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The Buffalo News reports on the continuing House ethics “truce” between the parties, as well as the sorry state of the current proposals to reform Congressional ethics. Public Citizen’s Craig Holman notes in the story that until the issue of lobbyists fundraising for lawmakers is addressed, the system will not be fixed.
Democrats are attacking Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) for his ties to lobbyists, reports the New York Times. Sweeney signed a letter circulated to House Republicans calling for a complete leadership turnover in order to distance themselves from the lobbying scandal enveloping former majority leader Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and majority leader hopeful Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). But Democrats also note Sweeney has since attended a lobbyist fundraiser at a
DeLay denies his entanglements with admitted-felon/super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff are hurting his reelection chances, but a new poll shows voters may be getting fed up with the steady drip of corruption revelations – DeLay is trailing challenger Nick Lampson in his formerly reliable district. See the Fix and ThinkProgress for more.
The Washington Post reports that Senate Republicans have followed the lead of Democrats in suspending their regular biweekly meetings with lobbyists.
Local activitists are bird-dogging Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), fed up with his ties to lobbyists, reports Fired Up!
Fired Up! also covers an Abramoff-connected lobbyist who contributes to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who also brags his wife is the sometimes-nanny to Rohrabacher’s triplets.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) is now stonewalling reporters in his home state over connections to Abramoff Indian gambling clients, and the apparent hypocrisy of claiming to be against gambling while at the same time holding fundraisers at casinos and advocating for expansion of Indian gambling, reports TPM Café.
House Republicans are planning to close a loophole in campaign finance law that allows Indian tribes to make campaign contributions larger than normally allowed, USA Today reports. One tribal representative described the lay of the land pretty aptly: “It's not as simple as buying their support. But the reality is that if you are known to be a major contributor, and a member doesn't have a strong position on some issue, why not vote with those who support your campaign?”
The three candidates for House Republican majority leader continue to vie for the title, reports the AP . Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) insinuated that Blunt was too close to DeLay’s scandal-plauged leadership to be “someone who can truly lead change” – thus sounding remarkably like Public Citizen’s assessment of Blunt as “Unfit to Lead.” In an L.A. Times story on the race, however, Boehner also said he makes no apologies for his ties to the K street lobbyists at the heart of the current scandal. “Yes, I have relationships with
More evidence for the lobbyist power-pork explosion is in the Hill.
Former House Speaker Jim Wright, who resigned in 1989 after his own ethics scandal, thinks Democrats may be able to ride the current Congressional ethics scandal to victory – but only if they propose substantive fixes to the corrupt system. He suggests at least partial public financing of Congressional elections.
Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) has just gotten a challenger in former Rep. Ken Lucas, who cites
E.J. Dionne throws down the gauntlet in the Washington Post over the upcoming House budget vote on a measure that contains a $22 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry that we’ve blogged about previously. “Anyone who votes for this fiscal mess will be standing for the bad old ways of doing business in
The Berkshire Eagle (
President Bush continues to stonewall on releasing the records and photos of meetings with admitted-felon/super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, despite pressure mounting from all corners, including Republicans. On Sunday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Bush should release the Bush-Abramoff records, but not the pictures; Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said Bush should release all Bush-Abramoff phone calls, correspondence and meetings; and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said Bush should release it all, reported the AP. Bush advisor Dan Bartlett, meanwhile, rejected Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor, saying, “we’re going to let the career prosecutors do their job, and I'll bet they get to the bottom of it.” This is despite the fact Bush effectively removed the prosecutor who was handling the Abramoff investigation, by appointing him to a federal judgeship, as we blogged about on Friday. Reports are unclear whether
Some Republicans aren’t so courageous: Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) and Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) aren’t giving straight answers on whether they think Bush should release the records. We here at Clean Up Washington are asking readers to email their member of Congress and demand action on this ethical issue. See our previous blog posting for more.
The heads of the Republican ethics reform efforts in the House and Senate, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), both opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms in 2001 and Dreier voted in 2003 to loosen restrictions on gifts from lobbyists, Bloomberg reported today. The same report quotes an American University Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies scholar saying that the Republicans are “very worried” that “they cannot milk K street” for fundraising if they go too far in their ethics reforms.
Santorum also got caught in what looks like a fairly boldfaced “untruth” with his statement that “I had absolutely nothing to do — never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything — with Grover Norquist and the — quote — K Street Project” by ThinkProgress, which has the video to prove the opposite.
In a reminder that Democrats aren’t exactly babes in the woods when it comes to dealings with lobbyists, Roll Call reports today that Democrats have just recently shut down their regular bi-weekly strategy and message meetings with lobbyists.
House Republican leadership update: Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have sent a letter to their party colleagues pleading with them to elect Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.) as the new majority leader over Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio), reported the Hill and the Washington Post. The letter states that Shadegg is “the only candidate in this race who represents a clean break with the recent past and the genuine opportunity for real reform.” It cites polling data showing voters think Republican reps are more corrupt than Democrats and states that “the only choice is to embrace real reform.” For more on Blunt’s extensive ties to K street lobbyists, see Public Citizen’s comprehensive report. Fired Up! America, meanwhile, reports that of Blunt’s 91 stated supporters, 68 have taken money from Blunt’s leadership PAC, including $27,000 for Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.).
