The Earmark Transparency Act of 2010, a bipartisan bill introduced today by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., John McCain, R-Ariz., Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., vastly improves the way in which information about earmarks is disclosed. The bill requires a centralized, detailed, downloadable database that would track every earmark requested.
While Congress has greatly improved the amount of information available about earmarks, it has not provided that information in user friendly formats. A single point of access to machine readable, standardized earmark data has been needed since the House and Senate Appropriations Committees announced that they would require ...
In Broad Daylight: Disclosure Is Next To Cleanliness
Wealth disparity in Congress as lawmakers disclosure their finances; KBR can’t decide if it’s “Support the Troops” or “All for... View ArticleContinue reading
Investigating What Went Wrong in Iraq (and Congress’ Blissful Indifference)
Some $9 billion managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and intended for the rebuilding of Iraq has gone missing, journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele report in Vanity Fair, and the U.S. government doesn't seem particularly interested in finding out where it went. Barlett and Steele describe the Wild Wild Middle East atmosphere, in which two guys with no experience can get millions from the C.P.A. to protect civilian flights in and out of Iraq, and Bahamanian P.O. Boxes are the business addresses of choice for those supposedly keeping the books. Perhaps the most disturbing bit among many was just how out of touch Congress was on the doings in Baghdad during the C.P.A.'s tenure starting in 2003:
Over the next year, a compliant Congress gave $1.6 billion to Bremer to administer the C.P.A. This was over and above the $12 billion in cash that the C.P.A. had been given to disburse from Iraqi oil revenues and unfrozen Iraqi funds. Few in Congress actually had any idea about the true nature of the C.P.A. as an institution. Lawmakers had never discussed the establishment of the C.P.A., much less authorized it—odd, given that the agency would be receiving taxpayer dollars. Confused members of Congress believed that the C.P.A. was a U.S. government agency, which it was not, or that at the very least it had been authorized by the United Nations, which it had not. One congressional funding measure makes reference to the C.P.A. as "an entity of the United States Government"—highly inaccurate. The same congressional measure states that the C.P.A. was "established pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions"—just as inaccurate. The bizarre truth, as a U.S. District Court judge would point out in an opinion, is that "no formal document … plainly establishes the C.P.A. or provides for its formation.""Confused members of Congress" seems like both a phrase that should be far more common in news coverage, and an inappropriately charitable description. In any case, it's an incredible story from two of the best investigative reporters in the business -- well worth reading (and don't miss the Q&A Continue reading
Murder and Corruption in Iraq:
A woman's rights advocate is slain by gunmen in post-invasion Iraq. A corrupt defense contractor dispensed large sums of money to her. The money is missing and the contractor cannot account for it. The New York Times has more on this sordid tale in Iraq ruled by the American Coalition Provisional Authority.Continue reading
- The Associated Press reports that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) has publicly blamed his early Thursday morning car crash on a combination of prescription drugs (Phenergan and Ambien) that his doctor prescribed him. He has said that no alcohol was involved in the crash. Note to Congressmen: Don't drive on Ambien, it's a sleeping pill!
- According to the Wall Street Journal, authorites are investigating "whether a senior Navy official tried to steer business to" Custer Battles, a defense contractor that has already been ordered to pay $10 million in fines for defrauding the U.S. government. The Navy official is Douglas Combs, who served as "special assistant to then-acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford Johnson in 2003".
- Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R) has imposed a ban on administration employees from receiving any lobbyist gifts amidst an FBI probe of his administration, according to the Kansas City Star.
- The Associated Press reports on the ongoing fight between the defense and prosecution in the David Safavian case over the prosecution's release of emails between Safavian and ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
- Alternet provides a one-stop round-up of all the information regarding the Duke Cunningham-Brent Wilkes-Prostitution scandal. Continue reading
According to the blog Muckraked! the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction is pursuing 72 investigations into allegations of fraud and corruption by contractors in Iraq.Continue reading
- If you're looking for a job you might want to become friends with Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), says Ken Silverstein at the new Harpers.org blog. Or you could become one of his daughters.
- Another U.S. contractor in Iraq pleads guilty, this time for bribery. According to the Washington Post, "Philip H. Bloom admitted his part in a scheme to give more than $2 million in cash and gifts to U.S. officials in exchange for their help in getting reconstruction contracts for his companies. Bloom's firms won $8.6 million in reconstruction deals, with an average profit margin of more than 25 percent."
- Tom DeLay is like Waldo. He's in every page (scandal) - you just have to look hard enough to find him. From the Houston Chronicle. Continue reading
- The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Jack Abramoff will be sentenced today in a Florida court.
- The Washington Post follows up on the report issued by the Minority Office of the House Committee on Government Reform on contracting abuses by the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root. According to the Post, “Pentagon auditors have challenged $45 million worth of company costs, out of $365 million in charges that were reviewed. … In one case, the government's contracting officials reported that KBR attempted to inflate its cost estimates by paying a supplier more than it was due. In another, KBR cut its cost estimates in half after it was pressed on its true expenses. In a third, KBR billed for work performed by the Iraqi oil ministry.”
