In Broad Daylight: FBI Peeks Into VIP


An investigation begins into the Friends of Angelo. Stevens’ conviction prompts reform group push. Some people don’t like transparency. That and more in today’s news:

“Friends of Angelo” beware! The FBI is investigating the “VIP” home loan program for public officials operated by Countrywide. Countrywide chief Angelo Mozilo made sure that public officials who could be influential in matters relating to his business received “VIP” rates on interest rates and loan fees. Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. Kent Conrad both received “VIP” loans from Mozilo’s Countrywide. They are currently both cooperating with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. The operator of the “VIP” program Robert Feinberg spoke to federal investigators noting, “he’s not aware of any discounts linked to favors, but he did see e-mails noting the potential value of the relationships to Countrywide’s political and business interests.” Both Conrad and Dodd stated that they did not know that a “VIP” program would provide them with special perks and savings. Feinberg, however, responds, “nine times out of ten, once you mention ‘V.I.P’ the person’s gonna ask you ‘what am i getting for being in this V.I.P department?’ Or ‘what am I getting because I know Angelo?’ Or ‘I talked to Angelo and he said I’m getting this.'”

Sen. Ted Stevens faced a welcome reception among fellow Republicans in Alaska as he denounced the “corrupt prosecutors” who successfully won seven convictions against the seven-term senator. Back in Washington, reform groups are organizing to pressure the Senate to create an independent body, working in conjunction with the Senate Ethics Committee, to oversee ethics complaints. The House approved an independent oversight board this year. The ethics committees in both chambers have taken flack for failing to properly police their members. While the ethics process has, since the eighties, primarily been used as a partisan tool, the system completely shut down after former Majority Leader Tom DeLay was reprimanded multiple times for various abuses of House rules.

Some dare call it transparency. The Aspen Times reports on local political donors who are uneasy about the availability of campaign contribution information online. Most of these individuals did not know that their contributions would be part of the public record and are upset that Google searches for their name turn up their political contributions. Involvement in the activities of public figures, particularly the financing of them, requires disclosure to ensure an open and honest system of governance. There is no reason to fear Big Transparency.

If you’re paying attention to the presidential campaign and checking polls every half-hour you may want to check a decent predictor of the outcome, lobbyist shuffling on K Street. Comcast recently fired their Republican lobbyist Kerry Knott, a former Dick Armey aide, and replaced him with Melissa Maxfield, a former aide to former Sen. Tom Daschle. Daschle is, of course, a top aide to Sen. Barack Obama and noted as a potential White House Chief of Staff or cabinet secretary, in the case that Obama wins the Nov. 4 election. Companies are already girding up for future battles by taking on lobbyists who would have influence in a potential Obama administration.