In an illustration of their point, Chris Cillizza’s Washington Post blog, the Fix, says the Abramoff scandal and potential for more indictments is making some formerly safe House seats vulnerable. Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Tom DeLay (R-Texas) figure prominently. Another bad sign for Ney: the representative who recently replaced him as chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), has informed members of the committee’s staff that they will be undergoing an uncommon review of their employment situation, reports The Hill.
In a further illustration, the Washington Post reports that two industries overseen by the committee Boehner chairs, the Education and Workforce Committee, were responsible for more than half of the contributions to Boehner’s leadership PAC. Boehner in turn has used the PAC to distribute millions to other Republican members of Congress, increasing his power and prestige. Those industries, for-profit colleges and for-profit student loan companies, have each been the beneficiary of action taken by Boehner as chairman of the committee.
The LA Times also has a story on how members of Congress approve pork-y earmarks at the behest of lobbyists who then turn around and raise money for members of Congress, citing the current head of Cassidy & Associates, a lobbying firm connected to DeLay and Blunt, as exhibit A. The story also traces the earmark explosion to the Republican takeover of the House in 1995 and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Boston Globe notes that Blunt and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) have earmarked funding for projects supported by lobbying firms that employ their former aides.
The hits keep coming for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) – the AP reported yesterday that in 2003 the Congressman from California petitioned the Department of the Interior on the side of the gambling interests of Indian tribes in Massachusetts and Iowa that happen to have been clients of Jack Abramoff. [Via TPM Café] Doolittle is citing the steady drip of corruption stories as part of a massive media-Democrats conspiracy against him in a mailing seeking to raise $100,000 for his campaign fund, the AP reported in a separate story.
The LA Times reports that Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) may have some lobbyist problems of his own.
One of Rep. Mark Green’s (R-Wis.) aides appears to have taken an expensive gift from one of Jack Abramoff’s underlings, in violation of House rules, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel [Via TPM Café]
The Las Vegas Sun reports that one of the first casualties of congressional ethics reform would be the section of the economy that provides hospitality for the members of Congress flown to Vegas by various industries. The city is the number 3 destination for such trips.
The campaign to clean up California’s state elections through public financing got a big boost last week when the California Nurses Association joined the coalition, reports David Sirota.
We have previously blogged on it, and President Bush has now admitted it – that photographs exist of him with disgraced felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. What do these photographs show, and what exactly is the president’s relationship to one of the most notoriously corrupt lobbyists in Washington history?
Clearly, Mr. Bush does not want us to know. At a press conference yesterday he made clear he will not authorize release of any photographs, calling them “not relevant,” explaining tersely that “it's part of the job of the president to shake hands with people and smile.” He then refused to discuss any details of the meetings Abramoff reportedly attended with White House staffers, although he said that federal prosecutors are “welcome” to look into the matter if they want to.
Most outrageous of all, though, is the president’s assertion, when asked whether he had ever been personally lobbied by Abramoff. "I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him….”
President Bush doesn’t even know him?? We are talking about the most connected Republican lobbyist in Washington during the Bush administration. A man well known by every Republican power-broker in town. A man who has long-standing personal ties with top Republican operatives like Grover Norquist and Bush’s primary political advisor, Karl Rove. Someone who attended meetings with White House staffers, and successfully placed his own associates in executive branch jobs. Someone who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for Bush in his last campaign, earning the title of "Pioneer." And President Bush claims to not even know him… and then flat out refuses to discuss the matter or release any information??
If we are ever going to get to the bottom of the current corruption scandal, President Bush must be compelled to release all records of his administration’s dealings with Abramoff. In a new poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, more than three-quarters of those asked - 76% - agree that Bush should release all the records of his meetings with Abramoff.
The stonewalling and cover-up in the Abramoff affair must end. Look for more on this hot story in the days to come.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) is leading the charge on public financing, Roll Call reports. “Right now,” Obey says of the current reform proposals, “this is going to come down to who’s got the tighter limits on trips, or who’s got the tighter limits on meals. With all due respect, I don’t care what happens with either one of those… In general elections, there should not be a dime of private money.” Public Citizen looks forward to seeing his proposal, due to be released next week with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Roll Call covers the some details of the House Democrats’ ethics reform bill and discusses the uncertain prospects of a bipartisan reform bill. The bill appears to follow the Senate Democratic bill (S.2180) in that it addresses trips, gifts, the revolving door, and increases disclosure, but appears to fail to address the problem of lobbyists and fundraising (see Public Citizen's analsyis of S.2180 here). The New York Times also analyzes how ethics is part of the Democrats’ 2006 election agenda.
President Bush took the Department of Justice prosecutor investigating the Jack Abramoff scandal off the case yesterday by appointing him to a federal judgeship, reports the New York Times. The announcement, which was buried in a routine e-mail announcement of appointments, means that the duty of investigating Abramoff and his ties to Congress, as well as to members of the Bush administration, falls to a federal prosecutor from Florida. Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) have called for an independent prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald in light of Abramoff’s emerging ties to the Bush administration, reports Roll Call.
