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Tag Archive: Dennis Hastert

Hastert: “Nothing to it”

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The Aurora Beacon News reports that [sw: Dennis Hastert] (R-Ill.) is "miffed" at the allegations, first reported here at the Sunlight Foundation, that he improperly profited from a real estate deal while pushing for the Praire State Parkway. Hastert says, "There is no substance to it. I've been working on the Prairie Parkway probably for a good 18 years. That's a matter of record, it is not built. Nothing to it." An article by Joe Conason in Salon shows that what Hastert was doing has a long tradition in American politics going back to Tammany Hall:

A hundred years ago, George Washington Plunkitt, New York state senator and leader of the Tammany Democrats, explained how to profit from "honest graft."

Journalist William Riordon recorded the great grifter's immortal words in "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall," a classic volume that must be consulted by anyone who hopes to understand urban (and now suburban) politics.

"I seen my opportunities and I took 'em," Plunkitt famously boasted. The boss went on to discuss in detail exactly what he meant:

"My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

"I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

"Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft.

"Or, supposin' it's a new bridge they're goin' to build. I get tipped off and I buy as much property as I can that has to be taken for approaches. I sell at my own price later on and drop some more money in the bank.

"Wouldn't you? It's just like lookin' ahead in Wall Street or in the coffee or cotton market. It's honest graft, and I'm lookin' for it every day in the year."

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Response from, and to, Speaker Hastert’s Attorney

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On Tuesday evening, we received the following reply to our previously issued open letter to J. Randolph Evans, who is "Counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert." In that letter, we wrote in part, "we ask that you please identify the specific passages in the aforementioned story that you regard as actionable." The text of both Mr. Evan's latest email and my response are reproduced below:

Sent: Tuesday, June 20, 2006 5:55 PM To: Bill Allison Subject: RE: Request for Further Information/Clarification Dear Mr. Allison,

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Daylight AM:

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  • The Washington Post and The Hill finally run stories on [sw: Dennis Hastert]'s land deal in Kendall County, Illinois. The Post story looks at Hastert's land deal along side the land deals of Reps. [sw: Ken Calvert] (R-Calif.) and [sw: Gary Miller] (R-Calif.). Both Calvert and Miller made large sums of money off of land that they helped, through the earmarking process, become more profitable. Their stories are here and here respectively.
  • New tax records show that Rep. [sw: Alan Mollohan] (D-W.Va.) steered $179 million in federal earmarks to companies that contributed to charities that he is associated with. According to Bloomberg, "The money went to 21 companies and nonprofit groups that contributed $225,427 to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation in 2004 -- almost half of the charity's revenue". Charities connected to politicians (or spouses of politicians) are a way for companies and interests to curry favor from a legislator out of the public eye. Numerous lawmakers have used their charities inappropriately including Senators Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). I'm sure that there are many more political charity abuses that go unnoticed.
  • The Senate Indian Affairs Committee just released their final report on the Jack Abramoff tribal scandal, "Gimme Five -- Investigation of Tribal Lobbying Matters". The Arizona Republic reported this morning that the report is expected to "read more like a summer mystery novel with chapters missing than a tell-all account of former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff's corrupt influence in Washington." Since Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) refused to call members of Congress to testify before his committee those "missing chapters" will have to be filled in by the Justice Department and our courts.
  • Most members of Congress do not read the bills that they vote on. Rep. [sw: John McHugh] (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee personnel subcommittee, did not know that a provision existed in a bill that he crafted that he "philosophically" opposed. Oops. Maybe we should pay attention next time. Or we could make bills available 72 hours before they are voted on (as Readthebill.org is pushing) so that maybe somebody else could have caught what John McHugh didn't.

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Seeking Volunteers to Investigate Congress:

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Last week at Sunlight, we exposed House Speaker Dennis Hastert's use of a secret, undisclosed trust to make a $2 million profit selling land located near the proposed route of the Prairie Parkway, a project Hastert has backed with $207 million in earmarks.

There are still 539 congress members and delegates whose disclosure forms haven't been scrutinized. Want to investigate them, I'll explain below, and then you can email me if you're interested (ballison@sunlightfoundation.com).

