A story we covered here at Sunlight a while back just reached it's conclusion. Former Rep. William Jefferson was just found guilty of 11 of 16 counts in a bribery and corruption trial that cost him reelection last year. If you want the full story I'd check out the Open Congress page on Jefferson's corruption case and read our previous coverage here.
Local county commissioners in the district of Indiana Rep. Mike Pence passed a resolution requesting that the congressman end his ban on earmarks. The President of Ball State University is also supporting the call for Pence to accept earmarks.
Rep. Darrell Issa is seeking more information on Countrywide's VIP mortgage deals with lawmakers and political figures like Sens. Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad. Issa is trying to obtain eight years worth of documents relating to the "Friends of Angelo" program. Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide, is currently facing multiple indictments brought by the federal government.
The trial of former Rep. William Jefferson is finally getting under way. In case you forgot, Jefferson was caught with $90,000 in cash in his freezer.
And over at Party Time, Nancy Watzman has a post on how a little sunlight can make lawmakers rethink how they fundraise. A common practice in fundraising letters is to list the committee memberships of the lawmaker raising money. For a fundraiser to aid Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democratic lobbyist Heather Podesta went a little over the line in her solicitation, aligning amounts of money with the committees Feinstein sits on. Feinstein wound up cancelling the fundraiser due to the appearance of impropriety.
Jon Henke , one of the founding editors at The Next Right, wrote an interesting post comparing the bribes Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of soliciting and the give-and-take "bribery" of Congress and its "cash constituents." Jon writes, "Gov. Blagojevich merely did what our US Congress does as a matter of routine." In one sense, I can see his point. While it doesn't appear to be quite as direct is what Blagojevich is accused of, we often speculate that both Democrats and Republicans exchange campaign contributions for favors. But Blagojevich is accused of soliciting money for himself personally. That's not quite what Congress does routinely, though there are certainly some examples of it.
There are lawmakers who have been accused (William Jefferson ) and convicted (Randy "Duke" Cunningham ) of similar types of bribery. And there was the 1980 Abscam where FBI agents dressed up as Middle Eastern sheiks willing to bribe politicians. The sting netted scores of pols, leading to19 people (including seven members of Congress) being convicted of bribery or related charges in the case. But does the horse trading Congress conducts, often unseemly as it is, reach that level of crude bribery? It might be close, but I don't think it's quite the same kettle of fish.
This is where more transparency is key to combating corruption. Openness is not only the cure for the sickness; it's a prophylactic that åcould prevent the illness in the first place.
Take Jon's hobbyhorse -- earmarks. The practice of earmarks might not be a problem...or the problem just might be the lack of transparency. Suspicions of quid pro quos is all too strong where the process is opaque and there is huge potential for corruption. If the decisions were made in the light of day, I suspect there would be far less abuse.
Despite the heavy Democratic tilt of the district, voters froze indicted Rep. William Jefferson out in the cold just like the $90,000 in cash the FBI found in his freezer. The New Orleans congressman, under indictment since 2007 on multiple bribery related charges, was defeated for reelection on Saturday in a run-off race with Republican Ahn "Joseph" Cao in Louisiana. Jefferson, who I've been following here at Sunlight since his alleged corruption became apparent back in 2006, previously won reelection under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2006.
The best resource to review the background of Jefferson's case is his page at Congresspedia.
This makes two defeats for lawmakers under a cloud of corruption. Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted of seven felonies prior to his November 4th defeat. All other lawmakers facing known investigations either retired (Reps. Rick Renzi and John Doolittle) or won reelection.
In some ways it is unbelievable to think that a candidate for the United States Senate, fresh off of seven felony convictions, could win reelection. Never underestimate the power of resentment and incumbency. At the moment it appears that felonious Sen. Ted Stevens will be reelected to an eighth term. Sen. Stevens joins a few other scandal plagued lawmakers winning reelection.
Stevens' congressional partner, Rep. Don Young, under investigation by the Justice Department for various earmark schemes, appears headed back to Congress. Also, Rep. William Jefferson, facing a 16 count indictment on corruption charges, won handily in his New Orleans district. (Update: Jefferson's election was actually delayed due to new rules in Louisiana related to elections and hurricanes.)
