MediaAltercation First Read New York Times Poynter's Romensko Raw Story Roll Call Slate.com The Hill The Note Times Dispatch AP Roundup Washington Monthly Washington Post
ResourcesCenter for Public Integrity GAO House Ethics Committee Political Money Line Senate Ethics Thomas: US Congress
Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R.-Wis.) hearings on the constitutionality of the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) is keeping that issue in the headlines. The Times-Picayune reports on both the hearing and Jefferson's attempt to conceal documents during the August search of his house. The Justice Department has offered a compromise on the papers seized from his office, according to the LA Times.
The trial of former White House aide David Safavian continues, with Neil Volz, convicted former top aide to Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio), testifying about Safavian's link to Abramoff, reports AP.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) has raised more than $1 million for his 2006 re-election campaign despite the fact that the Congressman has been linked to two ongoing corruption investigations, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Dana Milbank at the Washington Post comments on Sensenbrenner's haste to investigate the constitutionality of the FBI raid when he has been so reluctant to hold hearings on other potential constitutional issues in the past. And the Baltimore Sun asks if perhaps some House Republicans "doth protest too much."
An op-ed in the Buffalo News asks if Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) can truly be representing his constituents if he accepts more in special-interest-funded travel funds than many can "imagine spending... over the course of a lifetime."
In "The Lobby is Getting Crowded," New York Newsday has taken a closer look into the explosive growth of federal lobbying - and found many of the culprits in their own backyard.
It turns out that New York has the highest number of former members of Congress turned lobbyists of any state in the nation - 25 ex-House members and one former senator. Overall, the number of registered federal lobbyists has tripled in the past ten years, from 10,798 in 1996 to the current 32,890 who filed last September. (Federal lobbying expenditures jumped 50 percent in just five years, from $1.4 billion in 1999 to $2.1 billion in 2004.)
Most of these ex-members have managed to rack up millions of dollars in fees since making the switch, leading one of them, former Republican Rep. Ray McGrath, to concede that "a 'revolving door' may exist, with lawmakers leaving Congress who lobby for industries that they once regulated...." Gee, you think?
The article goes on to note that "the heftiest payments often come from large corporations and trade associations...[representing]... industries such as energy, health care, oil, banking and telecommunications, which often want changes in federal law, tax code and agency regulations that affect their profits." And these corporations and trade associations know how to recruit.
For instance, former Republican Rep. Bill Carney, who unsuccessfully fought to keep Long Island's unpopular Shoreham nuclear power plant open while in Congress, noted that "I would have enjoyed defense work [as a lobbyist]... but having gone through the Shoreham battle, several [energy] companies offered me an opportunity to work for them." How convenient.
McGrath's lobbying partner, former Democratic Rep. Tom Downey, describes the dynamic a little more directly: "We represent a number of New York firms because we did their business while in the House."
And all this time we thought they were elected to Congress to do the people's business....
The May 20 FBI raid on the congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) continues to rankle in Congress, as Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) holds a hearing today in the House Judiciary Committee provocatively entitled "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?"
There are signs, however, that congressional outrage is beginning to cool. Senate Majority Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) joined Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in declining to criticize the FBI, saying that he does not believe that Constitutional separation of powers principles were violated by the raid. And Roll Call reports today that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), among the most vocal critics of the raid, is beginning to hear grumbling from some GOP members that the high-profile fight over the raid can only lead voters to believe that Congress is trying to protect itself from scrutiny. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) issued a statement Friday morning saying, “I am extremely disappointed that some in this body — including the Speaker and the Minority Leader — feel that somehow our actions are sacrosanct and above public scrutiny.”
For his part, the incensed Rep. Sensenbrenner is holding his hearing on the matter during the Senate's Memorial Day recess - when Washington traditionally becomes a virtual ghost town.
The AP is reporting that Senate Minority Leader Reid took free ringside boxing tickets from Nevada officials who were trying to influence his federal legislation regulating the sport. Reid says that he was simply trying to learn how his legislation might affect an important home state industry; ethics experts claim, not surprisingly, that he would have been better off paying for the tickets, which cost several hundred to several thousand dollars.