The Washington Post has an excellent roundup of the role lawmakers’ lobbyist connections have played in the explosion of pork spending. Among the chief offenders is Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), but the Post also notes that seven members of the House Appropriations Committee have installed registered lobbyists as the heads of their fundraising committees, a practice that leaves little to the imagination on how much members depend on lobbyists to finance their campaigns. The Post also provides a handy chart on the growth of pork since the Republicans took over the House, which should be viewed in the context of the CBO’s announcement that this year’s budget deficit is projected at $337 billion, topping last year's. The public financing of congressional elections is starting to look like a good investment.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) may be running for re-election not because he thinks he can win, but because to retire would be a tacit admission of guilt, reports Chris Cillizza’s blog on washingtonpost.com. Cillizza also notes that Ney has set up a legal defense fund, something Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has used effectively to raise money from the corporate interests with business before Congress.
Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have called for an investigation into the Alexander Strategy Group’s role in the Medicare bill debacle. [Via TPM Café] Paul Krugman has more details on how lobbyists and the lawmakers who owe them are as responsible as anyone for that mess.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced Wednesday that he’s cutting the types of fundraising trips from his schedule that just happen take place at vacation getaways like beaches and ski resorts, reports Roll Call. These trips are one loophole in most of the current proposals to limit travel, in that lawmakers could simply pay for a trip out of campaign funds, then have a donor (like a lobbyist) make a contribution to the campaign fund big enough to cover the trip.
Roll Call also reports that, following Sen. Conrad Burns’ (R-Mont.) lead, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) recently relocated a scheduled fundraiser from a lobbying firm to her party’s headquarters in a sign that lawmakers are starting to see the impropriety of lobbyists serving as their bankrollers. These moves may just be superficial – fundraisers who serve both sides of the aisle say they’re being “just as aggressive now as we’ve ever been” in fundraising.
The role of lobbyists as fundraisers for the lawmakers they are lobbying is covered in detail by the Wall Street Journal (subscription req.) today. It profiles Gregg Hartley, a former senior aide to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who upon leaving, “began helping companies like BellSouth Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Viacom Inc. get audiences with Mr. Blunt and other top House Republicans and win some important legislative battles.” The other side of his work – fundraising – was illustrated in January 2004, when he “attended a dinner meeting hosted by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff at Signatures, Mr. Abramoff's now-defunct Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, to discuss ways to persuade Republican lobbyists and their clients to give more campaign contributions to Republicans.” See Public Citizen’s comprehensive report on Blunt (who is running to replace DeLay as House majority leader), which features Hartley and Abramoff prominently, for more details.
Some Republicans are calling for a housecleaning in the upcoming House leadership elections by putting all of the positions, not just that of majority leader, up for grabs, reports the Hill.
TPM Café follows up on the Texas lobbying scandal that we’ve blogged on previously, detailing how various state officials are pointing fingers at each other now that payments to Washington lobbyists connected to DeLay and Blunt are starting to fail the smell test.
In the wake of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s fall, the atmosphere for lobbyists is getting positively chilly here in the nation’s capital. Some of the top people in the profession were hauled in front of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday to try to explain the current sordid state of affairs.
Distinguishing himself first was John Engler, former Republican governor of Michigan and current head of the National Association of Manufacturers. As noted in the Washington Post, Engler claimed that having a lobbyist pay for "working lunches" was perfectly OK. After all, he said, "A hamburger, I don't think, is going to change the mind of members of this committee." Perhaps not. But why then, we are emboldened to ask, do members of Congress have such a hard time outlawing the practice, if it makes no difference to them? Are we expected to believe that they cannot afford lunch on their salaries? And how many of those $10 hamburgers are eaten while discussing the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions the lobbyists will funnel their way?
Beyond such trifles as a free lunch, though, the lobbyists testifying went to great lengths to warn Congress against going too far with any reforms. "Whatever occurs, it is imperative that you do not overreact," intoned Engler. Then the president of the American League of Lobbyists, Paul Miller, shared his perspective: "Members of our profession are as disgusted and appalled by what Mr. Abramoff has done as you are." (No doubt they were completely shocked as well.)
Miller went on: "But we should not allow the actions of a few unscrupulous operatives to paint our entire profession as 'crooks' or unscrupulous scoundrels who will stop at nothing to have their way with members of Congress....Our government is not 'corrupt.' Lobbyists are not 'bribing' people; and members of Congress are not being 'bought' for campaign contributions."
There you have it – straight from the lobbyists’ mouths. Everything is fine. Thank goodness they finally set the record straight. We can only hope that members of Congress don’t buy this bilge water as they continue to debate desperately needed reforms.
Roll Call reports today that a “mini-exodus of staffers from both sides of the aisle may be coming as a result [of a doubling of the one-year lobbying ban for former staffers] … Congressional aides and lobbyists say that the ongoing discussion of other bans … on free travel and entertainment will make working on Capitol Hill less appealing.” Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
At least their bosses won’t be openly pressuring lobbyists to give them cushy jobs: the Washington Post reported that members of the Republican congressional leadership have finally ended their longtime practice of summoning lobbyists to their offices and presenting them with lists of K street job openings they wanted filled with Republicans.
Despite just ending that shady practice, yesterday Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) freaked out on a reporter who asked him about the K street project, reports AmericaBlog. We think you doth protest too much, Rick.
