each January following a November General election a new Congress is sworn in followed by a blizzard of thousands of bills that get introduced. Many of these bills are resurrected from the grave of previous sessions, others are brand new, but nearly all will eventually die. Most bills never appear for a vote failing to make it on to a committee’s calendar. But, for the few bills that eventually pass, authors and sponsors are known to celebrate; representatives tout their legislative achievements to their constituents in an effort to show how committed they are to their district. This is the story of one of these bills.
As someone born in the Gen Z-Millennial no-man’s-land is wont to do, I found myself doom scrolling Twitter around 8:00 PM early in February. Nothing out of the ordinary; your typical memes, dunks, and the occasional fringe conspiracy theorist. Then I came across this tweet from Rep Alex Mooney’s official Congressional Twitter account celebrating the recent passage of “his” bill, with a cookie cake to boot!
Again, not out of the ordinary. The cookie cake might be a bit much but it’s normal for Congress members to share their legislative achievements. Good for him! Rep Mooney seemed proud to share this bill that, in his words, will help “rural small businesses owners gain access to capital and create…jobs in states like West Virginia.” Alright sir! Getting funding approved for small rural businesses is definitely worth touting. In a state like West Virginia business owners face a lot of hurdles in running operations– geography and low population density increase travel times, having the savings to properly renovate buildings is rare, and getting outbid for properties by bigger companies is not uncommon. Any and all effort to get money in the pockets of small businesses and entrepreneurs means more money circulating in local economies. So, excited to see our government make positive changes, I began looking into the bill to find out the specifics.
Let us read it together, it’s pretty short. The Congressman’s photo is a bit blurry but thankfully we have a bill number clearly written in red frosting: H.R. 298. Our Congress has a website that details all bills introduced- including their text, progress, or lack thereof, and their sponsors. Simply googling “HR 298 2023 Congress” will bring us the bill text on congress.gov (https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-bill/298). House Resolution 298: Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act. This resolution would amend the 1934 Securities Exchange Act, Section 4(j)(15 U.S.C. 78d(j)) by adding (1) “rural-area small businesses,” after “women-owned small businesses” to paragraph (4)(C), and (2) “rural-area small businesses,” after “women-owned small businesses” to paragraph (6)(B)(iii). Okay– at this point a tiny red flag popped up in my head. Most people would have left it there but I smelled something off so I went to the text of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act.
Let’s break it down and bear with me as I try to sum up a boring text. Basically, 15 U.S.C. 78d(j) creates the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation, and Section (4)(j) details the role of the Advocate, including investigating issues faced by a variety of small businesses, helping to resolve issues brought to the Advocate’s attention, and providing reports directly to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The two changes H.R. 298 makes to this text is as follows, with new text [bracketed] and bolded:
(15 U.S.C. 78d(j)) Section 4(j) paragraph (4)(C): identify problems that small businesses have with securing access to capital, including any unique challenges to minority-owned small businesses, women-owned small businesses, [rural-area small businesses,] and small businesses affected by hurricanes or other natural disasters;
(15 U.S.C. 78d(j)) Section 4(j) paragraph (6)(b)(iii): a summary of the most serious issues encountered by small businesses and small business investors, including any unique issues encountered by minority-owned small businesses, women-owned small businesses, [rural-area small businesses,] and small businesses affected by hurricanes or other natural disasters and their investors, during the reporting period; (AUTHOR’S CONTEXT- paragraph (6) instructs the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation to make and provide a report to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives on the Office’s “activities.”)
The full text of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act can be found at (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2021-title15/html/USCODE-2021-title15-chap2B-sec78d.htm)
So the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation would be empowered to identify problems rural small businesses may have, and to write those problems up in an annual report given to Senate and House Committees. Alright, let’s take a step back. When I read Rep Mooney’s original Twitter post celebrating this bill I read it as though capital would be accessible if H.R. 298 passed through the Senate. Upon reading the text it amends, it is clear to me it simply adds the category of “rural-area small businesses” to a list of reports. In my opinion, Rep Mooney’s tweet is misleading. This bill may provide access to capital to small businesses, under a different definition than I initially read access as, but it certainly will not mean these small businesses will create good-paying jobs. It feels as though the Congressman is trying to exaggerate his accomplishments to benefit his upcoming 2024 Senate campaign; but, at the end of the day this is a good thing. Identifying issues is a start to fixing a problem, and being specific about who you’re reporting on is important. I began wondering how the vote went; was it partisan? Were their objections?
On the same website we visited to see the text of H.R. 298 you can click a tab called “Actions” and expand the search to “All Actions,” finding that the bill, passed on 1/30/2023, had a 40-minute debate! Thank god for arduous record keepers and transcribers because it means our Congress has easy-to-access copies of all actions on the floor including this debate. Alright, the rabbit hole continues deeper! It’s all pretty standard chatter– this Representative moves to debate the bill, this Representative speaks in support, blah blah blah. Pageantry and showmanship. Strikingly, this bill seemed to have no detractors! Every speaker rose in support. Things start to heat up when Rep Maxine Waters of California rises in support of H.R. 298, saying, “Last Congress, this bill was led by Democrats and introduced by my good friend, former Representative Axne of Iowa. The bill passed the House last year, and I continue to support it.” Realizing the bill didn’t actually provide capital to rural small businesses was a small red flag, but this statement from Rep Waters was a full on siren. Not only, in my opinion, did Rep Mooney put out a misleading statement about H.R. 298’s potential impact, but now I find out a similar bill was supported by the Democratic Party in 2022! Juicy.