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Today’s News:

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  • Roll Call tells Congress to "Start Over" on lobbying and ethics reform instead of heading forward, "[i]n typical GOP fashion," in manufacturing a compromise before the conference committee meets. The newspaper calls the reform the "Big Nothing" as it fails to fix the inherent problems in the matrix between lobbyists and Congress. The revolving door is a specific case that is not adequately addressed, a problem considering the revelations about members of Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis' (R-Calif.) staff ferrying between K Street and Capitol Hill.
  • The Columbus Dispatch points to the key outcome of the David Safavian guilty verdict, that Bob Ney (R-Ohio) is in deep trouble. The Safavian trial cements Ney's former chief of staff Neil Volz as a credible witness and also provides the prosecution with the ability to coerce more plea agreements from staffers and former staffers of lawmakers. The prosecution's success could signal movement towards other indictments sooner rather than later.
  • Looks like Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) earmarks are finding enemies within his own party. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) fired a shot across the bow at Hastert over an earmark Hastert inserted into the defense appropriations bill that would benefit a technology company headed by a former aide to the Speaker. Flake intends on offering an amendment to strip the earmark from the bill.
  • Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Jack Abramoff, pens an op-ed in USA Today that lambasts the Congress for not acting on real reform. He pinpoints the problem in the nexus of money and fundraising work provided by lobbyists who have a particular interest in legislation.
  • Laura Rozen gives a round-up of the allegations and discoveries in the investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) in this month's American Prospect.

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Daylight Weekend Round-Up:

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  • The print media in Illinois continues to run with [sw: Dennis Hastert]'s land deal, a story that Bill Allison started here at Sunlight. The Chicago Tribune ran a big article over the weekend that included denials of wrongdoing by Hastert and his partners that centered around the incorrect distance of 5.5 miles from the proposed freeway to the land (maps show that the distance is between 2.5 and 3 miles, a distance that Hastert's partner Dallas Ingemunson confirms). The key point in the Trib article comes towards the end where we learn that Hastert has purchased 126 acres in Kendall County with the same business partners. Looks like he intends on receiving continued profits from the federal projects that he is pushing.
  • At least 90 former Homeland Security officials from DHS and the White House's Office of Homeland Security left their government jobs to earn millions as lobbyists, executives, and consultants for companies seeking funds from these agencies, according to the New York Times.
  • The Department of Homeland Security found the missing letter that [sw: Duke Cunningham] sent to urge the issuance of a contract to Shirlington Limousines. Defense contractor Mitchell Wade's plea agreement contained allegations that Shirlington was hired by Brent Wilkes, alleged Cunningham briber, to ferry prostitutes to the now jailed congressman as payment for his earmarking services. A grand jury is investigating Shirlington's connections to the Cunningham case and their government contracts.
  • The lobbying firm at the center of the ethics cloud surrounding Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-CA) is breaking up, according to the San Bernardino Sun. The two Democrats who are partners at the firm are bolting due to the investigations into two of the three Republican partners. No more shall we refer to the firm as Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White. The firm will now be referred to as Lowery Denton & White. Soon it will probably be called Denton.

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A Question for Hastert

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Speaker Hastert's contention that this land dealings were not in the least bit impacted by the Prairie Parkway strikes me as a little bizarre. Consider this, from the Courier News:

The speaker told a Washington reporter Thursday that the land he sold is more than five miles away from the proposed 36-mile outer beltway. "So, it has nothing to do with the Prairie Parkway," Hastert said.
So, if being five miles away (actually three, as the same story later indicates) means a prospective homeowner and commuter will reap no benefit whatsoever from the parkway, why are taxpayers spending $207 million to build it?

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Open Letter To Speaker Hastert’s Lawyer

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I just emailed the following to Randall Evans, counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert: J. Randolph Evans McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP 1900 K Street NW Washington DC, 20006-1108 Dear Mr. Evans: A full two days have passed since you accused us, in publishing details of Speaker Hastert's use of an undisclosed trust to transact land deals in Plano, Ill., of "intentional and wilful (sic) conduct" "designed to injure the reputation of Speaker Hastert," demanded that our "false, libelous and defamatory matter be immediately withdrawn and corrected," and added that "[a]ll available remedies will be pursued for such conduct."

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Bloggers Pick Up Hastert Land Deal Story:

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Bill Allison’s story on Dennis Hastert’s land deal has shot off of the pages of Sunlight and out into the blogosphere. Needless to say we’re jumping out of our socks at Sunlight. We know there are thousands of investigators out there, and so much of what we want to do is provide the foothold for them to soar from, creating transparency whether Congress does it voluntarily or not. The blogosphere has picked up the story and is running with it, adding new information, graphic illustrations, and hearty debate. But first don’t forget to read Bill’s original piece and his numerous follow-ups.

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Hastert’s Inadequate Disclosure

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Let's assume, for a moment, that the line that House Speaker Dennis Hastert has taken, on display here for example, that his land deals in Kendall County are entirely unconnected with the Prairie Parkway (a point we certainly don't concede), and see whether it's a sufficient defense. Our story about Hastert revealed that he was conducting land transactions through a trust which he did not reveal on his annual financial disclosure form. We pointed out that the information he provided about his land investments was insufficient to locate the property. (The House Ethics manual states, "Disclosure of real property should include a description sufficient to permit its identification (e.g., street address or plat and map location)." We suggested that this inadequate disclosure prevented his constituents from knowing that he was selling land to real estate developers. And finally, we noted that Hastert has justified the Prairie Parkway to constituents by casting it as a solution to the problems created by growth.

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