Lobbyists, meanwhile, are fighting against reform, report the AP and the Washington Post. The head of the National Association of Manufacturers, former Michigan Gov. John Engler, had the gall to tell the Senate panel that met yesterday on ethics reform that the system “was working” begged them that “whatever occurs, it is imperative that you do not overreact.” The president of the American League of Lobbyists, meanwhile, tried the bad apples argument (a “few unscrupulous operatives.”)
In the same hearing, meanwhile, some legislators showed that they are getting it. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted that “unless and until we address this in an honest fashion, we are carping on trifles here” and Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced that they were introducing legislation to eliminate special interest money in elections by turning to public financing, a proposal Public Citizen strongly supports. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank hit the nail on the head when he noted that “while most everybody agreed that Congress was being subverted by lawmakers' reliance on lobbyists for campaign cash, the proposals getting the most serious consideration yesterday were relatively minor.” Milbank also notes that while Santorum refused to talk about fundraising, senators from Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to Tom Carper (D-Del.) to Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and even Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) admitted that it is the role of lobbyists in fundraising that is corrupting the system.
TalkingPointsMemo provides video links to Sen. Conrad Burns’ (R-Mont.) latest ad in which he says not to believe that ads disparaging him for taking Abramoff money because they’re paid for by people who also took Abramoff money, and that means they can’t be trusted. Get all that?
Remember the secret conference committee meeting that produced the $22 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry we’ve blogged about before? Well, it’s coming up for a final vote in the House next week and it also includes $2 billion for pharmaceutical companies and $10 billion more in “government enticements” for health insurers, reports the LA Times. Democrats were reportedly not even let in the room for the key negotiations.
From gossip columnist Cindy Adams, of all people, we hear this tidbit: “Jack Abramoff’s partner Mike Scanlon admitted to digging up former Congressman Robert Livingston’s private life. Set to become speaker, Livingston then got sidelined for Tom DeLay’s man, Denis Hastert. Prosecutors now checking to see if Abramoff and Scanlon took Livingston down at DeLay’s behest.” [Via TPM]
The South African Mail & Guardian has been digging into Abramoff’s past, as well, and what the paper has found involves an American conservative group, the South African military and pro-apartheid propaganda. [Via TPM Café]
Another interesting bit of history comes from Bob Bauer, who recounts some of DeLay’s first legal troubles – the DCCC RICO suit against him. Ironically, the suit alleged that DeLay ran a seedy network of fundraisers and lobbyists to “establish a shadow political operation able to function outside existing rules and law.” This all seems familiar, doesn’t it?
The Mankato Free Press (Minn.) endorses the Coleman-Nelson commission plan.
USA Today bashes the two leading candidates in the House majority leader race, saying both Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) have “cozy relations with lobbyists and a penchant for accepting perks from corporate friends.”
The San Jose Mercury News (Calif.) says that all the reforms proposed in Congress thus far won’t do the job and that perhaps only public financing of elections will.
Sen. Conrad Burns just can’t seem to get his reform act together.
You’d think the guy who took more money from clients of felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff than any other member of Congress would be a little bit circumspect about consorting with lobbyists, but apparently not. Because, to celebrate his 71st birthday, the Montanan has agreed to allow himself to be feted at a fundraiser sponsored by – you guessed it – a D.C. lobbying firm!
Call us wild-eyed idealists, but in the midst of the largest congressional corruption scandal in decades, we believe this kind of behavior just doesn't cut it any more. So Public Citizen is challenging the senator to live up to some of his own expressed reform ideas. We are further calling on him to move beyond those modest proposals, and recognize that his birthday fundraiser highlights some of the most deeply entrenched problems that have brought on the current lobbyist corruption scandal.
In particular, we are calling upon Burns to honor the spirit of the lobbyist reform legislation he himself has sponsored, by promptly disclosing the amount collected at the fundraiser and how much is being contributed by individual lobbyists, as well as disclosing which of the lobbyists attending have come through the “revolving door” between government and lobbying firms. The firm sponsoring the event, Cassidy & Associates, has been the top pure lobbying firm in D.C. for three years running. And it has made its business by exploiting revolving door connections to the hilt: 48 of its 49 current lobbyists once held jobs in the federal government, including folks like Gregg Hartley, a former top aide to Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt of
We are also calling upon Burns to limit the amount of money he accepts from lobbyists – this is one of the key reforms demanded by the new ethics coalition here in
(We also encourage any Montanans reading this blog to contact Sen. Burns at 202-224-2644, and let him know he needs to clean up his act!)
Burns is also getting bashed back home, as
As it turns out, Burns met with a Marianas official, who was working closely with Abramoff, in the weeks before Burns received an Abramoff-related $5,000 contribution -after which, Burns reversed himself on a bill to vote with Abramoff clients who wanted to defeat the legislation. (And talk about peeling back layers of the onion: The Los Angeles Times has reported that the Marianas official in question, who is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in the corruption probe, won his bid for speaker of the Marianas House with the help of Abramoff's lobbying partner, Michael Scanlon, who has himself pled guilty to charges of bribery.)
In any event, Burns claims that his shifting votes had nothing to do with the money he received through Abramoff’s clients.