Two Florida lawmakers embroiled in scandals did fail to win reelection. Rep. Tom Feeney, one of the last of the Abramoffian congressmen, lost badly. Feeney had to cut a commercial during the campaign in which he apologized for going on a golfing trip to Scotland that was secretly paid for by Jack Abramoff. Freshman Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney, caught in a TMZ style adultery scandal, was crushed in his attempted reelection.
Despite his likely victory, Sen. Stevens will be expelled, or forced to retire, from the U.S. Senate. As Yoda might say, "Convictions on felony counts do not a Senator make." Speeding up the process may be the desire for Republicans to finally purge their ranks of the members tainted by corruption. Republican Sen. John Ensign has already expressed the likely position of the Republican caucus, stating that expulsion would not wait until after Sen. Stevens' appeal process is complete.
Back from PDF Conference in NYC; how is Tom Ridge like Adil Hoxha?; more mortgage disclosures; congressional ethics office empty; and more failed challenges from Hall of Shame indictee William Jefferson.
For two years, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge failed to disclose that he lobbied and consulted for Albania. After a Justice Department interview Ridge decided to finally file a disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Despite assurances from spokesmen at Ridge's consulting firm, Ridge Global, that Ridge was not involved in any lobbying in the U.S., his disclosure lists meetings with congressmen on behalf of Albania. Perhaps more disturbing than this disclosure oversight is the reality of the Justice Department's intervention, which was spurred not by oversight or investigation, but by media reports. I'd like to think that oversight of foreign lobbyists was not led by someone reading the Washington Post for clues and nothing else.
The Politico's effort to get senators to reveal the mortgages on their personal residences is continuing along as only 15 senators have refused to answer.
Created earlier this year to provide an independent check on ethics, the Office of Congressional Ethics will be statutorily functional in two weeks. There's only one problem: the office has yet to be staffed. In fact, according to Roll Call, none of the top prospects in academia, law, and retired lawmakers have been contacted. Rep. Steny Hoyer gets about as obtuse as possible when saying, "We established an ethics office." Okay, now staff it.
Rep. William Jefferson, at the center of a Nigerian phone scam gone wrong, lost another challenge in court. Jefferson tried to get statements he made while the FBI searched his house and questioned him thrown out of court because he was not read his Miranda rights. Of course, police only need to read Miranda rights if you are arrested.
The Pfizer-General Motors-Northwest Airlines-United-Coors Democratic and Republican conventions are looking for more sponsors; Dodd doesn't understand acronyms; sometimes it's not really disclosure; bad campaign donations; ethics complaints; angry foreigners; and our favorite frozen food fan, William Jefferson. Only the Sunlight Foundation sponsors this news:
The next big moment in the 2008 Presidential election will be the late-summer nominating conventions where a carefully staged and scripted performance will be fueled by large corporate donations despite the reformer images presented by the two nominees. Participants can expect discounted plane tickets, free cars, hot parties, and lobbyists, lobbyists, lobbyists. The inverse of AA, sponsors don't help you with your problem, they make it worse. Both convention organizing committees have released documents to leading corporate fundraisers informing them that certain levels of contributions will lead to access to elected officials. The Republican convention packet explains to donors that they will be able to "connect with influential government officials (cabinet, president, next president)." The Democratic convention produced a "corporate sponsorship package" that gets you into events with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Ken Salazar, among others. To his credit, Democratic nominee Barack Obama wants to change the corporate funding model for conventions.
Sen. Chris Dodd claims that he did nothing wrong when he received a preferential mortgage from Countrywide Financial because he did not know that the VIP program meant he would be treated with preference. I can't decide if this makes Sen. Chris Dodd totally out of touch or totally in touch with the average American. Sen. Kent Conrad continues to defend his name, stating that he received preferential treatment unknowingly. Conrad has donated the estimated amount of money he saved from the treatment to charity.
