Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) highlights a Roll Call report about U.S. Rep. Sam Graves' use of a contributor's airplane to travel throughout his large rural district, and his failure to disclose the use of the plane in his House reports. Graves has benefited from possibly thousands of dollars worth of free flights owned by a contracting firm that is also a major financial contributor to Graves' campaigns. St. Joseph, Mo., -based Herzog Comanies Inc. is the second largest contributor to Graves over his career, having given the congressman over $75,000 since 1989. How can Graves' failure to disclose these gifts not have been a violation of House ethics rules?
Last month, Roll Call raised questions regarding other flights Herzog provided Graves on its airplanes. Prime Buzz, the political blog of The Kansas City Star, reprinted the subscription-only article. Graves' financial reports list flights on Herzog corporate jets to attend NASCAR races in Florida. Graves's records term the flights as gifts from a personal friend. House ethics rules did allow members and their staff to receive gifts from friends, but requires that member receive prior approval from the ethics committee for any gift valued over $250. But as Roll Call points out, the jets are owned by a corporation, not an individual...And corporations don't have friends.Continue reading
Last night, the House Democrats revealed the much anticipated companion lobbying and ethics bill to the Senate's S.1 (we'll have a more detailed look later). Included in the bill is a provision to put personal financial disclosures and travel reports online for the first time. As you may know, we've been lobbying for this and consider this to be a great victory for transparency in the House of Representatives. We commend the House for continuing to towards a more open and accessible online presence. Thanks to everyone who called or sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi and members of the Judiciary Committee. We've heard that your calls and letters helped push the leadership to include this provision. In the face of newspaper articles doubting the seriousness of the reform effort in the House this provision should indicate that the House is willing to make their own institution more transparent and open to the public at large. Now, for the provision itself. (Clause (a)(2) requires personal financial disclosures be put online.)Continue reading
The Senate resumed their debate over ethics and lobbying reforms at about 1 pm today. The Durbin replacement amendment for the DeMint amendment, which caused a stir last week, is likely to be one of the first orders of business. Also on tap is the subject of private travel which is addressed in this McClatchy article. Meanwhile lobbyists have already begun to cry foul. Gosh, they have to eat lunch with other lobbyists instead of lawmakers! You can follow the debate at C-Span and review the bill at GovTrack.Continue reading
Every year lawmakers go up to Alaska to go fishing at "a five star resort"; and every year lobbyists from the oil and gas industry follow those lawmakers to these fish-filled waters to hook them on their own line. American Radio Works went behind the scenes of this annual ritual in the circle of Washington political life and found a number of Senators, energy industry lobbyists, and our friend [sw: Dennis Hastert] (R-Ill.) getting together to break congressional ethics rules.
The event is organized under the aegis of a charity, the Waterfall Committee, supported by former Sen. and current Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski and his wife Nancy. In 1996 "the House and Senate banned lawmakers from accepting free trips to recreational charity events like this one". The Senate Ethics Committee went so far as to write Murkowski a letter to "expressly forbid senators from accepting free travel or lodging to attend this event." It appears that numerous members of Congress may have violated this rule by attending.
Thunderstorms have become a daily occurence here in DC over the past week. It looks like we're about to get another one. Here's a look at the news before Pennsylvania Ave. turns into a river and my power goes out:
- Jack Abramoff and former Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) chief of staff Ed Buckham "orchestrated a series of multimillion-dollar maneuvers with several charities he or Buckham exerted control over. These charities became a primary tool in his criminal conspiracy," according to Roll Call. The noose continues to tighten around the now retired DeLay.
- Congress doesn't care about cleaning itself up by reforming their ethics or the practice of lobbying. According to the Washington Post, lobbying and ethics reform "has slowed to a crawl. Along the way, proposals such as Hastert's that would sharply limit commonplace behavior on Capitol Hill have been cast aside." Congress, playing the role of a baby, has soiled itself and is incapable of changing it's diapers, let alone become potty trained. It smells.
- USA Today reports that some lawmakers are questioning the annual cost-of-living adjustment to their salary claiming that they do not deserve to make more money so long as the minimum wage remains at $5.15 an hour or the government does not run a balanced budget. The rank and file member of Congress currently makes $165,200 with leadership earning more. Members today are earning $710 less than they did in 2001 due to inflation. If the raise were to go into effect members would make $168,500 next year. In 2005 the daily salary of members of Congress -- when calculating the days Congress was in session -- was $1149.65.