Just to be clear, as of this moment Burns has not been charged with a crime in the corruption probe. And we are not claiming to know that Burns sold his vote on the
But for goodness sake, Senator, people are entitled to draw a few conclusions without benefit of a criminal conviction. Someday a jury may get a chance to render its opinion, but for now, in the court of public opinion, if it walks like a duck and looks like a duck….
Reason number 5,678 for an independent congressional ethics enforcement agency: House Democrats are holding off on filing any ethics complaints with the House ethics committee, in part because the committee is still inoperative due to disputes between the parties, reports the Hill.
Lobbyists aren’t going down without a fight and are rallying to defeat ethics reform proposals, reports the Hill. And lobbyists aren’t the only ones sweating; swanky Washington restaurants also fear what the loss of lobbyist-funded meals for lawmakers will do to their business, reports Roll Call.
According to a new poll, only 4 percent of Americans think Jack Abramoff is an isolated case, while 86 percent think he is one of many that will be caught. Significantly, less than half of Americans think that many of the reforms already proposed by members of Congress, including bans of gifts, trips and more disclosure will do anything to reform the system. Public Citizen agrees that these proposals don’t go far enough. See our comprehensive reform proposals here.
Matthew Yglesias has a great piece at the Center for American Progress on how the combination of earkmarks and the K street project have produced a train wreck of pork and corruption.
In December 2003 Abramoff and former-Representative/now-lobbyist David McIntosh (R-Ind.) hosted a baby shower Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), according to the Hill.
Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have called for a 9/11 Commission-style panel to propose congressional ethics reform, reports the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star.
Rep. Richard Pombo’s (R-Calif.) new challenger cites Pombo’s connections to Abramoff as the prime reason he’s running, reports the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune.
The latest on the House leadership race is that Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have endorsed the only candidate without extensive ties to the Republican K street project, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), according to the New York Times. For more on another candidate, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and his ties to lobbyists and Abramoff, see Public Citizen’s comprehensive report, Unfit to Lead. [.pdf]
An Alabama version of the Texans for a Republican Majority scandal? TalkingPointsMemo points to an emerging story involving DeLay, ARMPAC, Alabama and the Cayman Islands.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave a blistering speech yesterday to the Center for American Progress attacking the K street project and Republicans connections to special interests and makes a series of proposals fix the situation. However, the ethics reform bill filed by the Reid, while good in many respects, falls short of addressing the role of lobbyists in fundraising that is the beating heart of the K street project. We hear there are more bills, Republican and Democratic, in the works and Public Citizen hopes to see one we can endorse.
The Center for American Progress has video links up to a roundtable discussion on “Implications of the Abramoff Scandal -- What Should Congress Do Now?” with Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution, Stan Brand of Brand and Frulla and former Oklahoma congressman Mickey Edwards.
ThinkProgress notes that Mike Brown is now refusing to cooperate with the Senate investigation into the government’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. The Senate Democratic leadership’s ethics reform bill includes a provision that future public safety officials demonstrate proof of competency before they assume the job, by the way.
New details are emerging on the seedy lobbying contract between the State of Texas and Cassidy & Associates, the lobbying firm connected to Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Tom DeLay (R-Texas), that we blogged about Monday. Apparently the state received better bids but Cassidy was chosen because it was the “leader in DC on approps.” and had connections in the White House including Karl Rove, according to the Austin American Statesman. Democratic members of the Texas House delegation have demanded that the contract be cancelled.
Ezra Klein has more details on the $22 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry that we blogged about yesterday. He also dregs up other nefarious and secret conference committee intrigue here and here.
Roll Call reports that Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Don Young (R-Alaska) intervened with the GSA on behalf of admitted felon/super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2002 when also-indicted David Safavian was head of the agency. The story has intrigue, Indian tribe money and good old-fashioned cronyism. Young comes off pretty poorly, having taken plenty of Abramoff-related money before and after the letter. TPM Café’s Daily Muck has more.
Also via the Daily Muck, we find out more about the corruption-triangle between admitted-felon/congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Bush fundraiser Brent Wilkes (who is also implicated in the Cunningham indictment) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Apparently DeLay prosecutor Ronnie Earle is about to find out more, too.
A new Democratic-allied group funded in part by the labor movement is gearing up to make ethics a major issue in the 2006 elections, reports the AP.
The AP also reports that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has announced he will run for reelection, Abramoff connections and all.
The Beloit Daily News (Beloit, Wisc.) comes out in favor of a total ban on privately-funded travel, which several of the reform bills already in Congress already do. It also notes that Reps. David Obey and Mark Green and Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold took no such trips in 2005, while Sen. Jim Sensenbrenner did.
The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.) calls the $22 billion health insurance industry giveaway “22 billion reasons to demand reform” and endorses ending secretive conference committee meetings as well as reform in general.
The Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, N.C.) editorializes that “influence-buying in the nation's capital has reached such excess that Congress should adopt all the proposals being offered by both parties and worry later that it might have gone too far with reform” and proceeds to single out each of the ethics reforms proposals (click here for Public Citizen’s handy comparison chart). The paper also singles out the need for campaign finance reform as the solution to “the major source of Washington corruption.”
Columnist Cindy Richards of the Chicago Sun-Times says that public financing is the only way to fix the system.
The Washington Post calls on Bush to stop stonewalling and disclose the details of his meetings with Abramoff.
