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After intense in-fighting in the House Republican caucus, the House voted along largely party lines yesterday to approve a restrictive rule on their ethics and lobbying reform bill, one which will prevent any substantive or strengthening amendments, and in particular Democratic alternatives, from being offered from the floor. (See our blog posting on this story, below)
The vote on the actual bill is likely to take place next week. USA Today describes how the bill devolved from the original strong words and modest proposals of Republican leaders, in the wake of the Abramoff scandals, to its current weak form. The Hill describes some of the machinations behind the rule vote, including who voted for and against it, and the Boston Globe includes some choice commentary from the bill's Democratic detractors, including one observation that "the party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Abramoff."
The latest NBC/Journal poll shows that both scandals and earmarking - the process by which members of Congress add billions of dollars for special projects to often unrelated legislation - is adding to public disgust with Congress. Of the 65% who say they disapprove of the job Congress is doing, one-third say it's because "too many members... are corrupt and unethical."
AS noted in MSNBC's First Read, NBC/Journal pollster Bill McInturff (R) advises members of Congress not to be fooled about where reform stands compared to other issues like gas prices and the Iraq war, but advises that they "don't also be fooled by what inaction means."
The AP is reporting that Mississippi Governor (and former Republican National Committee Chair) Haley Barbour helped deliver startup money for a GOP telemarketing firm implicated in dirty tricks during the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race. The governor's spokesman said Barbour had "no idea" the company would engage in criminal activity, even though the original funding he secured for it made him part owner.
The New York Times is reporting that the FBI investigation into the finances of Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W. Va.) is proceeding with subpoenas to three nonprofit organizations created by Mollohan and "financed primarily through special federal appropriations he steered their way."
In the increasingly high-stakes drama around ethics and lobbying reform, the House Republican conference voted overwhelmingly last night to approve a highly restrictive rule that prohibits consideration of any amendment to strengthen their pathetic excuse for a reform bill (H.R. 4975).
After a discombobulated performance on the House floor in the morning, in which the GOP leadership pulled the rule from the floor 24 minutes after it was introduced because they lacked the votes, the leaders (with the support of Tom DeLay, according to some news reports) whipped their colleagues into line by evening and passed the rule by a vote of 216-to-207. All Democrats and 16 Republicans refused to support the restrictive rule.
The sham lobbying reform bill now moves to the House floor for final consideration next week, during which only nine trivial amendments may be considered. Many of these amendments would weaken the already weak legislation even further.
With this move, House Republicans are playing a high-risk game with the looming elections. They are banking that corruption will not be a big issue to voters come fall. GOP leaders made their rank-and-file members walk the plank to keep their perks.
It is a game that has cost the public’s confidence in our government. Public cynicism in government is running at an all-time high. Congress is throwing away the opportunity to prove it can rise above the corrupting influences of corporate moneyed interests and their permanent presence on Capitol Hill through an army of high-financed lobbyists.
Public Citizen praises every member who voted against the restrictive rule and encourage members to vote against the sham “reform” legislation on the floor next week. As we look forward to the public policy debate that will continue through this summer and into the fall and mid-term elections, we know that this fight is far from over.
Swamped by a tidal wave of opposition from within and without, Rep. David Dreier (R-Cal.) withdrew the Republican leadership’s ethics and lobbying reform measure earlier today – right in the middle of floor consideration. They did some quick huddling in the Republican House caucus, and it was just announced, at this afternoon, that they are going to bring it back to the floor starting at today. We urge you to contact your Representative immediately to stop this abomination.
How bad is this bill? Here’s what papers around the country are saying about it:
“a cynical approach”… “ethics reform in name only” (Birmingham News)
“a snow job”… “a toothless sham… [to] con the public” (USA Today)
“a watered-down sham”… “simply a joke” (Washington Post)
“a charade”… “they should be ashamed of themselves” (
“a self-serving sham”…”stillborn reform” (Houston Chronicle)
“a new feat of cravenness”… “a cadaverous pretense” (New York Times)
We couldn’t agree more. (Click here for the Public Citizen statement)
Unfortunately, the Republican leadership seems to believe that the public won’t care if they pass joke reform, and that’s why they’re bringing it back right now. We bet they’re wrong. Click here to let them know what you think about this state of affairs.And keep coming back to the Clean Up Washington blog, for updates on all breaking news and developments.
Despite widespread criticism, House Republicans are set to bring up their useless lobbying reform today. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said the leadership has “truly squandered their last real chance to reform this corrupt Congress."
Just when you think the corruption scandals in Congress couldn’t get any worse, the Wall Street Journal reports federal prosecutors are investigating whether contractors provided prostitutes for indicted former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif) - and possibly for other members of Congress as well.
The Washington Post reports Republican lawmakers don’t think their constituents care about ethics reform, so they are free to pass sham legislation. Disagree? Take action and tell your representative that we need real ethics reform.
The Houston Chronicle writes the gutted congressional ethics bill shows lobbyists still rule the roost on Capitol Hill.
The Baltimore Sun tells members of Congress “they should be ashamed of themselves,” and the only way to fix the ethics committee is to support an Office of Public Integrity.
