Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Roll Call gets all Howard Beale in his editorial today:
In all my years of watching Congress, I have never seen anything quite like what we have now. It may be a cliché, and it may be a partisan attack term, but it is also true: There is a culture of corruption across Capitol Hill. It still does not encompass the majority of Members and staffers, most of whom come here to do the right thing and to stay on the path. It may be true that the numbers of offenders, at least those directly breaking the law, are still roughly the same as in other comparable peer groups. But the problem is palpably worse. While there is plenty of illegality here — and I believe a wave of indictments will hit in the coming months — it is not what is illegal that is the outrage, to use the old phrase, but rather what is legal.Ornstein goes on to list the honest graft through earmarking of [sw: Ken Calvert] (R-Calif.), [sw: Gary Miller] (R-Calif.), and [sw: Dennis Hastert] (R-Ill.) and the abuses of campaign contributions by Vito Fossella as recent examples of this corruption.
There simply is no ethical compass here. The fact that Hastert was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of the House ethics committee makes his own real estate actions even more wrongheaded. I don’t want Members of Congress and staffers to live ascetic or penurious lives. Lawmakers (and judges for that matter) ought to be paid at least as much as second-year associates in big law firms. (Currently they are not.) Still, when I look at the eagerness of Members to score big perks from their lobbyist friends and to find ways to make big bucks by transactions that are related to their behavior inside Congress, I cannot find any justification in the large pay gap with their peers. Illegal or not, much of this behavior is unethical and repugnant. It underscores the deep need for a real package of ethics, earmarking and lobbying reforms—which in turn underscores the shameful and pathetic behavior of the leaders in both chambers who have failed to act and who are trying to sneak through a sham bill. They hope journalists will tire of these stories and that voters won’t notice. I hope they are wrong."I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!" Amen. Continue reading
- 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.
The Pork Wars:
The saga of the Pork Wars continues with news about the battle between conservative bulldog [sw: Jeff Flake] (R-Ariz.) and Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-Calif.); a new name for earmarks: "projects initiated by a member"; a new face on the Appropriations Committee, but one with the same old problems; more questions about Jerry Lewis' connections to lobbying firm and that firm's connections to a PAC run by Lewis' step-daughter; and [sw: Duncan Hunter] (R-Calif.) makes his earmark requests, or his "projects initiated by a member," public.
- Robert Novak writes about the crusade to stop earmarks and its opponents. Last week Rep. [sw: Jeff Flake] presented amendments challenging numerous earmarks in an appropriations bill only to lose every vote. He even failed to win the vote of the supposedly anti-earmark Majority Leader [sw: John Boehner] (R-Ohio), "At Charlie Palmer's restaurant last Wednesday, assembled Republican campaign contributors cheered as John Boehner was introduced as the majority leader who never has sponsored an earmark. Later that day, Boehner voted against each of Flake's attempted earmark removals. In the House, one conservative reformer commented to another seated beside him, 'With this leadership, we never will get rid of earmarks.'"
- Rep. [sw: Bill Young] (R-Flor.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, say that there are "no more earmarks." That's because, "We don't call them that anymore." According to Young, the chairman of the subcommittee on Defense Appropriations, the new term is "projects initiated by a member." Well, I'm glad we fixed that problem. No more earmarks to worry about.
- Who will take the tainted Appropriations seat vacated by ethical black holes [sw: Duke Cunningham] (R-Calif.) and [sw: Tom DeLay] (R-Tex.)? Looks like [sw: Ken Calvert] (R-Calif.) is still the front runner despite his Dennis Hastert-esque problems. The FBI pulled Calvert's financial disclosure forms and are looking into his connections to the law firm of Bill Lowery. Lowery's firm, under investigation in connection to earmarks secured by Jerry Lewis and the Duke Cunningham case, is one of the top donors to Calvert's reelection committee. Calvert has been accused of earmarking funds around a piece of land that he owned and subesquently sold for a massive profit. In one year Calvert's assets nearly doubled in worth from between $1.7 million and $3.65 million in 2004 to between $2.55 million and $5.25 million in 2005.
- [sw: Jerry Lewis] represents parts of the Inland Empire so why on earth do the cities and municipalities have to hire a lobbying firm to get funds from their congressman? The Los Angeles Times tries to answer the question and finds that nobody has a good answer. The Washington Post also digs deeper into the political action committee run by Julia Willis-Leon, Lewis' step-daughter, and the funds she receives from clients of Letitia White and the Lowery law firm.
- House Armed Services Chairman [sw: Duncan Hunter] (R-Calif.) is making his earmark requests public, according to the Washington Post. Normally earmarks remain hidden in bills only to be discovered by those who find them odious. Hunter has decided that transparency is necessary to defend the practice. Transparency also allows me to point out that two of his earmarks are to one of his biggest campaign donors, Titan, Inc. For more information Hunter's ties to Titan -- a very controversial defense contractor -- check out this blog post by Jason Vest at POGO.