Yesterday, Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook, along with the heads of several other leading watchdog groups, laid out a six-point plan for genuine reform. Watch the press conference on C-Span.
As we move into an exciting – and unpredictable – period of hoped-for reform to confront widespread corruption in Congress, it stands to reason that some members are feeling a bit nervous and saying some, uh, kinda dumb things. Tops on our list today – Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Rep. Ney. (R-Ohio).
Sen. Burns has the dubious distinction of having taken more campaign cash from clients of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than any other member of Congress. In his attempts to pull himself out of the ethical muck, he has tried to give the money away to Native American tribes in Montana (unsuccessfully, as we reported in a previous blog), as well as signing on as a co-sponsor of Sen. John McCain’s reform legislation. After doing this, though, he bizarrely told the Billings Gazette editorial board that the legislation "doesn't make a lot of changes." Thanks, Conrad – way to push that reform effort! (A list of links between Burns and Abramoff can be found in an AP article describing the state Republican party's twisted attempt to distort an online poll on Montanans' attitudes toward Burns.)
Senator Burns says he's never had so much energy to campaign as he's got for his upcoming reelection. As the Gazette wisely suggests, perhaps the good Senator should put some of that energy into cleaning up the mess in Congress, rather than running down the limited efforts he seems willing to make.
Not to be outdone is Rep. Ney, who is one of the few members of Congress specifically singled out (so far) in the Justice Department probe of Abramoff (Ney has admitted to being "Representative #1" in documents that describe legislative favors he did in return for contributions and gifts). Responding to comments by Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett that he should resign if indicted, Ney told The Hill that "I'm running -- if I'm indicted, I'm running."
We can hear the campaign ads already: "I'm Bob Ney. I'm indicted, and I’m running for Congress." With political instincts like this, you can sort of see how some of these folks got themselves into the trouble they're in….
The LA Times covered the coalition of ethics groups’ call for comprehensive ethics reform, the substance of which is the basis for this website. You can read the press release here and the proposals here.
They still don’t get it: Senate and House Republican negotiators bowed to health care industry lobbyists last month and cut out $22 billion in savings to taxpayers that would have come at the expense of the industry, the Washington Post reports. The changes were made in secret conference committee negotiations, a place where many nefarious projects have found their way into budgets and bills. The Senate Democratic leadership’s ethics reform bill, S.2180, would force these negotiations out in the open. If you ever needed a case for that reform, this is it.
More from the they-just-don’t-get-it department: Roll Call reports (not available online) that a chief of staff to a prominent House Republican member is “considering formally rallying his colleagues to oppose lobbying reform efforts that would ban staffers outright from letting lobbyists pay for their meals or trips.”
The LA Times also covers the sudden cooling of ardor between lobbyists and lawmakers now that they’re under the spotlight.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has created a panel within the caucus to investigate and publicize the ethics problems of Congressional Republicans and President Bush, reports Roll Call. Democrats are planning on ethics being the issue to rebut Bush’s State of the Union.
On Friday, Reps. David Obey (D-Wisc.) and Barney Frank (D-Ma.) announced that they would file legislation this month that would provide full public financing for general elections, reported the Washington Post. Public financing, the only sure-fire way to completely clean up Washington, has been approved in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine and is completely supported by Public Citizen. Dave Sirota has more on his Sirotablog.
Knight Ridder published an oped by former Montana Senate minority leader and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta calling for lobbying reform at the state level. [Via Sirotablog] Some states, including Montana, California, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Washington, New Jersey and New York are heeding the call, says the New York Times.
Remember the DeLay rule change? Well, it now appears that one Republican rep., Tom Feeney of Florida, is now denying that they ever tried to change ethics rules to protect DeLay. Of course, if you believe that one, I’ve got a Bridge to Nowhere I can get you, cheap… [via TPM]
Seasoned reform warriors know that it’s battle of offense as well as constant defense. A Supreme Court ruling on Monday may open the door to future challenges to the landmark McCain-Feingold bill of 2002, reports the New York Times. The Washington Post has more.
In case you missed it, you can listen to Public Citizen’s Taylor Lincoln debate corruption with Dave Sirota, the Washington Post’s Jeffrey Birnbaum and Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton here.
Ralph Reed, a major figure in the Abramoff scandal, is back in the news, this time for offering cash payments to people to come to a Christian Coalition rally, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He may have confused the poor folks with lawmakers. [Via the Carpetbagger] For more on his role in the scandal, read this piece in one of his home-state papers, the Gwinnett Daily Post.
Finally, on a side note, when bemoaning the soaring federal deficit keep in mind that oil companies have been let off the hook for hundreds of millions in royalty payments by the man they raised millions to help elect: President Bush. The New York Times tells the sad story of how taxpayers are getting cheated out of money for gas drilled on their land.
As the Congressional lobbying scandal deepens, the White House is having to play some defense of its own, as over the weekend both Washingtonian and Time magazines reported the existence of a half dozen photographs showing President Bush in the company of disgraced felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff."