The Washington Post reports the weak lobbying bill coming up in the house would do nothing to “change the money culture in Washington.” According to The Hill, a coalition of reform groups, including Public Citizen, blasted the House bill and asked members to oppose it.
As reported in the Washington Times, the GOP is feeling pressure to return millions of dollars received from indicted Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) political action committee.
The San Francisco Gate reports Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) wrote a letter to his Mormon church saying "I have done nothing to bring shame to myself, my family, or my church,” and blaming the media for making him look bad by revealing all his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Interesting analysis, given recent revelations about Doolittle's self-serving fundraising practices and his place in the Clean Up Washington Hall of Shame.
The Washington Post echos the reaction of the reform community, and slams the all pretense, no substance House lobbying reform bill as a “joke.”
The USA Today also calls the bill a “snow job on lobbying.”
You might remember our blog post from last week, in which we pointed out the astoundingly questionable fundraising practices of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif). Not only does Doolittle pay his campaign fundraising company on commission - a practice that violates the ethics codes of national fundraising associations because it encourages opportunism - but the company just happens to employ his wife, and only his wife... and it operates out of their suburban Virginia home!
In a strongly-worded editorial on Friday, the Washington Post agreed that Doolittle's fundraising practices "couldn't smell more," and that they amount to the congressman and his wife skimming 15% off the top of all campaign contributions to enlarge their own personal bank account.
We thank the Post wholeheartedly for agreeing with our condemnation of Doolittle's unethical practices. And members of Congress still wonder why the public doesn't trust them....
USA Today reports House Republicans used the Rules Committee last week, while Congress was officially on recess, to weaken their already very weak lobbying and ethics reform bill. (One wonders how this is possible without actually putting lobbyists on the appropriations committees, but House leadership found a way.) Unlike even the Senate version, the House bill includes no changes to gift rules, no extension of the revolving door measures, and no increase in disclosure of lobbying activities.
According to The Helena Independent Record, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) secured a $1 million research grant in 2003 for the software firm Compressus to work with Montana universities. Interestingly, his former top aide worked as the firm's lobbyist and Burns’ daughter was named to its board of advisers two months after the senator announced the money.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) is doing everything he can to distract voters from his ties to superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Columbus Dispatch summarizes his campaign message: “it’s us against them, underserved and God-fearing eastern Ohio against clueless outsiders in politics and the media.”
The taint of corruption in Washington is so strong that even some members of Congress who face neither legal difficulties nor accusations of scandal are still having to answer for their colleagues' misbehavior in tightening reelection campaigns.
In Ohio, a state which Democrats are portraying as the epicenter of Republican corruption, Senator Mike DeWine is having to contend with the ethical shadows cast by outgoing Republican Governor Bob Taft, who is embroiled in a scandal, and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is being investigated by the Justice Department for his close ties to now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeWine's senate colleague from Ohio, George Voinovich, muses that since Republicans have been in power in the state for 16 years, people have a tendency to want to "try out another flavor of ice cream." Could we get a double-scoop of integrity, please?
With Democrats aiming squarely at his Achilles' heel, Congressional Quarterly reports that Rep. Bob Ney's ethics problems have put the popular congressman in serious risk as he seeks his seventh term. As further evidence of his mounting problems, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Ney has spent more than two-thirds of the $142,418 raised for his re-election this year on lawyers defending him in the Justice Department corruption probe.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates in another House race in Ohio have turned to criticizing each others' integrity in the primary.
Brent R. Wilkes, a defense contractor who is one of the unindicted co-conspirators in the bribery case that put former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) behind bars for 8 years, has mounting legal problems of his own: news reports indicate that he he has not paid property taxes since 2004, and owes the county more than $304,000.
And for those who might have missed the latest development in the legal travails of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a state appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed a felony conspiracy charge against him. DeLay still faces a money-laundering charge and another conspiracy charge stemming from the financing of state legislative races in 2002.
Poor Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) has a lot of ethics issues on his hands these days.
He is already under investigation by the Department of Justice for his multiple connections to - and legislative favors apparently performed for - convicted former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. He also helped pass $37 million in contracts the military did not request to the contractor who bribed fomer Rep. (and now federal inmate) Randy "Duke" Cunningham. (You can read all about Rep. Doolittle's tainted record in our Hall of Shame.)
Now his campaign fundraising practices - specifically, the 15% commission his wife earns on every contribution raised by her company - is raising a few eyebrows. (See the lead story, below.)
While he insists that it's all legal and "standard practice," the national Association of Fundraising Professionals fired off a letter to let him know that, in fact, commission-based fundraising is clearly prohibited by the long-standing ethics code of their association and is definitely NOT standard practice in the industry. (They have learned from experience that paying commissions for fundraising tends to place the incentive on personal gain for the fundraiser rather than the best interest of the client.) "This is a big deal for us," said Association head Paulette Maehara.
The one-person fundraising company, Sierra Dominion, which is run by Doolittle's wife Julie out of the couple's suburban Virginia home, has collected $180,000 from Doolittle's campaign since September of 2003. This includes a percentage of the $70,000 that Doolittle accepted from clients of Jack Abramoff, contributions that he has refused to return, and from businesses associated with the Cunningham bribery scandal.
