Maybe the HBO show The Wire should have focused on congressional wheeling and dealing in Washington rather than the inner city drug trade in Baltimore. Just after I wrote a post about corruption and scandal tilting over a dozen congressional races yet another congressman, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., finds himself the subject of an FBI investigation with a grand jury already impaneled, wiretaps monitoring cellphones, and raids on six locations in Pennsylvania and Florida. Bill Allison has already discussed some interesting tidbits of the case and Weldon's page at Congresspedia covers the details and history of the investigation and Weldon's connections to the Russian energy giant Itera and the Serbian brothers who previously were tight with mass murderer Slobodan Milosovic. But just today we got a taste of how Weldon has been trying to suppress discussion of this whole matter by being, um, less than transparent.
Today’s the monthly reporting deadline for political party committees at the Federal Election Commission – the second-to-last report we’ll get before election day. In anticipation, there’ve been a flurry of news stories this week focusing on the flow of money as a way of analyzing the horse race.
Wednesday’s story by Jim VandeHei in the Washington Post – “Funding Constrains Democrats” – was particularly illuminating, as it revealed both a hunger for more money and a split among Democrats in how to husband the resources they’ve got. As VandeHei explained it:
Far be it from me to offer them any material, but with poll numbers like these coming in the wake of notable incumbents having pled guilty to crimes (Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Rep. Bob Ney), others apparently involved in business deals that have the attentions of federal investigators (Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Alan Mollohan, Rep. William Jefferson), and still others who have family members whose homes and offices were raided by the Feds (Rep. Curt Weldon, Sen. Ted Stevens), perhaps it won't be too much longer until we'll be getting emails from Nigeria like this one:
I've just had a chance to skim the opinion in the Department of Homeland Security v. Washington Post case, but it looks to me like it has some interesting implications for opening up Congress. (Its on Lexis, so I can't link.)
The case requires the Secret Service to expedite the Washington Post FOIA request for disclosure of the logs of visits to Vice President Cheney's office. (It does not, as the papers say, require that disclosure, but it suggests it will likely be required.)
There are two critical features of it. The first is that the judge allows for expedition of the case based on the "urgency to inform the public." This creates a legal precedent that information about lobbyist access to politicians is "urgent" to inform the public in a timely manner.
It looks like judges are getting with the transparency picture. Today, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that by the end of next week, the Secret Service must produce access to records of who visited Vice President in his office and at his personal residence.
The Washington Post asked for two years of White House visitor logs in June but the Secret Service refused to process the request. Government attorneys called it "a fishing expedition into the most sensitive details of the vice presidency."
How likely is it that Karl Rove is right, and that Republicans will hold both the House and Senate in the 2006 elections? I don't pretend to know -- and remember, I'm the guy who once again is betting the Philadelphia Eagles will win the Superbowl, but let me offer a few thoughts as to why the GOP might very well have grounds for confidence. Let me also note that I don't have any particular Rove obsession: He's human, and he may well be absolutely wrong or saying something he knows is wrong for tactical reasons--declaring "Woe is me" might well be one of those sorts of things that depress turnout. In any case, here goes...
We've gotten some great feedback on planning the next round of our Congressional Family Business investigation, both from inside the office, from some of the folks who made the first round such a success, and from some smart observers (thanks to David Cohn for posting that at Digg!).
We're starting to design phase two now (what this means in practice is that I get to keep bothering our Sunlight Labs geniuses with questions that begin with cringe-inducing phrases like, "How quickly could you..." or "How hard would it be to..." or "Would it be possible to..."). I'm really excited about round two; and even though we won't be able to incorporate all the excellent suggestions we've gotten right away, this step will include some of your ideas while also giving us the building blocks to do some never-before-seen investigations, like figuring out whether spouses work for companies or organizations that have gotten federal contracts or grants (something our friends at OMB Watch have made possible through FedSpending.org), or for firms that lobby or hire lobbyists to influence Congress.
CNN reports this morning a new poll which shows the depths to which people have come to think that Congress is corrupt.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Half of all Americans believe most members of Congress are corrupt -- a figure that has risen 12 points since the start of the year -- and more than a third think their own representative is crooked, according to a new poll released Thursday by CNN. According to the poll, a majority disapproves of how both parties are handling their jobs in Congress. Just 42 percent approve of how the Democrats are doing in Congress, while 54 percent disapprove. The GOP fares even worse -- only 36 percent approve of their performance in Congress, while 61 percent disapprove. Pollsters from Opinion Research Corp. interviewed 1,012 Americans from Friday through Sunday. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. In January, 22 percent of those polled said they believed their own member of Congress was corrupt, a number that has jumped to 36 percent since then.
I thought it might be useful to take stock of how much attention the new databases released by Center for Responsive Politics (Congressional Personal Financial Disclosure and Travel) and OMB Watch (Government Grants and Contracts) attracted last week.
From Massie Ritsch at CRP:
In the first six days that the new personal finances and travel databases were online OpenSecrets.org logged nearly 140,000 unique visitors (though some may have visited over multiple days). OS logged more than 1.6 million page views and more than 7 million hits in that time.
A lot of cars have passed through the intersection since Woody Allen famously dismissed leaving his beloved New York for the California glitz of Los Angeles, “where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.”
Give it up, Woody. California’s done it again – this time with a new and intriguing web-based template for matching political contributions with legislative votes.
It’s on a new website, launched just yesterday, called MAPLight.org. (The MAP stands for Money And Politics.) The site is the brainchild of Dan Newman, executive director of Take Back California, a campaign finance activist group that created the website as its latest project.