Reverse California Gold Rush:
What we are seeing here is a reverse California Gold Rush. We have politicians who are from California coming back east to Washington, DC to find gold. These politicians discovered that they didn't need to find gold, they could create it. They could hide their gold inside of cavernous Appropriations legislation or in Armed Services bills, where nobody would dare look -- the site of thousand page bills can turn-off the most daring spelunker. And thus we have come to the point where almost an entire party's delegation from one state, the great state of California, is tied up in scandal. From [sw: John Doolittle] to [sw: Duke Cunningham], from [sw: Jerry Lewis] to [sw: Richard Pombo], and now we have [sw: Ken Calvert] and [sw: Duncan Hunter]. CongressDailyAM provides the goodies on Hunter, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee:
Despite strong objections from the Navy, House Armed Services Chairman Hunter added $25.7 million to the FY07 defense authorization bill to upgrade an experimental high-speed vessel based in San Diego and developed by one of his biggest political donors. ... From 1998 to 2003, Hunter received $47,200 in campaign donations from Titan Corp., more than any other lawmaker, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Cunningham, whose district adjoined Hunter's, came in third -- just behind another Southern Californian, House Appropriations Chairman Lewis -- with $43,050 in Titan donations.Titan was bought up by L-3 Communications last year. L-3 Communications has contributed a total of $34,350 to Hunter's campaign committee and his political action committee in this cycle alone. Calvert turned up in the Roll Call article that contained information on the investigation into [sw: Jerry Lewis]. It turns out that investigators are also looking at Calvert's earmarking practices:
In Calvert’s case, the search of his financial disclosures came eight days after the Los Angeles Times reported on earmarks that went to redevelopment of land around an airfield near where he had invested in a parcel of land. The paper reported that in one instance, after a $1.5 million earmark for fixing up the closed air base, Calvert and a partner sold the land for a nearly 100 percent profit a year after its purchase.Looks like these reverse gold rushers had their day in the sun, but now the party's over. I think I found a motto for these California Reps. to live by. From Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre's song "California Love": It's all good, from Diego to tha Bay Your city is tha bomb if your city makin pay I'm sure that Hunter and Calvert could agree. No doubt. Continue reading
Spooky Appropriations Seat:
Some seats in Congress are famous and carry strong traditions. There is the Daniel Webster desk and the Jefferson Davis desk. There is the New York Senate seat currently occupied by Hillary Clinton that was previously occupied by equally well-known out-of-staters with strong personalities Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert Kennedy. But what about seats of infamy? I believe we may have one on the House Appropriations Committee. When Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned his seat in Congress and was subsequently sent to prison for his role in a sweeping bribery scandal he also left a seat on the Appropriations Committee, a seat from which he did a lot of his dirty work. That seat remained open until Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) resigned his leadership post after being indicted on money laundering charges. DeLay immediately took Cunningham's seat on the Appropriations Committee. DeLay later announced that he was going to resign from Congress after one of his top former aides pled guilty to charges in another Congressional scandal, the one that involved Tom DeLay's "best friend" Jack Abramoff, his former press secretary Michael Scanlon, his former chief of staff Ed Buckham, and lots of money. CongressDailyPM reports that the front-runner for this tainted seat is Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA). Who knows how the seat will corrupt Calvert? Oh wait a second. He's already involved in some dubious actions (noted previously here). From CongressDailyPM:
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Calvert made a significant profit off an empty four-acre tract bought last year after steering an $8 million earmark near the area to build a highway, and $1.5 million to boost commercial development. Those earmarks were included not in an appropriations bill, but in last's year's $286.4 billion highway reauthorization bill. Calvert and a business partner bought the lot for $550,000, and sold it for $985,000 a few months after the bill became law -- a 79 percent increase in value.Now that is a sweet deal he's got going for him. Imagine the kind of stuff that Calvert can earmark near his land holdings when he's on the Appropriations Committee. Maybe the seat doesn't corrupt people, it just attracts unseemly types. Or it could go the other way considering Cunningham seemed like an upstanding guy when he came to Congress. One of those chicken or the egg things I guess. Continue reading
Best Real Estate Deal Ever:
Imagine if you could buy cheap real estate and then sell it for a large profit without having to fix up the property at all. All you would have to do is pick up a pen and write some earmarks to make your property more desirable. Well, if you need pointers on how to do this you should ask Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA). From the Los Angeles Times:
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) is an experienced investor in Riverside County's booming real estate market, so he's used to seeing prices change quickly. Last year, he and a partner paid $550,000 for a dusty four-acre parcel just south of March Air Reserve Base. Less than a year later, without even cutting the weeds or carting off old septic tank parts that littered the ground, they sold the land for almost $1 million. Even for a speculator like Calvert, it was an unusually good deal. During the time he owned the land, Calvert used the legislative process known as earmarking to secure $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, and an additional $1.5 million to support commercial development of the area around the airfield. A map of Calvert's recent real estate holdings and those of his partner shows many of them near the transportation projects he has supported with federal appropriations. And improvements to the transportation infrastructure have contributed to the area's explosive growth, according to development experts.As a kicker the Times story states that Calvert has also secured earmarked projects for campaign contributors, "including employees of the Washington lobbying firm of Copeland Lowery & Jacquez, his top political donor in the last election cycle." Lowery is the same Bill Lowery who is a part of the federal investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Continue reading