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The Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan has decided to return $3 million in federal money it received for school-construction "as a result of pressure exerted on Interior Department officials by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)," reports the Washington Post. The Chippewas employed convicted-felon Jack Abramoff to lobby members of Congress, including Sen. Burns. Reports the Post,
Burns, who oversees the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, pressed for the funding over the objections of Interior officials, who said that the money was intended to improve dilapidated tribal schools, not build new ones for wealthy tribes.
Sen. Burns has been the subject of much scrutiny with regard to his ethical missteps. You can learn more about his misdeeds in our Ethics Hall of Shame.
Sen. Burns isn't the only member of Congress feeling the heat these days. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) has been accused of securing federal funds for a "tight-knit network of nonprofit insitutions" that routinely contribute to the Congressman's campaign coffers. The public-corruption unit of the U.S. attorney's office is conducting an inquiry into Mollohan, reports the Wall Street Journal.[courtesy of First Read]. Rep. Mollohan, you may recall, is the ranking member of the House ethics committee. Talk about the foxes guarding the hen house!
The Alabama Press-Register demands that all pork-barrel spending allocations be made transparent. The newspaper supports the assertion that "rather than being 'earmarked' and tucked into huge spending bills, such [pork] projects should be explained in detail and the senator or representative seeking them ought to be identified."
For the second day in a row, newspapers around the country are reporting on Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) departure from Congress. Roll Call [subscription req.] reports that House Republicans are secretly relieved by the former Majority Leader's resignation. One House Republican leadership aide (who goes unnamed--surprise, surprise), said:
"In the long run this is great news because the ‘Tom DeLay problem’ goes away. If he has further legal problems it will be on page A8 instead of A1 because he’s no longer a Member of Congress."
In the wake of DeLay's resignation, House GOP leaders are proclaiming vigourous lobbying reform in the House--at least, that's what the Boston Globe's headline "GOP Vows to Tackle Ethics Reform" seems to imply. Unfortunately, when we read the Globe's article, we couldn't find any such proclamations. Instead, House Majority Leader John Boehner meekly said,
''We will take steps necessary to plug those areas where problems have erupted," said Boehner, an Ohio Republican, adding that ethics reform will be merely the first of many initiatives this spring, including a new fiscally responsible budget plan.
To ensure that Boehner and others aren't making empty promises, please write your U.S. Representative about passing comprehensive reform in the House.
USA Today reminds readers that the House ethics committee (officially the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct), which has been at a stalemate since January 2005, will not be investigating Rep. DeLay and others who are currently embroiled in corruption scandals. Last week, the Committee ended its meeting without agreeing on whether to investigate Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and William Jefferson (D-La.).
The Washington Post supports closing the 527 loophole, which would require "527s to play by the same rules as other committees that aim to influence federal elections."
Brace yourself. What you're going to read next may come as a total shock.
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) said today that the moribund House Ethics Committee has once again found itself in a deadlock on what cases to pursue. After a year and many months of inaction, we wouldn't be surprised if staffers had spotted tumbleweeds blowing through the cavernous meeting room of the committee.
"Today the committee met for six hours to consider potential investigative matters, and the sole action that the committee agreed to take was to continue an investigation that was initiated in 2004, at the end of the last Congress," said Rep. Mollohan. "This result falls far short of the committee's obligations in the current circumstances." [Congress Daily]
Former Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty this morning to charges of conspiracy to corrupt public officials and defraud his lobbying clients. Rudy has also offered his cooperation in a federal probe that could extend into the halls of Congress, and right through the doorway of Rep. DeLay's office (or so we giddily hope).
"The purpose of the conspiracy was for defendant Rudy and his coconspirators to unjustly enrich themselves,'' Justice Department prosecutors stated in the filing.
Did someone say "coconspirators"?
The Washington Post reports that the Pentagon will be conducting an internal investigation into how funding earmarks authored by admitted-felon and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) benefited a defense contractor. We hope that results from this "internal study" will be made public.
The Christian Science Monitor provides an update on lobbying reform legislation, and guess what? It doesn't look good.
"Some members are pulling the blanket over their heads and hoping the storm will pass. For others, there is also a genuine belief that if you just jump in a spasm of reaction, you could do some things detrimental to a good deliberative process," says Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
It's increasingly clear that members of Congress will need some reminding that voters care about ethics in our government - from now through the election. Stay tuned to Clean Up Washington's action center for upcoming alerts.
Yesterday's auctioning of corruption-earned gifts owned by former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) garnered $94,625 from buyers.
The New York state Democratic Party is asking Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) to answer inquiries into why his personal financial records have been pulled by the U.S. Justice Department. Some bloggers, reports the Glens Falls Post-Star, allege that the Justice Department may be investigating commissions received by Sweeney's wife in return for raising campaign contributions. But a representative from ethics watchdog group Common Cause suggested that this arrangement does not appear to be illegal.
The Associated Press notes that Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) has been fined $600 by the Missouri Ethics Commission. The Commission also fined the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee $104,000 for violating several campaign finance laws.
Two newspapers today are joining the chorus of newspapers calling for Congress to enact real lobbying reform. The Oregon Union-Bulletin has thrown its support behind a proposal put forth by Representatives from that state. Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Earl Blumenauer, (D-Ore.). The Walden-Blumenauer proposal would create an independent ethics commission outside of Congress that would be made up of former members of Congress.
The Orlando Sentinel also chimes in, suggesting that Congress follow Florida's lead by banning lobbyists' gifts to members of Congress and their staff.
Later this afternoon, Congress will be voting on a measure that could blow a huge loophole in campaign finance law. There are two bills -- one good, one bad.