Purely "coincidence," say the White House spinmeisters. Abramoff was simply invited to a few large holiday gatherings at the White House, and according to White House counselor Dan Bartlett, “any suggestions by critics or anyone else to suggest the president is doing something nefarious with Abramoff is absurd." President Bush has said he doesn’t recall ever meeting Abramoff, and
You'd think that if someone raised more than $100,000 for you – Abramoff was a Bush campaign “Pioneer” in the 2004 election – and helped push your legislative agenda through Congress with his extensive lobbying efforts, you’d at least be kind enough to say you remember meeting them. Maybe there was just too much lobbyist-bundled money flowing through the White House for Mr. Bush to remember little details like who it all came from? Regrettably, that might well be his answer.
Mr. Bush did send $6,000 contributed to his campaign by Abramoff, his wife and an Indian tribe he represented to the American Heart Association just days after Abramoff pled guilty. No response yet to our request that the president account for the other $100,000 the corrupt lobbyist raised for him, though….
The LA Times provides a lengthy profile of embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and his extensive ties to Jack Abramoff and other Washington lobbyists. However, Ney says that “if I'm indicted, I'm running,” reports the Hill.
Former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Aurthur Levitt, Jr. published an oped in the Washington Post today that reveals that several members of Congress threatened his independent agency with budget cuts in order to scuttle SEC actions on behalf of lobbyists. He calls for reforms including stopping the revolving door between Congress and lobbying, extensive new disclosure rules for lobbyists, a travel and gift ban, limited public financing and an independent ethics commission, all reforms that Public Citizen supports. See here for Public Citizen’s complete reform agenda.
The Houston Chronicle reports that the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has paid more than $1 million in state money to two Washington lobbying firms connected to Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and admitted felon/super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Perry is the first Texas governor to ever award such contracts, which some are calling redundant in light of the existence of a state office specifically tasked to lobby for the state. Democratic representatives from Texas also note that the lobby firms have never contacted them.
The LA Newspaper Group profiles just how pervasive lobbying has become in Washington.
The Orlando Sentinel says that even lobbyists acknowledge the system needs reform.
Some members of Congress appear not to have gotten the memo: several flew to Detroit last week for the big auto show at the expense of the auto industry, the Hill reports.
However, while the season of scandal may take down Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), a sign of our corrupt times is that his aides can expect cushy lobbying jobs if and when he is booted out of office, the Hill reports.
The Washington Post reports that the RNC led the DNC in fundraising $102 million to $51 million in 2005. However, it also notes that the DNC has been putting some major investments into its local and state level organizations (and fails to note that Dean has been turning over a lot of the money raised in local appearances directly to those organizations).
Knight Ridder reports on the competing Democrat and Republican ethics proposals and notes that Sen. Rick “K Street Project” Santorum (R-Penn.) has been tapped to lead the GOP effort. It also points out that even some lobbyists admit that unless the issue of lobbyists performing fundraising for politicians is addressed there will be no reform (public financing, anyone?). The Washington Post’s Jeffrey Birnbaum also rounds up the competing proposals and also notes the need for fundamental fundraising reform. He quotes former Rep. James Blanchard as saying “If Congress doesn't reform fundraising, lobbying reform will be meaningless.”
Speaking of the public financing of elections, George Skelton of the LA Times, wrote a good piece on why it’s the only way to truly clean up politics and points to Gov. Schwarzenegger as example #1.
For more on this subject, see James Carville and Paul Begala’s new plan, currently outlined in the Washington Monthly.
Roll Call reports that Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.)is replacing Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) on the Senate ethics panel. Is there more to this story than meets the eye?
Yesterday’s Roll Call [subscription required], pointed out a remarkable and little-noted fact in the battle for Republican leadership of the House: even as the Republicans struggle to distance themselves from the Abramoff lobbyist scandal that forced out former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), those struggling to replace him are themselves relying heavily on networks of lobbyists to win the majority leader post.
According to Roll Call, "lobbyists are sharing information with Members and their staffs, strategizing on how to rustle up more votes, feeling out uncommitted lawmakers, and trying to plant damaging stories about the competition in the media."
Does this sound like a party that’s ready to break its ties with the K Street crowd?
The reality, unfortunately, is that even with the current storm of bad press for lobbyists, they remain deeply entrenched in the leadership teams of both parties in Congress. And whatever members of Congress say publicly about reforming the system, those vying for leadership of the House Republicans – a race that includes Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boehner (Ohio), and John Shadegg (Ariz.) – are more than ready to use lobbyists to help them win. Boehner and Blunt, in particular, are frontrunners precisely because of their heavy support from the lobbyist community. (Shadegg, for his part, told a Fox news show that he is the right person for the job because his "level of taint" is "dramatically different" than his opponents. How’s that for a positive message?)
For instance, Gregg Hartley, a former senior Blunt staffer who is now a top lobbyist at the firm of Cassidy & Associates, has been seen roaming frequently through Blunt’s leadership and communications offices in recent days. One anonymous Republican aide quoted in the article notes, "he’s there a ton, I can tell you that…. He’s still heavily involved in Blunt’s PAC stuff and fundraising." Another aide notes that Hartley "has been in and out of the Capitol constantly" since the majority leader race began. "He just doesn ’t meet with Blunt, he meets with staff." Hartley declined comment for the article, but all of this is just further evidence of why Blunt is not fit for leadership – a conclusion reached in a comprehensive Public Citizen report on the congressman.