While continuing to defend the clearly unethical practice, Doolittle added in a February interview with the Sacramento Bee that "some [people] just don't like the family being involved in this."
Well, can you imagine that? I mean, who could possibly have a problem with a member of Congress raising money from lobbyists and businesses later convicted for bribing public officials, and feathering his own nest by passing along thousands of those dollars to his own wife working out of his own home - and through a fee arrangment viewed as unethical by industry experts, no less?
With ethics acumen like that, it's surprising the Republican party hasn't tried to make Rep. Doolittle chair of the House ethics committee.
Of course, he has hinted lately that his wife might be willing to consider changing the arrangement. Perhaps the Justice Department will remind him of some changes he needs to make in his other professional practices as well....
Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.), who is already under pressure for his ties with convicted felon and former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, is now receiving harsh rebukes from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for his creative scheme to pay his wife with campaign contributions.
The Sacramento Bee reports that in response to Doolittle's assertions that the 15% commission he pays his wife's company on all campaign contributions raised is "standard practice" in the industry, the 27,000 member organization sent him a letter flatly stating that the practice violates the ethics standards of the industry.
Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) told the Associated Press campaign contributions from Abramoff’s firm had nothing to do with letter he wrote supporting a $3 million appropriation for the superlobbyist’s clients. Instead, it's just a timely coincidence that managed to benefit everyone involved.
The Wall Street Journal reports ties to Jack Abramoff may bring down former GOP wonderboy Ralph Reed in his race to be Lieutenant Governor of Georgia.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) told supporters at a recent campaign stop that he’s “not going anywhere.” Instead, the Times-Reporter describes how he blamed the country's ills on billionaire activist George Soros, whom Ney described as an atheist in favor of legalizing drugs.
Marie Cocco of the Salem Statesman-Journal writes that without Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to kick around anymore, Congress seems intent on “kick[ing] meaningful congressional reform out the window.”
While soon-to-be-former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) will be experiencing a major change in his environment, moving from conservative Sugarland, Texas to liberal-leaning Alexandria, Virginia, The Hill notes that he is getting a warm welcome from his new Democratic representatives.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who represents the state's 8th district, welcomed DeLay to what he called "a progressive, tolerant and open-minded community of caring, diverse and forward-thinking citizens...."
Not to be outdone, Moran's brother Brian, who represents DeLay's new hometown as a delegate in the Virginia state assembly, offered the former House majority leader this support: “I have been an advocate of restoring voting rights to felons for many years,” he told the Alexandria Gazette Packet. “I think DeLay will enjoy my representation.”
If you liked Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere," you'll love Mississippi's "Train to Nowhere." Billed as the "largest earmark ever," the Christian Science Monitor reports that the $700 million proposed relocation of a Gulf coast traintrack (that was just repaired at the cost of more than $250 million!) has put the state's Republican senators on the defensive, roiled the GOP and exposed major rifts between those who want to curtail expensive pet projects and those still looking to bring home the bacon.
The race for Ohio's 13th Congressional district is the latest in which corruption in Washington will figure prominently. Democrat Betty Sutton is making combating corruption her campaign's number 1 goal. Interestingly, she appears to have a track record of doing just that.
The House GOP is turning up the heat on the House ethics committee's ranking member, Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W. Va.), after reports last week that federal investigators are looking into his personal finances and earmarks he steered to his district.
The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, also known as Freddie Mac, will have to pay a $3.8 million fine for violation of campaign finance laws. The largest fine in FEC history was levied for their use of corporate resources to organize fundraising events for members of Congress - activity that is strictly prohibited by the FEC. Thanks and congratulations to Public Citizen's own Craig Holman, our Campaign Finance Reform lobbyist, who spotted the illicit activity and filed the original complaint with the FEC!
A former Reagan revolutionary has written a new book, "The K Street Gang," on how the Republican revolution was hijacked by greed. Read his cogent description of the problem (in response to a witlessly sarcastic National Review interviewer), and listen to him on NPR's All Things Considered.
New Hampshire's Concord Monitor looks at the ongoing investigation of Republican attempts to suppress Democratic turnout in the state's 2002 senate election. Why did the state Republican party receive $15,000 from Indian tribes represented by convicted former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff?
In "Republican vs. Republican," a Tom Paine op-ed describes how corruption is "the termite colony eating away at the foundations of conservative unity."
A refreshingly reflective editorial from Vermont's Montpelier Times Argus encourages us to be active in fighting corruption "with the joy that comes from entering a battle that will always be worth fighting."
As reported in the Houston Chronicle, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) raised approximately $500,000 - more than a third of his current campaign warchest of $1.4 million - in the six weeks before he announced his pending resignation from Congress.
DeLay can use the money for a number of purposes, including adding it to his legal defense fund - see our previous blog - for which he has already separately raised more than $2 million since 2000. (Goodness, now how would he have guessed way back in 2000 that he would need a legal defense fund??)
Remarkably enough, DeLay's campaign website was still soliciting campaign contributions as of yesterday, with the statement "To continue to win, I need your help and your most generous contribution today" incongruously posted along with his resignation statement.