The L.A. Times notes that corruption in Congress and Bush's low standing in the polls have turned California's normally "ruby red" 50th district into a toss up, and that the special election this coming Tuesday to replace convicted former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) is being viewed as a bellweather for national elections in the fall.
The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum reports on how the recent wave of corruption has failed to move any real reform in a lackadaisical Congress, which may not even get around to finalizing ethics reform legislation this year.
The Wisconsin Sheboygan Press says that the FBI was not on a fishing expedition with the raid on Jefferson's office, which, it says, shows that at least one part of government is willing to go after wrongdoers in Congress.
The Des Moines Register compares the recent vocal outrage over the FBI raid to congressional quiesence on the issues of NSA wiretapping and the collection of telephone records - "If only Congress were so fiercely committed to the constitutional rights of regular American citizens as their own."
Florida's Herald Tribune believes that after 16 months of "dormancy and dereliction of duty," the House ethics committee needs to expand its inquiries to include other members of Congress (in addition to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Jefferson and Cunningham) - most notably Florida's own Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.).
The uproar over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) office still dominates the headlines going into this long-weekend and congressional recess. The Washington Post reports on President Bush's entry into, and attempted squelching of, the fray. The President, apparently to appease House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), told the Justice Department to seal the seized files for 45 days.
The recent news trail related to David Safavian, a friend of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, enters its third day today. The Associated Press provides coverage of the first trial to come out of the Abramoff scandal.
The "is he-isn't he" debate over House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) possible investigation by the Justice Department continues, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that news organization ABC is standing by its earlier claim that the Speaker is reportedly "in the mix" of an ongoing probe into wrongdoing.
Today's editorials mirror the headlines in that they focus on the Jefferson fracas. The AP writes about possible voter-backlash from Congress' reaction to the raid. Dana Milbank at the Washington Post writes about Hastert's decision to fight, and Bush's attempt to placate the Speaker. And USA Today focuses attention back where it belongs -- on Jefferson's alleged actions.
It seems that the FBI's weekend raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office has done what months and months of scandal could not: it has caused the leadership of the House to respond in a bi-partisan fashion.
Regrettably, the joint letter from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was not a clarion call for members of Congress to clean up their act, nor was it a joint admission that the recently passed "reform" legislation doesn't even begin to go far enough. Instead, it was a demand that the FBI immediately return all the files seized from Jefferson's office. (See Corruption Headlines, below.)
This is not to say that there aren't legitimate separation-of-powers questions here. But the raid would likely never have happened were it not for the rampant corruption which exists in Congress today, and the complicity of Congressional leadership, as they turn a blind eye with a nonexistent ethics process amid spreading allegations of wrongdoing.
ABC News has reported that Hastert is "in the mix" of the corruption probe, and certainly former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and his staff were at the center of the Abramoff scandal. And the House ethics committee just got around to announcing an investigation of Jeffersion this month, even though he's been under a dark cloud of suspicion for more than year - the $90,000 stash in his freezer was discovered in a raid of his home last August.
It is also interesting to note that this Congress seems all too willing to allow the Bush administration's questionable infringements on Americans' civil rights, from the Patriot Act through the NSA wiretapping, yet when one of their own has his office raided, then stop the presses, it's suddenly time to stand up for privacy rights. As Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) noted, the electorate "will come to one conclusion: that congressional leaders are trying to protect their own from valid investigations."
If members of Congress don't want the FBI cleaning out their offices, maybe they should consider cleaning house themselves. Or will this be a task left for voters in November?
The FBI "Saturday Night Raid" on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) office still dominates the corruption headlines, but it's Congress's reaction that is making the news. The Washington Post reports on the rare "bi-partisan" call by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the return of files seized by federal agents during the raid.
The Associated Press, however, notes that not every member of Congress agrees with the fight the party leaders are waging. In particular, Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) are concerned that the electorate "will come to one conclusion: that congressional leaders are trying to protect their own from valid investigations." We couldn't agree more.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) may or may not be under investigation for his connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. ABC News reports that federal officials say the Speaker is being investigated, but, according to AP, the Justice Department is denying the claim. (Even the denial is unusual, since the Justice Department routinely refuses to comment on its investigations.)
Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned $20,000 in campaign contributions from two Texas businessmen when it was discovered that one of their companies is under investigation, the Washington Post reports.
Congressional travel isn't the only federal travel being funded by private special interests. The Washington Post reports on a new study showing that federal judges also accept free trips from organizations funded by corporations.
With Abramoff out of the way, Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) is making a fourth attempt at banning on-line gambling. A Washington Post story explains how the bill, which was at the center of the Abramoff scandal, might get a boost from the corruption backlash.
Commenting on the controversy over the raid of Jefferson's office, John Kass at the Chicago Tribune writes that party leaders are now rushing to "shut the freezer door" on ethics investigations of members of Congress.
There are new signs that Democratic leadership and congressional candidates are standing firm on their pledge of an ethical house cleaning in Congress - even among members of their own party.
Following the FBI raid on his congressional offices over the weekend, CNN is now reporting that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for Rep. Jefferson (D-La.) to immediately resign from his position on the House Ways and Means Committee, "in the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus." Rep. Jefferson is being investigated in relation to an alleged bribery scheme. Liberal bloggers such as Daily Kos are also calling for the Democratic leadership to "dump Jefferson," and Francis Busby, who is running for the California seat vacated by convicted former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunnigham, has called for Jefferson's resignation. Jefferson continues to maintain his innocence, quickly declining Pelosi's call to resign.
Meanwhile, MSNBC is reporting that in an interview with NBC News, Pelosi claimed that lobbying and ethics reform would be at the absolute top of the Democratic agenda should they retake the House in the fall elections, with rule changes coming on the very first day of a Democratic majority. "No meals, no gifts," and no flights for members on corporate jets, she asserted.
The New York Times reports on the continuing controversy over the FBI's weekend raid of Jefferson's office. Even Republican lawmakers - who are likely fearful of further raids related to the Jack Abramoff bribery investigation - are strongly rebutting the Bush administration's assertion of broad executive powers in this case, suggesting that the raid calls into question fundamental separation-of-powers principles and might lead to a showdown in the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the Washington Post describes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' defense of the raid, which he says was "conducted carefully to avoid trampling on the constitutional privileges" of Congress. The White House is reportedly trying to find a way to placate Congress. (As reported in the Times article mentioned above, Gonzales felt compelled to acknowledge that the FBI has "a great deal of respect for the Congress as a co-equal branch of government.")
The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at the FBI's attempts to get needed documents through the subpoena process months before the raid, and reports on additional concerns in the Senate, where Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), has ordered the staff of the Rules Committee, which he chairs, to study the search.
At the start of the trial of David Safavian, former top procurement official in the Bush administration, the AP reports that federal prosecutors will claim that Safavian "abandoned his duty to the public in order to serve lobbyist Jack Abramoff... and concealed his conduct from investigators"
During my four-month stint as a member of the Clean Up Washington team, there has been no shortage of ethics and lobbying scandals dominating the political scene.
Things frequently border on the ridiculous, such as Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s bribe menu or Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) cash in the freezer. From an outside activist point of view, it’s often hard to imagine how these things happen. Well, last Friday I got a look at how easy it is.
A friend of mine invited me to an annual dinner reception for Washington State residents who now live in the District. The event was packed with nearly 800 Capitol Hill staffers, activists and, yes, some lobbyists too. The $49 ticket price didn’t raise my suspicion until a Senate staffer told me a lobbyist had purchased her ticket. A $49 ticket…sounds like a good way to avoid the $50 gift limit for members of Congress and staff.
As the night wore on, someone mentioned that the dinner was known for its generous raffle prizes. I paid my dollar to enter and waited to hear ticket number 1401. The raffle was large and well funded, with almost 80 prizes all worth more than $100. Finally, prize 71 came up, and I won!
Inside the prize envelope, I found a card with the logo of Denny Miller Associates on the front and this message inside:
“Please enjoy compliments of Denny Miller Associates a Nordstroms gift certificate.”
Even in my great enthusiasm something didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a few minutes later before it clicked: I had just accepted a gift from a lobbyist.