The bad bill is H.R. 1606, which allows unlimited "soft money"-- money from corporations, unions or wealthy individuals -- to be poured into internet ads for political candidates.
The good bill is H.R. 4900. This bill will protect the free speech rights of bloggers while preserving the ban on soft money for campaign ads on the Internet. H.R. 4900, sponsored by Reps. Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Charles Bass (R-N.H.), has the backing of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet as well as former Dean Campaign online manager, Nicco Mele.
Follow this link to email your Representative today! Check back on the blog tomorrow for an update on this important vote.
To learn more about this legislative attack on campaign finance law, and the legislative solution in H.R. 4900, click here.
Signatures restaurant, the
We here at Clean Up Washington would like to offer a few ideas of our own. Below are some staff suggestions:
“The Trough” Belly up where Ney & company did
“Quid Pro Quo”
“Tommy's” Where fundraising is made easy
Have any of your own?
Two items in this morning’s Roll Call worthy of mention.
Item #1: File Under “Abramoff”
The Department of Justice requested the personal financial records of at least nine members of Congress and at least seven former congressional aides last year, Roll Call [subscription req.] reports.
The newspaper notes that many of the requests appear to be related to the Fed’s widening investigation into the Abramoff scandal. The list includes the usual suspects – Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Reps. Bob Ney (R.-Ohio) and John Doolittle (R-Calif.) – all of whom made our “Ethics Hall of Shame,” as well some surprises: Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa).
It’s not clear yet why these lawmakers, who have never before been publicly linked to the ongoing Abramoff investigation, were among those whose records were pulled. We’re just relieved that someone is looking into this, and that the investigation is progressing.
Item #2: Lobbying Goes Underground
Gone are the days when members of Congress could treat fifty of their closest friends to a skybox reception at the MCI center. That’s because these lavish, champagne toasts alongside professional sports games are now too risky and too ripe for the picking by enterprising journalists. Rather than hold public fundraising events, some lobbyists are opting for the privacy afforded by their own dining rooms, Roll Call [subscription req.] reports.
“A lot of lobbyists have talked about doing more events out of your house,” a Democratic lobbyist said. “We’re all looking around the corner and thinking about how are you going to preserve the relationships you have and also grow them so you have the ability to talk more extensively with staff. I’ve heard people talk about maybe [having people] host different dinners in their house.”
I guess that means Jack Abramoff’s old Signatures restaurant won’t be hosting many fundraisers this year. The former fine-dining establishment was once a highly regarded fundraising spot by
This is too good to pass up: Talking Points Memo's Muckraker reports that the April issue of Vanity Fair (due on stands next week) includes a nine-page spread on former lobbyist and admitted felon Jack Abramoff, the man at the epicenter of the scandals now rocking
Of course, Abramoff's account doesn't even come close to indicating Bush's relationship with the former lobbyist. The President probably addresses muscle tone with everyone he meets. And really, who doesn't?
Although President Bush has denied knowing Abramoff, the White House refuses to release photos of the two men together, as well as a list of meetings between Abramoff and administration aides. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 76 percent of Americans say Bush should disclose these meetings; only 18 percent disagreed.
Help us put an end to this nonsense. You can take action and demand that Bush release photos taken of himself with Abramoff.
It’s that time of year again, folks—when lobbying outfits are required to file their year-end lobbying disclosure reports. This year, due to a new rule requiring electronic filing of disclosure information, the whining from
Last summer, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, Bob Ney (R-Ohio), surprised us all by making mandatory the electronic filing of lobbying reports. (Previously, lobbyists had the option of filing electronically or via snail mail.) In a “Dear Colleague” letter dated
Jeffrey Birnbaum of the Washington Post writes that shortly after Ney’s order, “lobbyists began to complain the Internet-based system was cumbersome, complicated and expensive.” I find this a little hard to believe. Sure, learning a new system can take some work. But this isn’t rocket science – millions of people file stuff through the internet every day.
The truth is, lobbying firms have never taken disclosure seriously. To them, it’s an unnecessary burden and it reveals information they’d rather keep private. But for the public (and for watchdogs like us), lobbying disclosure is one of the most important means for investigating whether elected officials are representing our interests—or the interests that send members on lavish golfing trips. If lobbying firms spent as much on filing their reports as they do on jetting members off to faraway lands, I’m guessing they’d have figured out by now how to submit a “digital signature” to the clerk of the House.
Even as lobbyists and their cozy ties to lawmakers come under increasing scrutiny by watchdog groups such as Public Citizen, the industry is enjoying a boom in revenues. It received a $1.8 billion kiss from those seeking to influence lawmakers – most of them special interests—in the first six months of 2005, marking a record-setting 8 percent increase in revenue from the same period in 2004. For all of 2004, the industry raked in a staggering $2.4 billion, a 40 percent increase from 1999. The rash of business-pandering legislation zipping through Congress these days has no doubt contributed to this spike in spending.
And here’s a companion statistic to chew on: Since 2004, the Bush administration has spent $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars on 137 contracts with advertising and public relations companies, according to a GAO report released Monday. Why would the White House spend over a billion big ones on advertising and PR? Could it be that while special interest money poured into K Street with the goal of producing corporate-friendly legislation, the Bush administration followed suit by diverting taxpayer dollars to dress up these new laws in sheep’s clothing?
One place to look for PR dollars may be the Medicare prescription drug debacle. The government has had to spend a lot of money to help confused seniors navigate that train wreck of legislation, which has resulted in a windfall for drug companies. I just wonder who has spent more—the taxpayers who are picking up the cost of re-educating the public, or the 952 lobbyists who spent $141 million in 2003 trying to ensure that Medicare money would be directed to their clients. Who’d like to bet me that taxpayers got the bum end of this deal?