Some of those recent contributors quoted in the article claim they have no problem with DeLay using the money as he sees fit. While he will indeed have plenty of legal expenses on his hands, with a pending trial on money laundering charges in Texas and the federal Abramoff investigation still unfolding, is it possible that some contributors still expect to buy some favors from DeLay in his next political reincarnation - after jail if necessary?
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that in one of the most significant public corruption trials in Illinois history, former Illinois Governor George Ryan (R-Ill.) was convicted of all 18 charges brought against him, including racketeering, money laundering and extortion. In a statement after the verdict, prosecutors said:
"the highest office in the state of Illinois was corrupted and people's lives were put at stake."
Chicago FBI chief RobertGrant said he hoped the Ryan verdict would put an end to "political prostitution" in Illinois. "No matter who you are, no matter where your station may be in public service you're held accountable." Ryan is planning to appeal the convictions.
According to the The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) is finding out it's hard to run for Congress while you wait to be indicted.
Would you like stretch limo with that? MSNBC reports that newly released emails between Jack Abramoff and David Safavian, chief of staff at the General Services Administration, detail the convicted former superlobbyist's generous gifts and trips, as well as the remarkable access he enjoyed.
Time Magazine names Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), whose close ties to Abramoff are under investigation, as one of the 5 worst Senators in Congress. As the article notes, "Burns' real problem... is not with making law but with staying on the right side of it." Somehow this sounds vaguely familiar....
Apparently Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif) began to feel the heat when Abramoff was arrested in January. The Sacramento Bee reports that Doolittle, another member of our Hall of Shame, hired a former associate of special prosecutor Ken Starr to provide legal advice about his close relationship with the indicted superlobbyist.
It appears that ethics violations are not limited to the elected branches of government. A Washington Post investigation found that federal appellate judges issued rulings in at least seven cases where they had financial ties to one of the parties. However, the disclosure rules for federal judges are even weaker than those governing Congress, making a true account of violations nearly impossible.
Where are the reforms? John D. Perry of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph laments that we won't see real reform because "politicians are only interested in getting re-elected."
Even as Congressman-turned-lobbyist Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) asked the audience at a recent Washington lobbyists' dinner to "rededicate" itself "to integrity," the bigger buzz was which high-powered lobbying firm might hire one of the other attendees that night: the recently resigned Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Said Charles R. Black Jr., chairman of BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm, "Tom DeLay has been the greatest strategist for getting legislation through the House in his generation," adding, "he could come over here and be my boss if he wanted to be."
The fact that DeLay was admonished four times by the House ethics committee for his "strategies" of arm-twisting, threats and selling access to corporate lobbyists, or that he is under indictment for money-laundering in Texas, or that he is under investigation in Washington for his involvement in the wholesale bribery efforts of his "dear friend" Jack Abramoff, seems of little consequence to the special interest lobbying world. All they know is that Tom DeLay can get their legislative priorities through Congress, and how he does it is apparently of little consequence.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. While there are certainly corporate CEOs who display genuine impulses of social responsibility, you don't find them represented too often in the world of high-powered Washington lobbyists.
But would it be too much to ask for more leadership on ethics from members of Congress - even Democrats?
Maybe so. While the Democratic members of the House have been (rightly) decrying Republican plans to offer their milquetoast "reform" package without the opportunity for debate or amendment, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) spokesperson said last week that Rep. Pelosi saw no need for a special Office of Public Integrity to independently investigate possible ethics violations. She thinks most Democrats believe the House ethics committee should be able to do this work on its own - even though it has become clear over the past year to all but the most obtuse observers that partisan deadlock on the committee makes this all but impossible.
We hope that many House Democrats will prove the minority leader wrong when the OPI comes up for a vote later this month. But how could a Congressional leader like Rep. Pelosi be so blind on this issue? As respected ethics expert Norm Orenstein of the American Enterprise Institute diplomatically notes in his current Roll Call editorial, "When it comes to ethics, most House Members of both parties have their heads set so far up their posterior orifices they are unlikely ever to see the sun shine again."
Despite multiple indictments for ethics problems that forced his resignation, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is still making the rounds at high-powered lobbyist parties. The Washington Post’s Jeff Birnbaum reports that DC Lobbying firms are eager to hire Tom and put "The Hammer" to work for their cause.
The Hill reports that Republican Leaders are considering prohibiting any amendments to their lobbying reform bill, meant to increase transparency and openness government. Democratic spokeswoman Jennifer Crider asks the logical question:
"How can you have a debate on open government if you restrict the discussion about it?"
The Washington Post writes that Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif) wife received 15 cents of every dollar raised by her husband’s political action committee as a commission for her "consulting" work. The worst part: it’s completely legal.
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute writes in Roll Call [subscription required] that House Members apparently have an allergic reaction to ethics reform. With reports of an investigation into House ethics committee ranking Democrat Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va) for possibly profiting from federal earmarks, more revelations about the bribery practices of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissing the need for a special Office of Public Integrity, Ornstein lashes out against members of Congress, concluding:
"What will it take for these guardians of the public trust to realize that they can’t go on with a sham of a process when the signs of unethical behavior and corruption are all around? I hesitate to do so, because the answer clearly seems to be that even signs of mass murder by Members would not change their shortsighted, selfish insular reactions here."