Making matters worse, this wasn’t just any lobbyist, but the lobbyist who gave the fourth most money to members of Congress over the last eight years as detailed in the most recent Public Citizen report on lobbying. I had spent nearly a day researching Denny Miller and his monetary ties to Congress for this report, and here I was taking his money myself.
What struck me most was lobbyists’ ingenuity for finding new ways to use money to buy influence. While it is illegal for Denny Miller Associates to give a congressional staffer gifts valued at more than $50, it’s just fine to donate more expensive gifts (with the company name and logo prominently displayed, of course) to a raffle attended by the same staffer.
I have come to realize that money will always find a way to wield influence in Washington. But we can control it with reform measures – ones much stronger than the toothless laws passed this spring, of course – with the ultimate reform being public financing of campaigns. Continued good luck to our Corruption Watchdogs in hammering these issues home in the coming months leading up to the midterm elections!
The Associated Press reports Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday spoke at a private lunch for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) followed by a $200,000 fund raising dinner for Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). The two incumbent Republicans face surprisingly strong primary and general election challenges because of their ties to superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Nothing like bringing in an ethically challenged Vice President to help out ethically vacuous congressmen.
The fallout from the raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) congressional office continues to spread. While the LA Times described the “old-style simplicity” of the scandal, the Associated Press reported that a bipartisan group of influential lawmakers condemned the search because of concerns about the separation of powers.
The Washington Post says the ethics panel stirs, but will it take on the hard cases?
The Tennessean says now ethics scandals don’t just involve Democrats.
The ethical questions surrounding Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) reached a fever pitch over the weekend as FBI agents raided his congressional office. CNN reported that the search, which lasted nearly 18 hours, marked the first time the FBI has ever investigated a lawmaker’s Capitol Hill office.
The search coincided with the release of court papers stating agents found $90,000 in cash in
The office raid comes on the heels of iGate CEO Vernon L. Jackson and staff aide Brett M. Pfeffer’s pleading guilty to charges of bribing the congressman.
Like every American, Rep. Jefferson deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in court. However, the dark cloud hanging over the congressman makes it impossible for him to fairly represent his constituents – and given that he represents
On April 27, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took to the House floor to decry the weak lobbying reform bill, declaring the American people “expect and deserve better.” She promised if Democrats retook control of the House, they would pass stronger reforms and end the “culture of corruption in this House of Representatives.”
The growing scandal around Rep. Jefferson provides Ms. Pelosi with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of her call for ethics reform. If Democrats are serious about cleaning up
It’s easy to criticize your opponents when they go astray. It takes true leadership to acknowledge mistakes within your own party and work to correct them. If Minority Leader Pelosi wants to be Majority Leader or House Speaker Pelosi she needs to show that she can hold her party to the same ethical standards she demands of others by calling for William Jefferson to step aside at this time.
Federal agents over the weekend investigated the congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). The search, which lasted for nearly 18 hours, marked the first time the FBI has ever investigated a lawmaker’s Capitol Hill office.
Bloomberg reports the search coincided with the release of court papers stating agents found $90,000 cash in the Representative’s freezer last August. The cash is allegedly part of a $100,000 payment the FBI caught on video, showing Jefferson personally taking the payment in $100 bills.
In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) sought to put down reports of her $2800 dinner with defense contractor Mitchell Wade (the same Mitchell Wade who pled guilty to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham). When asked about the dinner, Harris responded in what is sure to become a classic line "Do I look like I ate $2,800 in one sitting?" We'll leave that for you to decide...
Prosecutors have filed a brief with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate charges against indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and two associates for conspiring to violate state election laws. The Houston Chronicle reports a Travis County grand jury indicted DeLay and political consultants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis last year on money laundering and conspiracy charges, but a district judge later threw out the conspiracy indictment.
The CBS news affiliate in California writes Vice President Dick Cheney is in California today to raise money for Hall of Shame members Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif) and Richard Pombo (R-Calif), another example of this adminstration's ethical obtuseness we blogged on last week. The Republican incumbents face stronger than expected challengers in the primary and general elections due to their recent ethical missteps.