- According to Newsweek, "White House staffers have accepted nearly $135,000 in free trips since November 2004." Those offering the trips have included conservative organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers, he Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and the Federalist Society.
- Is the 109th Congress a "Do Nothing Congress?" Are all major actions expected to be political ploys with no expectation of serious action on the serious issues of the day? Continue reading
Rep. [sw: Bob Ney] (R-Ohio) didn't meet a private jet flight that he didn't like. That is until he became entangled in the lobbying scandal surrounding the activities of Jack Abramoff. Ney's involvement in the scandal is tied to a private jet trip that he took with Abramoff and associates to the storied links in Scotland. Now, the previously high-flying Ney, is grounded:
After accepting 131 trips worth $234,775 in 4 1/2 years, Ney and his staff haven't let a private outside group pay for their travel since June 14, 2005, according to a previous report. No trips were listed on the report released Wednesday and dated May 15.Continue reading
- [sw: Tom DeLay] (R-TX) gave a "pugnacious defense of the iron-fisted partisanship that defined his decade in power" in a farewell speech to Congress last night, according to the Washington Post. DeLay defended partisanship saying, "You show me a nation without partisanship, and I'll show you a tyranny." DeLay, who is resigning under a cloud of controversy surrounding his ties to a number of convicted lobbyists and his indictment in Texas, stated the he is proud of the controversial K Street Project, "I helped build the largest political coalition in the last 50 years. The K Street project and the K Street strategy I am very proud of."
- DeLay can exit -- "stage right" as he says -- but the controversy never ends. Today the Washington Post looks into the private travel of DeLay's former chief of staff Susan Hirschmann. Hirschmann racked up $85,000 worth of travel -- her husband, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, accompanied her on a number of these trips -- provided by private interests in just two years. She comes in as the number two recipient of private jet travel over the past five years in just two years and 18 flights. The number one recipient is the current chief of staff to Majority Whip [sw: Roy Blunt] (R-MO) who racked up $87,000 in 39 trips.
- Adam Kidan, Jack Abramoff's business partner in the Sun Cruz Casino purchase, knows who killed Gus Boulis, the man they bought the business from. Kidan, who has previously stated that he knew nothing about the gangland-style murder, told police that John Gurino, an associate of John Gotti, killed Boulis. Gurino has since been killed and the three others associated with the murder have been arrested in connection with the murder. One of those arrested was Anthony Moscatiello who Kidan hired to work as "security" for Sun Cruz Casinos.
- The Democratic Steering Committee has recommended that Rep. [sw: William Jefferson] (D-LA) be removed from his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. They will wait until next week to move forward from the recommendation to action. The Congressional Black Caucus still strongly opposes such action against the New Orleans congressman.
The Center for Public Integrity did a study of private travel taken by members and staff since 2000 and found that outisde organizations -- often non-profits set up by lobbyists or headed by lobbyists -- paid $50 million to ferry lawmakers and their staffs around the world. Medill News Service provides the story:
Outside groups representing interests as diverse as nuclear energy and telecommunications have paid nearly $50 million since 2000 to shuttle members of Congress and their staffs around the world, from Kazakhstan to Kansas City, Paris to Palm Springs. In fact, staffers often outpace their bosses in the number and the costs of trips that they took to far-flung edges of the world. Overall, members of Congress went on globe-trotting excursions costing $18.9 million. But private interests paid much more -- $30 million -- to finance the trips of congressional staff members, who often are instrumental in shaping policy. ... Republican congressional offices traveled more than Democrats, accounting for 56% of the dollars spent. With Republicans controlling Congress, the GOP has all the committee chairmanships, and consequently more staffers. Republican leadership offices had the most-traveled staffers. Hastert's staff took the most trips and had the highest tab of any congressional office. Other Republican leadership staffs, including those of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, were among the offices with the most travel. But Democratic members of Congress were on the road more than Republicans, with more than $10 million worth of trips. Republican members' trips totaled about $8.5 million.You can watch the announcement of the study at the Center's website www.publicintegrity.org. Continue reading
An Ohio lawmaker whose travel is under scrutiny stopped accepting paid trips for himself and his staff shortly after questions were raised about who funded his trip to Scotland with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. After accepting 131 trips worth $234,775 in 4 1/2 years, Rep. Bob Ney and his staff haven't let a private outside group pay for their travel since June 14, 2005, according to an Associated Press review of travel disclosure forms Ney's office filed with the House clerk.Continue reading