The Philadelphia Enquirer urges Congress to "iron out all the wrinkles" in the tax code by regulating donations to "527" groups.
Tom DeLay's resignation last week was a sweet victory for those of us fighting corruption in Congress - and it had everything to do with public pressure generated from activists like you!
Listen to Clean Up Washington Field Director Gordon Clark's "One Minute Analysis" of DeLay's departure, and the next steps in the fight to take back our government, at
We also urge everyone to bring the issue up with their Representatives while they are back in your districts during this Congressional recess, which lasts through April 24. Check out the Action Center for sample questions you can ask, and a brief but thorough guide on how to hold your Rep's feet to the fire while they're at home.
Thanks again, for everything that you do!
Ed Buckham, a former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) who went through the revolving door to form the infamous (and now defunct) Alexander Strategy Group, used his position and connections to lobby successfully for federal funding benefiting a firm in which he held a financial stake. According to the LA Times, in 2003 Buckham secured a $1.55 million appropriation for small business assistance. This money went to the Florida Institute of Technology, which "promptly signed a contract with Map Roi Inc." It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Buckham's lobby firm held options on 500,000 shares of Map Roi stock.
The Daily Cardinal reports that activists in Wisconsin on Wednesday rallied for clean government and strong ethics enforcement in state politics. Congress may not get it, but the public sure does!
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), an esteemed member of the Clean Up Washington Hall of Shame, faces a strong challenge in November from Democrat Charlie Brown. According to the Oroville Mercury Register, Brown is running on a platform of ethical government. He is speaking out about Doolittle's close connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Rep. Tom DeLay and convicted former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, noting: "The House of Representatives is supposed to be the people's house not a house for lobbyists and corporations."
It's sad when the Washington Post writes that is "almost reluctant" to support a strong aspect of the House lobbying bill "for fear that it will be shot down all the more quickly."
The Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado decries the moribund House ethics committee, and notes that, with a recently revealed federal investigation of the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), "the ethics committee faces another test of whether it's serious or just there for show."
Reports of DeLay's political death are greatly exaggerated, if a number of recent news stories are any indication.
DeLay, who has long worn his conservative religious beliefs on his sleeve, (his understanding of ethics resides elsewhere), is now claiming that he resigned from Congress not because of indictments, a federal probe, or the possibility of losing an election, but because "God wanted him to… and that He has bigger plans for DeLay," plans that apparently involve reshaping the federal government to meet his fundamentalist Christian worldview. An op-ed in the Washington Times agrees DeLay is heading in this direction, noting that he “might be just the fellow to organize a genuine grass-roots conservative evangelical political movement with the clout to advance its issues within the GOP,” whether the Republicans like it or not.
DeLay is now planning to hit the pulpits (and bank accounts) of conservative evangelical congregations around the country, and his sketchy past, problems with his own family, and record of ethical misconduct (if not actual crime) in Congress seem to be no impediment. As the Rev. Rick Scarborough, DeLay's pastor, said while introducing him to a Christian conference just last week – we kid you not – “This is a man, I believe, God has appointed ... to represent righteousness in government."
For a somewhat lighter take on the DeLay-as-religious-leader story, check out the op-ed in
CBS News is reporting today on emails that show Jack Abramoff's lobbying team discussing the use of large political donations to pressure lawmakers and the administration into securing federal money for the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan. As one email from an Abramoff colleague succinctly noted, "we're going to seriously reconsider our priorities in the current [political donation] lists I'm drafting right now if our friends don't weigh in with some juice."
House Republican leaders are in a quandary over how to proceed with their version of ethics and lobbying reform legislation: whether to vote on a bill without the consideration of amendments, or to vote on a large catch-all bill that could be altered. (The irony of presenting a bill intended to create greater openness and accountability in government without allowing any amendments seems, for the moment at least, lost on the Republican leadership.)
In addition, two Republicans – Reps. Christopher Shays (
Running largely on the ethics issue, Democrat Francine Busby won the special election to replace former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, although without the 50% total necessary to prevent a run-off election. Even the Republicans tried to get in on the game, with the National Republican Campaign Committee running ads pointing out that Busby had accepted campaign contributions from lobbyists. This tit-for-tat over lobbyist connections should get even more interesting in the run-off election, since Busby’s likely Republican opponent, former Representative Brian Bilbray, changed careers after losing his re-election race in 2000 to become - what else? - a registered lobbyist.
"Revolving doors" reform up north, eh? The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that in response to a corruption scandal in the previous administration, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tory government is pushing its own lobbyist reform bill in
Congress Daily (link not available) reports that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will issue a report focusing on the relationship between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Indian tribes they represented -- but not on the actions of any elected officials involved in the bribery schemes. A committee aide said that the hearings were simply a "follow the money" exercise.
According to The Hill, Republican uber-operative Grover Norquist is applying for a trademark on the phrase "K Street Project," which he helped create and which he feels has been wrongfully used to describe nefarious activities unrelated to his organization, Americans for Tax Reform. As Norquist noted with his customary tact and diplomacy, “We will sue anyone who says it wrong and make lots of money.”