The San Antonio Express-News says the House ethics committee can go back to sleep. Unless “an independent office exists to investigate and punish ethics violators, there will be no meaningful ethics process in Congress.”
The late, great Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory once wrote that the Bush administration has a habit of "using shamelessness as a political weapon."
While she wrote that during earlier, more carefree days for the president, it continues to characterize an administration that has rarely seen an ethical problem worth its concern, let alone its condemnation. Oh, and what the heck - why not just go ahead and actually raise a little money in the midst of all those ethical improprieties?
As reported in our headlines below, that is, incredibly enough, exactly what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are doing during the next several days, as the president travels first to Kentucky, home of recently indicted Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, to do a little fund raising. Not to be outdone, the vice president will travel next week to California where he will do fund-raisers for Republican Reps. John Doolittle and Richard Pombo, both of whom face unexpectedly tough races, largely due to ethics scandals swirling around them. (Doolittle in particular has numerous close ties to Jack Abramoff, but both gentlemen are inductees in our Hall of Shame.) For good measure, Cheney will also do a fund-raiser for Brian Bilbray, the Republican candidate to replace imprisoned and disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Any chance Bush and Cheney will focus on the need to clean up corruption during their fund-raising pitches? Probably about as much as there is of Cheney giving the names of those oil company executives he met with to formulate energy policy, or of Bush admitting that yes, actually, he does know Mr. Abramoff rather well.
There actions could, however, unintentionally assist those of us who are fighting corruption. Just by following their fund-raising tours for the rest of this election year, it could be easy to tell who has the biggest ethics problems in Congress. ...
The congressional bribery probe may deepen as prosecutors learn more about the dealings of disgraced defense contractor Mitchell Wade. According to the Boston Globe, court documents show that after Wade had bought off former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), he turned his unscrupulous sights to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), as well as Rep. Virgil Goode Jr. (R-Va.), a relative newcomer to the world of ethical improprieties. Wade reportedly gave his employees $2,000 reimbursements in exchange for campaign contributions, adding up to $32,000 for Harris and $46,000 for Goode. After FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in a speech last week that congressional corruption cases are a top bureau priority, we can only expect more of these types of revelations in the future.
MSNBC reports President Bush and Vice President Cheney will travel to several “ethical hotspots” in the coming days. In an attempt to boost Republicans facing re-election challenges because of ethics questions, Bush and Cheney will visit the districts of three Hall of Shame members as well as Kentucky, which saw the indictment of GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher last week.
In addition to the ethics committee investigation into the broader Cunningham scandal, the House Homeland Security Committee is also looking into the limousine company involved in the imprisoned representative’s downfall. According to the Washington Times, lawmakers are investigating procurement and security concerns about the contract with Shirlington Limousine, which allegedly took prostitutes and members to lavish parties thrown by defense contractors.
The Wall Street Journal reports the first lobbying scandal will face a jury on Monday as the case against David Safavian, a longtime associate of disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as the former chief procurement officer for the Bush administration in the Office of Management and Budget, goes to a full trial. With many guilty pleas coming in, prosecutors are trying to keep the heat on those at the center of the scandal.
As mentioned in the headlines below, the House ethics committee has opened three different investigations - after nearly 16 months of inactivity. Most notably, this marks the first time in a year and a half the committee has acknowledged the flurry of ethics scandals which have overrun the Capitol.
The Clean Up Washington campaign has been critical of the moribund ethics committee for some time now. Just to be sure I was giving the ethics committee a fair chance before writing this blog, I went to their website to read up on their work investigating the Jack Abramoff scandal. Even without having launched any formal investigations, surely the ethics committee would have looked into the largest congressional scandal in years, one that involves multiple members and staff and millions of dollars. So what does the House ethics committee website have to say about the scandal?
