The New York Times editorializes on Speaker [sw: Dennis Hastert]'s (R-Ill.) land deal:
Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, promised credible reform back when the stench of illegal quid pro quo dealings between lobbyists and ethically challenged lawmakers seized public attention. But nothing close to true self-policing is emerging from Congress. And now Mr. Hastert is the latest lawmaker in the limelight for the rampant pork-barrel practice of earmarking — the swift, debate-free inclusion in mass appropriations bills of small fortunes in government favors for special pleaders. In the speaker's case, his $200 million earmark to advance a road project known as Prairie Parkway back home in Illinois became an acute embarrassment after local news media and critics discovered Mr. Hastert netted a fast $2 million profit from dealing in land situated several miles from the proposed roadway. ... But we can hope Mr. Hastert would see, at least in hindsight, the cloud that this activity has cast over Congress, which slipped 13,012 earmarks to passage this year worth $67 billion. That's a tripling of the pork trough since the Republicans won control of the House in 1994. Sometimes it seems as if earmarking is all this Congress knows how to do. Members have spent so few calendar days in Washington that they hark back to the "do-nothing" Congress excoriated six decades ago by President Harry Truman.Continue reading
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."Continue reading
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."