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), has identified three Republicans as the possible “next Tom DeLay”: Reps. Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). When told of Mr. DeLay's remarks, Mr. Pence said simply, "I accept the compliment," while Rep. McHenry blurted out, "I'm blown away ... I'm so excited that Tom DeLay would say that about me." No word yet on whether the position comes with an automatic admonishment from the ethics committee.
An editorial in Roll Call today reaches the conclusion that oh-so-many across the nation have already figured out: no, Congress cannot police itself.
The final straw for them is the recent exchange of letters between the chair of the House ethics committee, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), and the ranking minority member, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), in which Hastings is calling for Mollohan to step aside from the ethics committee until a probe by federal investigators into this finances is resolved. (The probe was first reported in the Wall Street Journal this past Friday.) For his part, Mollohan is questioning Hasting's stewardship of the committee.
As Roll Call notes, "by the time Congress returns from its current recess... both chambers will be drifting inexorably toward a season of debate over hot-button political issues in advance of the November elections and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will have accomplished essentially nothing."
The partisan standoff in the committee seems set in stone. While Roll Call believes that Mollohan should step aside from the committee until the investigation into his finances is resolved (and we would recommend the same for Hastings, who was appointed by the Republican House leadership with the apparent purpose of making sure the ethics committee does as little work as possible), they do note that the problem is about more than any individuals. Oddly, though, their only proposed solution is to call on House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to break the jam by replacing the entire committee - as if the leadership wasn't already responsible for the deadlock, or as if ten new members of Congress would somehow produce a different result.
The real answer, as the reform community has stressed since the beginning, is an independent ethics investigating body, or Office of Public Integrity as it is now commonly called. Nothing less will even begin to get at the problem.
While they miss this obvious solution, Roll Call does agree that the reputation of Congress is in a shambles, and that if Congress doesn't fix it now, "voters may deliver an even stronger message about what they expect to see among the first orders of business next year." From their page to the electorate's ears....
The first major test of the political fallout from recent congressional corruption scandals comes today in California's 50th district, where voters will choose a candidate to replace Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif), who resigned his seat before being sent to jail for accepting more than $2 million in bribes.
In an hypocritical turn, ABC News reports the National Republican Congressional Committee spent over $300,000 running ads against Democratic challenger Francine Busby (D-Calif.) for accepting $500 in campaign contributions from a "scandal-plagued" lobbyist. Unfortunately, if $300,000 in ads ran every time a member of Congress accepted contributions from a crooked lobbyist, there wouldn't be time to show anything else on TV.
According to Time Magazine, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) proposed making one of his last acts in Congress an ethics complaint against Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), who apologized for striking a Capitol Police officer last week. It would have been a fine irony had an ethics complaint made by Tom DeLay finally prompted the House Ethics committee to <gasp> hold a meeting.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) kicked off his bid for re-election yesterday by citing his ability to channel pork barrel projects to Montana through his seat on the Interior Appropriations subcommittee. The article notes that the campaign kickoff also attracted a protestor holding a sign reading "Bribery is Not a Family Value."
Newsday writes that despite his resignation and indictment, Tom DeLay's rapid ascension to the House leadership will provoke others to copy his tactics. Unless significant reforms are made, Newsday says: "DeLay's activities will serve as an example to previously unempowered representatives who can now hope to become the leader of the House. As a result, future speakers may be characterized more by their dexterous fundraising than by anything else. And the results could be a political body even more focused on fundraising."
Is that even possible?
Finally, Roll Call asks the question "Can members police themselves?" They conclude, as many others have, that the answer has become a resounding "No."
Newsweek reports that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) is facing increasing scrutiny over his ties to lobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff. We hope that at some point, the ever-increasing "scrutiny" may lead to a formal investigation. (Too bad we don't have the Office of Public Integrity.)
In a classic example of the revolving door in Washington, The Philadelphia Inquirer details how two ex-staffers for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) became high-powered lobbyists, using connections with their former boss to secure favors for clients.
The Charleston Daily Mail reports that Rep. Alan Mollohan's (D-W.Va) Republican opponent, Chris Wakim, is raising questions over Mollohan's dealings with a network of West Virginia non-profits that give to Mollohan's campaign. Wakim released a statement on Friday in response to a news story by the Wall Street Journal:
"Recent news reports detailing serious wrongdoing on the part of Congressman Mollohan are troubling to everyone who lives in West Virginia. Along with others, I await an effort by Congressman Mollohan to explain what possible justification there is for what he has done."
CNNMoney.com reports that big Pharma is lobbying to cut the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) budget, which is expected to create a backlog in generic drug applications. While generic drugs await approval, brand-name drug companies will likely rake in billions.
In a refrain that has become all too obvious, the Toledo Blade writes that when it comes to ethics, the United States Congress is incapable of governing itself.
