- An official at the Interior Department will plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the Jack Abramoff investigation. Roger Stillwell was "the desk officer for the Mariana Islands at the U.S. Department of the Interior" and dealt often with Abramoff, who lobbied for the Islands. Stillwell is charged with "[f]ailing to report gifts from a 'prohibited source.'" I'll second Paul Kiel in saying that investigators are most likely starting with a small fish and working their way up. There is certainly a lot of dirt -- and a lot of lawmakers -- involved in the Marianas Islands angle in the web of Abramoff scandals. TPM Muckraker and Think Progress have more.
- Our buddies at Room 8 NY did some digging into the personal finances of [sw: Gary Ackerman] (D-N.Y.) to find that his stock options in the defense contractor Xenonics have skyrocketed over the past four years as the U.S. has been engaged in two wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Ackerman purchased stock in Xenonics back in 2002 after the invasion of Afghanistan at a worth of $1,000-$15,000. That stock is now worth between $500,000 and $1,000,000! Since Ackerman's stock purchase and the invasion of Iraq Xenonics has received numerous contracts and multi-million dollar earmarks pushing their stock to higher and higher. Did Ackerman earmark these funds? Well, we don't know because there is no transparency in the process. Perhaps someone should ask.
- Sen. [sw: John McCain] (R-Ariz.) makes his first foray into the blogging world at Porkbusters to assail Congress' use of earmarks and his own party's failure to live up to their ideal of limited government. The conservative blogosphere has picked up on McCain's post. Check out Instapundit, Freeman Hunt, Tim Chapman, and Ankle Biting Pundits. National Journal's Beltway Blogroll also has more. Continue reading
When we created Sunlight we made a point to note that the issue of greater transparency for government actions was a nonpartisan issue. We saw support for it across party lines in our initial polling and we see it again today in an editorial in the conservative newspaper -- the Examiner --which endorses transparency for government grants and contracts. The paper strongly supports Sen. Tom Coburn's Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590) that would make all information about federal contracts and grants available to the public free of charge in a searchable, downloadable online format on the Internet. (Coburn is the original sponsor of the proposal, and the measure is co-sponsored by the unlikely bedfellows of Sens. Barack Obama, Tom Carper and John McCain, R-Ariz.)Continue reading
This is shaping up to be earmark week in both Houses of Congress. Right now Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is decrying the earmarking practice on the Senate floor in the debate over the pork-laden emergency supplemental for Iraq and rebuilding after the twin Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times both have articles about pork projects and earmarks today. In the CS Monitor Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) says, "It's our only chance to maintain the majority. It really is," probably refering to a recent poll that shows that prohibiting members from "directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents," is one of the chief concerns of voters. I've previously written about my misgivings about this poll. I believe this poll is similar to polls which show that the public believes that Congress is completely corrupt, but not their representative or Senator. A man in Nebraska interviewed in the New York Times makes my point for me, "I am critical of the fact that the federal government is worried about paying for parking garages — and for a million other things like that ... But they are. And if they are, I want my senator to be in there. I want Nebraska to compete." And it's not just residents who don't really mind the pork, the lawmakers like it too, and use it to sway votes. The National Journal's Stan Collender states that in the current era of narrow majority rule earmarks and pet projects are necessary to maintain control of your caucus:
In an era of narrow majorities in both houses, when a handful of votes can make the difference between legislative success and failure, earmarks are an even more important way of doing business in Congress today than they have been in the past. They are now a key tool to getting anything done and eliminating them will make it even harder to get majority support. This points directly to one of the great fallacies of the current discussion about eliminating or limiting earmarks. In spite of all of the attention earmarks have received this year, there is not a great deal of support for doing anything about them. Just the opposite is true: most members of Congress don't want them limited and will fight hard to make sure it does not happen. Very few of the players in the House and Senate stand to gain anything if the limits under discussion are adopted. The White House and leadership will reduce their ability to attract the additional votes they need to accomplish their legislative agendas. The appropriations committees will reduce their power because one of the few things they have to trade will be taken away. Individual members of Congress will find that their ability to deliver things for their constituents will be reduced substantially.Certainly the leadership of both parties know this and are wary of those pushing to restrict the earmarking process. I think what would work best would be full transparency of earmarks followed by a peer-review process. Watching the current attempts by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) attempt to strip earmark provisions out of the supplemental truly shows the merits of this process. Not only are these appropriations open to debate on the floor but the author must stand up and defend the appropriation. It is an ideal process for debating the merits and motives of a particuar line item. Perhaps with a little sunlight we wouldn't have members like Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Pete Visclosky (D-IN) earmarking funds for campaign contributors, nor would we have jailed-Rep. Duke Cunningham's shady earmarks going without notice. Continue reading
By a vote of 90-8 the Senate approved a lobbying reform bill that is being both praised and criticized from both sides of the aisle, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) declares, “This legislation contains very serious reform.” One of the eight ‘nay’ voters, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), begged to differ, “It's extremely weak.” The most notable ‘nay’ votes came from the strongest proponents of reform: Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and McCain. The other four votes came from James Inhofe (R-OK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kerry (D-MA), and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Roll Call reported that Obama, the Democratic point man on reform was very unhappy, “Given that Mr. Abramoff just got five years in the pokey, the notion that this is the best we can do doesn’t make any sense.” Sen. Chris Dodd, a chief sponsor of the bill, sounded triumphant proclaiming in the New York Times, “There's a sign that's now up in front of the Capitol. It says ‘Not for Sale.’” Later, he admitted that the bill does not include “true meaningful campaign finance reform that breaks the link between the legislative favor seekers and the free flow of special interest private money.” Coburn made the best analogy, “You can wash the outside of the cup all you want. If the inside is still unclean, you're going to have the same problems.”