But as the battle for reform goes back and forth in the nation’s capital, we need to give a tip of the hat to the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, which took the most ethical action we’ve heard about regarding the snowballing corruption scandal. According to NBC News, the council actually refused a donation of $111,000 from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mon.), calling it "tainted money" that needs to be returned to the Native American tribes that originally gave it to him. (Burns, like many of his colleagues in Congress, has been rushing to give away the large sums of money donated to him by disgraced felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff as quickly as he can, and he tried to give the $111,000 to tribes in his home state.)
People refusing contributions they consider unethical?! What a radical idea! Would I be the first to suggest that one of the council leaders challenge Sen. Burns in his upcoming re-election battle? We could sure use some of their wisdom and spirit here in this den of corruption on the Potomac….
Bloomberg: U.S. Lawmakers Flock to Tropics as Montego Bay Trumps Abramoff. Amidst calls to ban privately funded travel for lawmakers, several members of Congress continue to enjoy lavish trips funded by private interests.
New York Times: Senator Apologizes for Attack on Payments to Republicans. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has apologized for releasing a document singling out thirty-three Republican members who received contributions from criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Houston Chronicle: Subpoenas seek DeLay links to San Diego firm. Prosecutors have requested financial records from a defense contractor in the criminal case against former majority leader Tom DeLay.
Washington Post: GOP Contest Prompts Yawns Outside Beltway. Many voters around the country seem uninterested in the upcoming House leadership election. The Post gives an update on the race.
USA Today: The congressman & the hedge fund. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Cal.) reportedly accepted $110,000 from a fundraiser held by a New York investment group, one day before a defense spending bill was approved containing a $160 million project of critical importance to the group - a project actively protected by Lewis.
San Francisco Chronicle: Dems unveil plan to curb lobbying. The Democratic Party has come forth with a proposal to address corruption in Washington, two days after Republicans unveiled a strikingly similar set of demands. Both parties have been criticized for failing to outline a cogent system for executing any new rules or for punishing violators.
LA Times: Justices Weigh Limits Put on Campaign Ads. On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the constitutionality of certain campaign finance limits placed on groups by the 2002 McCain-Feingold legislation.
All the hoopla aside, it's been a pretty lousy week for reform here in Washington, DC.
Responding to the snowballing corruption scandal centered around felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff – there’s nothing like the threat of indictments to prompt members of Congress to action – both Republicans and Democrats raced to offer their own competing proposals to clean up Washington. Problem is, the proposals don’t look all that different – and neither addresses the root cause of the problem, which is the rot of special interest money in our political system, and the use of lobbyists as conduits for that money.
The Republicans took the first swing on Tuesday, and offered up a particularly weak cup of tea: a group of proposals that would ban some (but not all) lobbyist-sponsored or organized travel for members of Congress; restrict lobbyists from giving gifts (above a certain value) to members and their staffs; prohibit special access privileges for ex-members who become lobbyists; and, ever so slightly, slow down the revolving door between Congress and K St. (Incredibly, fully 43 percent of members leaving Congress for the private sector since 1998 have gone on to become lobbyists.)
The devil is still in the details, though, and as the Washington Post noted, the Republican proposals appear to have loopholes large enough for Jack Abramoff to drive a truck-load of cash through.
The Democrats had their turn on Wednesday, and with tremendous fanfare and pageantry, they announced… pretty much the same thing. They did a wonderful job of naming all the problems after Republicans, and this is not undeserved. The particularly close and ever-growing relationship between corporate lobbyists and Congress that we’ve witnessed over the past several years is no accident, but rather the very essence of the "K Street Project" that was created and pushed by former majority leader (and indicted) Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, and Republican operatives such as Grover Norquist. The Dems also announced proposals to foster openness and participation in a legislative process that Republicans have all but closed to them, especially in the House. Fair enough.
Conspicuously missing from both sets of proposals, however, is any prohibition on campaign contributions or political fundraising by lobbyists. Huh? Two-thirds of Americans in a recent poll would outright ban campaign contributions from lobbyists, realizing that this is at the heart of the problem, yet both parties still refuse to even acknowledge the lobbyist-money-politician link. What’s the point of banning a lobbyist from giving a fancy dinner to a member , or an even fancier golf junket, if the lobbyist can still give thousands of dollars to the member – or better yet, run their PAC and bundle tens or even hundreds of thousands for them?
The other critical reform barely mentioned by either side is the need for an independent ethics watchdog to monitor and enforce the rules. At a time when the House ethics committee has failed to launch a single investigation, in the midst of the largest corruption scandal in decades, it is beyond comprehension that members of Congress still want to make believe they can police themselves. Quite obviously they cannot, and it’s time to end that farcical pretense once and for all.
A Public Citizen comparison of the two proposals, as well as related ethics legislation in the House and Senate, can be seen here.
The most encouraging thing this activist saw in Washington all week on the reform front was a vocal protest in front of Norquist’s downtown office during his weekly meeting with lobbyists. About 80 activists gathered in a drenching rain to demand an end to corruption, with a bevy of cameras to record the protest. Now, as always, it is citizen pressure that will make Congress do what it needs to do, and the Abramoff corruption scandal offers us a golden opportunity to do just that.
Want to help us push Congress to raise the ante, and start a bidding war on who can go further with reform? Go to our Action Center, and give your members of Congress a piece of your mind!