The Wall Street Journal ran a story today (see "Corruption News Roundup," below) on an investigation by federal prosectors into Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), specifically a pattern of Congressional earmarks totalling $178 million that he has channeled to a group of non-profit organizations in his state. Prosecutors are allegedly examining political contributions from employees of those same non-profits, and personal financial dealings, including real estate investments, that Rep. Mollohan and his wife have pursued with some of the individuals involved.
Rep. Mollohan has not been accused of any wrongdoing at this time, and he has welcomed the review. "We operate transparently," he said, adding "every one of the earmarks is held to the highest standards of accountability" and publicly disclosed.
We all know by now that Congress does a lot of its appropriating through earmarks - $53 billion worth in 2004 - and that the use of earmarks has exploded over the past several years. We have no doubt that many of them are used as rewards for campaign contributors in the "pay-to-play" culture that has enveloped Congress recently. Of course, some (perhaps many) of them are for perfectly legitimate purposes, and do not represent legislative favors for contributors.
What makes this investigation particularly interesting is that Rep. Mollohan just happens to be the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee. And while he declines to suggest political motivations for this investigation at this time, it's also interesting to note that he is facing the first serious Republican challenger in many years, one who has the backing of the White House.
Following today's news, House Speaker Dennis Haster has called for Mollohan to step down from the ethics committee, with none-too-subtle accusations of the ranking Democrats motivations. "I was wondering why [Ethics Committee Democrats] were dragging their feet on this whole ethics thing," Hastert said. "I don't know if that has anything to do with it or not, we'll see." Added National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.) "It is no wonder that Mr. Mollohan and Democrat leaders have stalled for so long in getting the Ethics Committee up and running."
Of course, such accusations paint a highly self-serving and wholly inaccurate picture of the problems with the House ethics committee. Whatever the Democrats other faults in not pushing for ethics investigations, the reality is that the Republican leadership has actively worked to eviscerate the committee since it admonished then House Majority leader Tom DeLay in the fall of 2004 - first by replacing the committee chair with someone more compliant, then firing the investigative staff, then changing the rules - and that Mollohan has stood in their path every step of the way, winning several of these battles. Could that be why he's in the crosshairs today?
Whatever the results of this latest dust up and investigation, it is just one more conclusive piece of evidence as to why we need an independent, non-partisan agency, such as an Office of Public Integrity, to investigate ethics violations in the Congress - and not a committee that is used for partisan attacks or whitewhashing, or deadlocked in inaction because of it. And we hope that Rep. Mollohan will continue his advocacy of real and effective ethics enforcement in Congress.
To send your Representative a message on the need for real ethics reform, including an Office of Public Integrity, just go to our Action Center.
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."
I blogged previously that DeLay's resignation from Congress this week was not an act of selfless devotion to his party or his supposed causes, but rather another example of "The Hammer" looking out for himself. Emerging news analysis would seem to support this bold contention, and they further paint the picture of DeLay as a, um... not terribly pleasant and cuddly individual.
As reported by The Washington Post, the U.S. House of Representatives passed campaign finance legislation last night restricting soft money donations to "527" groups.
The fact that conventional wisdom sees the 527s as benefitting Democrats produced an Alice-in Wonderland debate during which Republians adopted Democratic arguments for campaign finance reform, and the Democrats used Republican talking points decrying the trampling of free speech. (Editor's note: in reality, Democrat-leaning 527s outspent Republican-leaning ones in 2004 only because Republican donors were holding back their money while waiting to see if the committees would be regulated by the FEC; if they are left unregulated by Congress, it's a fair bet Republican donors will use them with great vigor in 2006 and 2008.)
The bill is another important limit on the influence of soft money, and is supported by Public Citizen. But it seems the Republicans just couldn't help themselves from displaying their partisan motivation, and added an amendment to the bill lifting restrictions on party spending in coordination with individual candidates - a relatively minor but still pointed attack on campaign finance reform. The bill now moves on to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
The Hill reports that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is stirring the pot by urging House colleagues to post her report on Republican corruption on their websites. The full 122 page report, titled "America for Sale: The Costs of Republican Corruption," is available on the Congresswoman's website.
The Washington Post reports that big drug companies, long recognized as one of the strongest lobbies in Congress, have shifted their attention to the state level. Research by the Center for Public Integrity shows that pharmaceuticals spent more than $44 million lobbying state governments and gave $8 million to candidates for state office in 2003 and 2004.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is on his way out, but The Hill asks whether "Representative No. 1" Bob Ney (R-Ohio) be next?
The Pasadena Star News says the public demands an end to dirty politics, and we agree.
The Poughkeepsie Journal writes that Tom DeLay’s impending resignation should be the start of lobbying and ethics reform, and not the end of it.
I watched this morning as the House Judiciary Committee, voting generally along party lines, approved its version of the "Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006" (H.R. 4975) to send to the House floor, by a vote of 18-to-16. Republicans generally supported the measure and Democrats widely opposed it.
The bill is a cynical approach to reforming lobbying behavior on Capitol Hill, which is why it's opposed by Public Citizen and other reform groups. Originally introduced by Rep. David Dreier (R-Cal.), the bill fails to restrict campaign fundraising activities by lobbyists; fails to ban gifts from lobbyists; fails to restrict the revolving door abuses; and fails to offer an independent enforcement office. The only thing it does offer - a ban on privately-sponsored travel - sounds positive but is actually the most cynical act of all: the "reform" only runs until after the next election!
