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Tag Archive: Bill Frist

Announcing Online Poll

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Today, Sunlight is posting an online poll asking the public if Congress is doing enough to address ethics and lobbying reform in the wake of recent scandals. We've posted one serious question and another one with a touch of humor: do you think it more likely that there would be a live sighting of Elvis before the current congressional leadership showed real leadership on the need for reform? (The poll is viewable here, and bloggers are encouraged to copy the source code and post it on their own sites.)

Why the cynical question? Here's a brief guide to the issue.

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Frist Fined By FEC:

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Today the FEC announced that it is fining Senate Majority Leader [sw: Bill Frist] (R-TN) $11,000 for failing to properly report a $1.44 million loan that he took out for his 2000 re-election campaign.

In June 2000, Senator Frist took $1 million of the money that had been contributed to his 2000 Senate campaign and invested it in the stock market, where it promptly began losing money. In November 2000, Senator Frist sought to collect $1.2 million he had lent his 1994 Senate campaign committee. As a result of the stock market losses, however, Frist 2000, Inc. did not have enough money to repay the loan. Senator Frist solved this problem by having the 1994 and the 2000 campaign committees jointly take out a $1.44 million bank loan at a cost of $10,000 a month interest. Frist 2000, Inc. did not report this debt on its FEC disclosure forms.

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Jefferson Raid Controversy Continues:

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The controversy over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office continued today despite efforts by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) to put it to rest over the weekend. Frist, who was on "Fox New Sunday", stated about the FBI, "I don't think it abused separation of powers ... I think there's allegations of criminal activity, and the American people need to have the law enforced." House Judiciary Committee James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) feels differently and today he held a hearing titled "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?" Sensenbrenner and the ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) agreed that the raid was out of bounds with the chairman saying, "It is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch." Conyers stated, "We've never learned why the member in question was not permitted to have his attorneys present while his offices were searched for some 18 hours."

Personally, I believe that this was an extraordinary case, but was not conducted "out of bounds". The affidavit against Jefferson was unbelievably detailed, showing an almost unparalleled level of corruption by an elected official. The FBI was carrying out a legally obtained warrant to search Jefferson's office in relation to activities that did not include any legislative action nor any activity directly related to his elected role. I don't think that members can live above the law just because they have been chosen by the people of their district or state to represent them. That is essentially the argument of people who are against the raid: that members may operate their congressional office as though it were a Cayman Islands bank account (hat tip to Bill Allison). This is what Josh Marshall is getting at when he states his support of the raid:

If the Feds can raid a congressman's house, it's not clear to me why they can't raid his office. Sure, there's some room for prudential restraint and a respect for comity. But if the DOJ can't search a congressman's office, then the power to investigate and prosecute close to falls apart since that creates a safe harbor for incriminating information. Any serious claim that the functioning of Congress falls outside the bounds of the DOJ would apply to acts as well as work product. And that means that any bribery prosecution is impossible since official acts are an element of the crime.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) makes the same point in issuing his support for the raid and surprise at the bipartisan reaction against the raid:
I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.
If you want to read a selection of arguments made by law professors Josh has a number of links here (pro and con).

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In Blog Daylight:

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  • Nico at Think Progress writes about the importance of "Nine Fingers". For those who haven't been following the Cunningham/Wilkes/Prostitution scandal as close as others "Nine Fingers" is a CIA agent who attended the infamous poker parties that Wilkes threw at the Watergate and Westin hotels. These poker games are alleged to have turned into hooker parties.
  • Also at Think Progress, Judd writes that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) inserted a provision into a Defense Appropriations bill that was written by the vaccine industry. The provision "granted vaccine manufactures near-total immunity for injuries or deaths (even in cases of “gross negligence”) caused by their drugs during a viral pandemic, such as an outbreak of the avian flu." The vaccine industry's lobbyist was none other than Hastert's son, Joshua Hastert.
  • Raw Story picks up a Roll Call story that shows more trouble for Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Taking trips to Spain paid for by non-profits that you created and then funnelled millions of dollars in federal earmarks to while receiving campaign contributions from the directors of said non-profits is bound to raise some eyebrows.

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Senate Votes to Ban Gifts, Meals; Schumer Holds up Reform:

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The Senate voted to ban lobbyists from providing lawmakers and their staffs with meals and gifts, according to the New York Times. The meal ban was attached to broader reform legislation and was approved unanimously by voice vote. Aside from the meal and gift ban the reform legislation would require members to disclosure all privately financed travel, double the “cooling off” period for legislators turned lobbyists from one year to two years, and allow members to challenge individual earmarks. The most contentious part of the reform legislation would “require, for the first time, the disclosure of big, paid grass-roots lobbying campaigns aimed at influencing government officials.” The Family Research Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the ACLU oppose this reform. Meanwhile, Roll Call reports that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in an attempt to block the United Arab Emirates from taking over control of numerous US ports, attached an amendment to the lobbying reform legislation that would block the controversial port deal that is supported by the Bush administration. This has thrown the reform process into disarray as Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) filed for cloture to block Schumer’s amendment.

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