Speaking of congressional mortgages and homes, you won't always find them on the personal financial disclosures that lawmakers are required to file. Why? Because lawmakers don't have to list personal residences that don't create rental income. The Politico writes, "They don’t have to disclose loan amounts. They don’t have to disclose loan rates. And they don’t have to disclose mortgage lenders." Sen. John Cornyn, ranking Ethics Committee member, states that he would like to see changes in personal financial disclosure forms.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack is being asked about campaign contributions from Inland Empire businessmen currently under investigation for contributions to state-level California politicians.
CREW files an ethics complaint against "dead-beat congresswoman" Laura Richardson.
Foreign companies that own U.S.-based subsidiaries are fighting back against proposed transparency reforms by Sen. Chuck Schumer to close loopholes in the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The federal grant at the center of the indictment of family members of Rep. William Jefferson began as an earmark inserted at the last minute into an appropriations bill. In an unsurprising turn of events, no lawmaker has taken credit for the earmark.
Wealth disparity in Congress as lawmakers disclosure their finances; KBR can't decide if it's "Support the Troops" or "All for the Ca$h;" McCain's soft-money cash cow is called what again; and William Jefferson starts to pay back a loan to businessman who is currently a government witness against him. If you work for the Army, don't do your job, it could get you fired. This is today's news:
Yesterday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill disclosed their personal finances to the public highlighting recent news stories and controversies. At least a dozen lawmakers report loans from Countrywide on their personal financial disclosure forms. Last year, nine lawmakers reported loans from the mortgage giant currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe and a congressional influence scandal. There is no implication of wrongdoing on their part. Tardiness consistently plagues the financial disclosure process. This year, sixty-six lawmakers in the House failed to disclose on time. Meanwhile, the economic downturn hit some lawmaker finances hard. Both Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel lost millions of dollars as the market dropped. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, however, both grew their personal fortunes. (Check out previous personal finance data at Fortune 535 or Open Secrets.)
An Army contracting officer reports that he was fired in 2004 for refusing to approve $1 billion in questionable charges from KBR, the defense contractor providing food and housing for Army troops in Iraq. The inspector general for Iraq reconstruction reported last year that KBR was using improper procedures and failed to keep appropriate records. When the officer told KBR that he would withhold payment the contractor replied that if they were not paid for the questionable charges they would "reduce payments to subcontractors, which in turn would cut back on services." It's nice to know that our contractors use our countries soldiers as a chit in a game to make more loot.
A non-profit headed by allies and former staffers of Sen. John McCain repeatedly accepted large soft money contributions from corporations with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chaired at the time. The Reform Institute (that's the actual name) pushed issues like campaign finance reform and largely mirrored the efforts of McCain.
Rep. William Jefferson is finally paying back a loan to a businessman who is currently a government witness against the embattled New Orleans lawmaker. No word on the temperature of the money used to pay back the loan.
Update: CREW has the indictment. If you've got time take a look. It's 94 pages long.
Today, a Virginia grand jury indicted 9-term Louisiana congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) on 16 counts including racketeering, solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violating the foreign corrupt practices act, and conspiracy. Jefferson is accused of accepting bribes and conspiring to bribe Nigerian government officials to promote a telephone business venture. The conspiracy involved two U.S.-based companies, iGate and W2 Corp. The head of iGate, Vernon Jackson, has already pled guilty and been sentenced to more than seven years in prison. The business conspiracy was upended when W2 head Lori Mody flipped to the FBI after allegedly being cheated out of her business by Jefferson, Jackson, and Jefferson's family. Mody handed over key information to the FBI and wore a wire, catching Jefferson admitting to the conspiracy on tape. If all of this evidence wasn't enough for Jefferson, the FBI raid on his house in Louisiana netted $90,000 in cash hidden away in the congressman's freezer.
On day one of the new Democratic Congress staffers are already finding that an old problem is giving them new headaches. Already Rep. William Jefferson - under investigation for accepting bribes and hiding $90,000 in cash in his freezer - has violated House rules by using his Congressional stationary to send a letter "asking colleagues to donate money to help him retire his campaign debt." Roll Call notes, "It’s a no-no to use taxpayer resources to raise campaign dough." One staffer jokes, "He’s got $90,000 in his freezer, why can’t he buy some stationery and stamps?" Jefferson's staff say it's a "tremendous staff error". But, hey, New Orleans you guys voted for him! (Subscription free at Political Insider.)