Various parts of the bill has been sent to five different House committees, depending on jurisdiction, so today's House Judiciary Committee focused primarily on disclosure and revolving door provisions. While the bill does provide additional disclosure requirements of political contributions by lobbyists, it in no way restricts lobbyist fundraising activities. Amendments by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) to include disclosure of media ads and direct mail grassroots lobbying activities by professional lobbying firms, and to strengthen the revolving door restriction so that members of Congress cannot immediately become lobbyists after leaving public service, were rejected by the committee.
Similar mark-ups of different parts of the bill must now be done by the House Administration Committee, Rules Committee, ethics committee, and Government Reform Committee, before the entire bill is considered on the floor of the House, which should be sometime later this month. You'll find all the updates here at the Clean Up Washington.
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."
There aren't many sweet moments when one is toiling against corruption in Congress, but this is one of them. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), "The Hammer," is resigning from Congress.
Those of us working at Clean Up Washington would like to thank you for this important moment. Today's announcement is the culmination of a long term struggle that we started together in the fall of 2004, and everyone who sent an email, made a phone call, gave a contribution or wrote a letter to the editor helped build the pressure that made this victory inevitable.
Today's Washington Post gives a good synopsis of DeLay's resignation announcement, which follows his initial loss of the House majority position last September, when he was indicted for money laundering in Texas. (A loss, btw, that you and thousands of fellow corruption activists helped engineer when you shamed the Republicans in the House of Representatives, in January of 2005, to reinstate the rule that indicted members of their caucus could not hold leadership positions.)
The Post article cites sources close to DeLay who claim that he took his action for the good of the party. I say don't bet on it. Tom DeLay took this action for the same reason he took every ethically questionable action in his long career - for the sake of Tom DeLay, his power and his bank account. By resigning now he saved himself from a bruising reelection fight that he was increasingly likely to lose. (Polls showed him well behind his Democratic opponent.)
Another big reason which you don't see mentioned in the Post article is money. DeLay is allowed, under law, to take the $1,295,350 in his campaign coffers and transfer it to his legal defense fund. You can bet that weighed heavily on the mind of the former power-broker who is looking at a long and nasty legal battle - and possible jail time. He'll need every penny he can lay his hands on for what promises to be a long year ahead.
But this is, all those points notwithstanding, an important and satisfying moment. Post a comment below to share how you intend to celebrate this victory!
Just as important, we need to use this opportunity to press our demand for reform. Click here to send a message to your Representative, demanding that they respond to DeLay's resignation with REAL ethics and lobbying reform. The fight continues with lobbying reform legislation in the House and an upcoming candidate accountability project scheduled for this summer. Stay with us, friends - together we can Clean Up Washington!
Tom DeLay steps down! After a 22-year career of corruption and bullying in Congress, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has announced he will not seek re-election and give up his House seat in May.
In case you have forgotten any of DeLay’s career of shame, the Associated Press provides a full chronology.
The Hill reports that the race is on among House Republicans to return campaign contributions from Tony Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff who pleaded guilty in the Abramoff bribery plot last week. That is, except for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif), who “has no intention of returning” the $11,250 he received from Rudy. Now that's cajones.
In another example of Abramoff's far-reaching influence, the Los Angeles Times reports on his connections with the government of Sudan. Once again it’s clear that Abramoff was willing to work for anyone willing to pay.
The Journal Times asks Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.): Do you want fries with that, Senator?
The San Francisco Gate writes that the U.S. Senate passed a toothless package of reforms that provides little impediment to practicing lobbyists.
The circle of corruption keeps tightening around Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy pled guilty last week and has reportedly implicated his boss, former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham, as being a key player in the unfolding congressional bribery scandal. In a related story, the Houston Chronicle reports that Buckham secured $770,000 worth of business for his lobbying firm courtesy of his close connection to the former House majority leader. (That lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, was forced to close its doors several months ago due to its close connections to figures in the corruption scandal.) The Chronicle article also lays out more examples of the insidious "pay-to-play" system perfected by DeLay, in which special interests and their lobbyists would pay thousands of dollars to DeLay's political actions committees one day, and - surprise, surprise - end up on the golf course with Mr. DeLay the next.
Are they paying attention? In a sign that Republicans might not yet be taking the Congressional ethics scandals seriously enough in this pivotal election year, the National Republican Congressional Committee has announced that they will support Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) for reelection. While the NRCC throws Ney their support, however, the rest of you might remember him as “Representative No. 1” in the federal indictment of criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff. (Seems Ney and Abramoff did more than a little business together....) And the NRCC isn’t alone in its support for the ethically-challenged incumbent. The Ohio Republican party has also endorsed Ney along with the Republican chairs of all 16 counties in his district
The Chicago Tribune writes that the Senate's failed attempt at lobbying reform keeps the “For Sale” sign up on Congress.
Sensing a political opportunity, Republicans are, ironically enough, the new advocates of limiting soft money contributions as they go after Democratic leaning "527" groups.