Wonkette reports on Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas’ (R-CA) expensive private travel. Thomas took a trip to Beaver Creek, CO for an AEI forum that cost, in travel expenses alone, $27,233. I know that the airlines are going bankrupt but who knew that they were charging the price of a car for a round-trip flight to Beaver Creek. Thomas also took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland on the dime of the Ripon Educational Fund (a Republican organization that is run by lobbyists) that cost $18,702, which included an “Edinburgh Military tattoo”. Are tattoos included in the proposed gift and meal ban?
Think Progress reports that John McCain’s (R-AZ) attempt to attach 527-reform legislation to the lobbying and ethics reform bill would wind complicating and potentially killing off the reform bill: “Even pro-reform activists, who endorse tough new restrictions on 527 organizations, have testified that the 527 debate should be handled separately. They argue that dragging in 527-related provisions would complicate and undermine the lobbying reform effort."
Josh Marshall is counting the number of politicians seeing their careers ending due to the Abramoff scandal: “So far I've got Ralph Reed, Conrad Burns, Katherine Harris and Bob Ney. Tom DeLay is another obvious contender. But that's muddled by the fact that his own independent crimes appear to have brought him down first. Who am I not thinking of?”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in his quest for the 2008 GOP Presidential nod, has been courting the big donors and fundraisers in the Washington lobbying world and, at the same time, has left the lobbying reform leadership to others in the Senate. According to The Hill, McCain’s outreach to the lobbying community is causing reform advocates to criticize his lack of leadership in the current push for lobbying reform. One reform advocate stated, “I wish he’d been more publicly vocal in speaking out and had been a stronger supporter of the more significant reforms.” And a lobbyist and a major Bush fundraiser said, “In fundraising he’s getting down to reaching out to K Street … knowing full well that reaching down to K Street players downtown translates into corporate support outside D.C.”Continue reading
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is furious that his earmarked “bridge to nowhere” became the object of derision and a symbol of congressional largesse and pork barrel spending, so he is asking the Alaska state government to pay for the two bridges to Ketchikan-Gravina Island and Knik. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Young blames John McCain (R-AZ) for the defeat of his earmarks and states his opposition to a McCain presidential campaign, “I may support Hillary Clinton if he gets the nomination.” Young also said “he has been unfairly pulled into the orbit of the Jack Abramoff scandal,” and denied that he addressed the Marshall Islands Legislature in Bermuda shorts on a trip organized by Abramoff as Islands legislators have claimed in recent reports.Continue reading
The former chief of staff to Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) – now a lobbyist – is a master at greasing the wheels to get earmarks, for her clients from the Chairman, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Letitia White’s lobbying firm and their clients have contributed 37 percent of the $1.3 million raised by Lewis’ political action committee over the past six years while she has obtained numerous earmarks for her clients, defense contractors and California municipalities. Congress is eyeing reform of this practice as the federal budget deficit swells to unheard of proportions. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Trent Lott (R-CA); John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK); and Barack Obama (D-IL) all have varying proposals to reform the process. Meanwhile, The Hill newspaper reports that some lawmakers receive earmark requests via e-mail, making the process easier for both parties.Continue reading
Senators clashed over some reform proposals at yesterday’s Senate ethics reform hearings, according to the New York Times. The most contentious issue was a proposal by Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) to create an independent office to investigate ethics violations and criminal corruption in Congress. Obama acknowledged that it would be a difficult to create such an office as he ran up against criticism from Republican Senators, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN). Sen. Russ Feingold’s attack on privately-funded travel caused reactions as Senator Coleman defended the practice and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrestled with the issue. Sen. Feingold also stated that, “we are hearing the sound of furious backpedaling in the corridors of power.” The issue of earmark reform, talked about at length by Sen. McCain, will certainly go forward as it saw bipartisan support. Earmark reform may face a greater test in the House where Rep. Don Young, notorious for his earmarked “Bridge to Nowhere,” offered to let lawmakers who support earmark reform to pull out their earmarks from last year’s appropriations bills. Only one lawmaker, Charlie Bass (R-NH), took him up on the offer.Continue reading
Earmarks in Appropriations bills have ballooned from 4,000 a decade ago to over 14,000 today. Legislators from both parties are taking aim at these projects and are proposing various degrees of reforms. In a Bloomberg article conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is “threatening to slow the Senate's business to a crawl by forcing his colleagues to vote on each of the thousands of obscure, sometimes unusual pork-barrel projects.” He asks, “Should we be spending money in ways that are other than in the vital interest of the country?” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is joining Coburn in threatening to bring each earmark to a vote. According to the New York Times, Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have proposed a reform that “would allow senators to object to any earmarks added in the final stages of negotiations and force sponsors to win at least 60 votes to retain them … [and] require that the final version of legislation be available for at least 24 hours before a floor vote and that the sponsor of each earmark be included along with a justification.”Continue reading