My first instinct: FIND THE ORIGINAL BILL. I searched for Rep Cynthia Axne of Iowa and went through the bills she had introduced. Low and behold, H.R. 5123 of the 117th Congress, “Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act” Introduced on 8/31/21 and passed 7/26/22, eventually dying in the Senate after it failed to make it on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs calendar.
You read that right. Not only was Rep Waters correct, the Democratic Party had supported this measure last Congress, but the title is the exact same. And, you guessed it, the TEXT is the exact same. Rep Mooney was presented a cookie cake for having a bill he introduced pass through the House, the SAME BILL introduced by a Democratic Rep in 2021. Yowzers. As I’m live tweeting these discoveries I decide to look for a Twitter account associated with former Rep Axne. AGAIN, thank god for arduous record keepers because her official Twitter is archived and still accessible on the site. Searching through her tweets that contain the name of this bill you find many tweets in support of passage. Specifically, from the day she introduced this bill, she tweeted that its purpose was to “improve support for rural entrepreneurs & ensure that rural small businesses have a seat at the table.” That is very different from saying the bill will “bring good paying jobs.” Rep Axne in simple terms described the real effect “Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act,” would have on rural businesses— even tagging Rep Alex Mooney in the tweet. Rep Mooney took the moment to run a victory lap with a cookie cake.
At this point I am questioning if this bill was even written by Rep Axne. I mean, come on, it’s a few lines that add words to definitions– anyone can write that. I ended up searching the congress.gov legislation archives for the title of the bill “Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act.” What I found was, to my shock, the bill -under the exact same name and with the exact same text- dates back to 2017 (HR 4281, 115th Congress), originally introduced by former Democratic Rep Ruben Kihuen of Nevada! It did not get a vote, and Rep Kihuen did not seek re-election in 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault came to light. It was resurrected by Rep Axne in 2019 (HR 2409, 116th Congress) and was approved– dying in the Senate after it failed to make it on the calendar for the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. As we mentioned, it was resurrected in 2021 (HR 5128 of the 117th Congress) and was approved– dying in the Senate after it failed to make it on the calendar for the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. And, resurrected for a third time, was introduced again in 2022 (HR 298) by Rep Mooney and was approved by the House and sent, once again, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
I was practically in tears laughing. Peak insanity is a politician posting a cookie cake celebrating a bill that does almost nothing; A bill he didn’t even write nor was he the first to sponsor nor the first to see it passed; To take that cookie cake, and that cookie-cutter bill, and sell it to West Virginia as something that provides “access to capital” to rural-area small businesses and “brings good paying jobs” to West Virginia is incredibly frustrating. It is an insult trying to exaggerate the success you’ve had in Congress, relying on your constituents to believe you– to not dig around and find the truth behind your…cookie cake lies. As Rep Axne accurately stated in 2021, this bill give rural-area small businesses a “seat at the table.” Anyone, Democrat or Republican or Independent or Mountain, can agree on that. Coming from a Representative who clearly has an eye on the national spotlight, and, in my opinion, is carpetbagging his way to that spotlight on the backs of West Virginians, is not a surprise but a slap in the face no less. We should expect more from our elected officials and we should think seriously if Mr. Mooney should be entrusted to represent this state- for many reasons greater than a cookie cake.
I’ll leave you with this statement followed by a call to action:
Yes, this is small potatoes. This isn’t earth shaking stuff. This bill is simple and the exaggeration is light. However, I would argue a major problem with our elected officials is their propensity to exaggerate the little stuff in an attempt to sell us, their constituents, big stuff. They want to sell us on the idea that they’re fighting for us, that they’re winning that fight, and that money is coming to our state. When Rep Mooney says this resolution will bring good paying jobs and access to capital, he’s exaggerating for his benefit. He’s pretending the benefit is a shared one, but at the end of the day Mr Mooney is the only one eating that cookie cake. We, the people of West Virginia, and small businesses in the state specifically, will see no change if this bill passes. All it does is add this to a list of categories for an office to report on and deliver to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs– the same Committee that has received this exact bill THREE TIMES and has let it die TWICE of lack of attention, not by a vote. Do we really believe this Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs would use this information in a meaningful way if it doesn’t consider the bill itself a priority?
Ultimately, however, this bill deserves to pass. Whether it deserves to have Alex Mooney’s name on it is up for debate. If you are interested in seeing this bill passed –a common sense, bipartisan bill– we need to reach the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. The chair is Sen Sherrod Brown, (202) 224-2315, and the vice chair is Sen Tim Scott, (202) 224-6121. Sadly, neither Sen Shelley Moore Capito, (202) 224-6472, or Sen Joe Manchin (202) 224-3954, are members of this Committee, but you can still reach out to them at their offices to express your support and encourage them to lobby their peers to add HR 298 to the Committee’s calendar. If you would like to do this I recommend you following the following script:
“Hello [SENATOR], my name is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR STATE] and I am asking you to consider H.R. 298 on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. This resolution has bipartisan support and has passed the House in 2020, 2022, and by Rep Alex Mooney in 2023. I believe it is important for rural-area small businesses to be represented by the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation.”
OR FOR CONTACTING OUR SENATORS TO LOBBY THEIR PEERS TO TAKE UP HR 298:
“Hello [SEN CAPITO OR MANCHIN], my name is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR CITY OR ZIP CODE] and I am asking you to ask your peers on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to consider H.R. 298. This resolution has been passed with bipartisan support in the House in 2020, 2022, and recently spearheaded by Rep Alex Mooney in 2023. I believe it is important for rural-area small businesses in West Virginia be represented by the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation.”
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