- The Government Accountability Office released a report warning that, “Incentives for oil and gas companies that drill in the Gulf of Mexico will cost the federal government at least $20 billion over the next 25 years,” according to the New York Times. The government could also lose “$80 billion in revenue … over the same period if oil and gas companies won a new lawsuit that seeks a further reduction in their royalty payments.” The GAO notes that “the Interior Department, which runs the offshore leasing program, had never carried out a ‘robust’ cost-benefit analysis of the original program or of incentives added in the last five years.”
- Raw Story reports that a biography of Jack Abramoff prepared by his lawyers as a plea for leniency states that the lobbyist is ashamed of the profanity used in a 1980s anti-communist movie he produced titled “Red Scorpion.” Abramoff, however, is not ashamed of making the movie in South African-occupied Namibia or from using money and assistance provided by the apartheid regime of South Africa. Cast and crew members also allege that many of them were never paid for their work.
- The Cincinnati Post reports that, “A federal appeals court Tuesday ordered a Washington congressman [Rep. Jim McDermott (D)] to pay West Chester Republican John Boehner $700,000 for leaking an illegally taped phone conversation between Boehner and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.”
- The head of the Environmental Protection Agency was the featured speaker at a Colorado fundraiser for Rep. Rick O’Donnell (R-CO). The Denver Post reports that, “The guests included representatives from El Paso Natural Gas, the Colorado Mining Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association. El Paso and member companies of the two associations have activities that come under federal environmental regulations.”
- The revolving door continues to spin as TNR’s The Plank reports that former Senator Howard Baker, who, until last year, was our ambassador to Japan, has registered to lobby for “Toshiba Corporation on ‘Consultations with eh [sic] appropriate members of the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, and the applicable agencies on CFIUS and antitrust matters, all related to Toshiba Corporation's acquisition of Westinghouse Electric Company.’”
- The Hill reports that House Republicans have vowed to pass campaign finance laws restricting donations to 527-organizations.
- The Hill reports that Melissa Bean’s (D-IL) “aggressive courting of K Street” is putting her challenger at a disadvantage in fundraising. The political director of the business lobby the Chamber of Commerce stated, “In Bean’s case, she has stepped out and has supported our agenda.” Bean is one of a handful of House Democrats who voted in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was a huge victory for the business lobby.
- Google has hired two lobbying firms, one bipartisan and another with close ties to Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, as it enters the world of Washington politics, according to the New York Times. The internet powerhouse also plans to hire a Republican political director for a new political action committee and give campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats. The company currently has an image as a Democratic donor as almost every employee employee contribution in 2004 went to the Democrats.
- Lobbying reform appears to be back on track in the Senate as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed to remove an amendment that sought to prohibit a Dubai company from taking over control of a number of ports. According to Roll Call, the Senate appears ready to hear the bill and one of the bill’s principal authors Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) stated, “If they’ll give me a day, I can do it.” On the House side chances for reform look questionable as the Republican caucus cannot decide what direction to take nor which proposals to consider.
- Ralph Reed is getting off the hook for his alleged violations of lobbying laws in Texas because the two-year statute of limitations had expired, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said, “There’s smoke. And we have the tools, via grand juries and subpoenas, to go find out if there's fire. But all of the smoke relates to a time period I can't do anything about.”
- In a new report by the Minority Office of the House Committee on Government Reform the second Iraqi oil contract for Halliburton comes under intense scrutiny and criticism for “intentional overcharging,” “inadequate cost reporting,” and a “refusal to cooperate.”
- The Associated Press reports that, “The former Republican leader of the Wisconsin Assembly was sentenced Monday to 60 days in jail for putting a party fundraiser on the state payroll.” Steven Foti is the “third former state legislator to be sentenced among five convicted in an investigation that began in 2001. Two of the others are Democrats, and two are Republicans.”
- According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House has pulled the nomination of David Sanborn to run the U.S. Maritime Administration. Sanborn was previously the former director of operations for Europe and Latin America for Dubai Ports World and his nomination became a key point of attack for critics of the deal for DP World to take over American port operations. The article notes, “Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) said he would block it until he learned more about Mr. Sanborn's involvement in the deal that gave operation of some U.S. ports to DP World, and about DP World's pending sale of those operations.”
Former USAID Official Blows Whistle on Iraq Fraud:
The former head USAID Andrew Natsios, interviewed in Newsweek, claims that the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ruled Iraq after Saddam’s fall, was not prepared for the rebuilding of Iraq and let “ill-qualified or corrupt contractors” dominate the rebuilding process. “They didn't have [monitoring] systems set up. They were very dismissive of these processes,” he stated. Others are speaking out on contractor fraud and corruption including the watchdog group Transparency International, which claimed that the contractor fraud could become “the biggest corruption scandal in history.” Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), who has investigated fraud allegations states, “The administration seems to have a deaf ear to this issue … When you have men and women dying on the battlefield and you have corruption, then you've got a problem.” The Defense Department refused to send auditors to Iraq until numerous pleas and corrupt practices brought them to send a team to Qatar, a thousand miles away from Baghdad. The Inspector General at the Pentagon oversaw the auditing practice of rewarding and monitoring contracts – until he left his position to take a job with Blackwater USA, one of the top Pentagon contractors in Iraq.Continue reading