“0 documents match your search Jack Abramoff”
I don’t want to minimize the importance of the ethics committee opening investigations into corruption allegations against Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and William Jefferson (D-La.), as well as the ever-widening bribery investigation around the now-imprisoned Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.). This is an important first step, even if it should have been taken long, long ago. It’s just difficult to have much confidence in a committee that worked so hard to resist even holding a meeting. Without profound changes to the congressional ethics process it seems unlikely the just-announced investigations will result in anything more serious than “letters of admonition,” such as the ones sent to then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) in 2004. Sadly, even those letters proved too harsh a punishment for a member of the House, as Republican leaders responded by relieving the committee chairman of his duties and stocking the committee with party loyalists.
It has become abundantly clear that politicians cannot police politicians. How many more members and their staff must be indicted or plead guilty before Congress enacts real reform? The plethora of congressional scandals shows once again the need for an Office of Public Integrity, at an absolute minimum, to establish independent enforcement and restore public credibility to the ethics enforcement process. If Congress doesn’t start making real changes now it looks more and more like voters will in November.
Believe it or not, The New York Times reports the House ethics committee has opened two investigations into members’ ties to superlobbyist Jack Abramoff! Nearly a year and a half after allegations became public, this is the first congressional probe into the Abramoff scandal.
The committee will investigate the dealings of Hall of Shame members Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and William Jefferson (D-La.). In addition, the committee opened an investigation into the bribery scandal surrounding former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is currently serving eight years in jail, to determine if other members or staff acted improperly. In an ironic note, the committee statement also said the committee would have opened an investigation into indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), but - luckily for them - he resigned first. Oh well, it's the thought that counts. ...
The Hill reports that Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) sent six staff members to California to campaign for his son, who was running for the state Assembly. (Federal law prohibits members of Congress from having staff members work on election campaigns while employed as staff.)
The Los Angeles Times reports new details about the raid on the home of former CIA official and Duke Cunningham associate Kyle “Dusty” Foggo last Friday. Foggo's lawyer said investigators were looking for evidence about trips his client took with the family of San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes and whether Foggo paid his share. Wilkes is "co-conspirator #1" in the Cunningham bribery investigation and is currently cooperating with the federal investigators.
After returning a $2,500 campaign contribution indirectly linked to Abramoff, The Miami Herald reports Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) now refuses to return $250,000 from a fund-raiser co-chaired and attended by the superlobbyist.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says members of Congress seem to lose their sense of judgment somewhere between home districts and Washington.
Rick Cohen writes in The Hill that the Republican Study Committee has opposed bipartisan efforts to increase regulations of charities and foundations like those abused by Abramoff, DeLay and Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).
While we have noted in this blog that there are at least a few Democrats embroiled in ethics scandals, a fact that has partially undercut their ability (or willingness) to attack what they call the Republican “culture of corruption,” one can hardly read the news on any given day without coming across yet another example of Republican operatives or elected officials who are neck deep in corruption – and apparently don’t see anything wrong with it.
Today’s example is the sentencing in a U.S. District Court today of former Republican National Committee regional political director James Tobin, who was found guilty of criminally violating federal communications law for his participation in the scheme to disrupt Democratic party phone lines during the 2002 New Hampshire election. According to the Washington Post, that (illegal) effort helped Republican John Sununu win his Senate seat by a margin of 19,151 votes.
What is most remarkable about this is not simply that the illegal scheme happened at all, but that the Republican National Committee went on to pay at least $2.8 million for Tobin’s legal defense. Could there be any connection between these payments and evidence brought up during Tobin’s trial showing that he made no less than 22 phone calls to the White House on election day, starting just two hours after the illegal phone jamming was shut down?
The RNC has denied any complicity in the illegal activity, but they have also been unwilling, in the Post article or in any other this author has read, to categorically denounce the phone jamming scheme or distance themselves from those involved. As Craig Shirley of the Republican public affairs firm Shirley & Bannister wrote in a Washington Post commentary, by covering Tobin’s legal fees, “the GOP appears to sanction and institutionalize corruption within the party.”
You can say that again.
Federal prosecutors are seeking an 18-24 month prison term for Tobin, but his lawyers argue that he has suffered enough already, saying – and I’m not making this up – that “Mr. Tobin is a man with high ethical standards…. Seeing his reputation destroyed… and a profession [politics] he loves made unavailable to him has caused him great pain.”
High ethical standards? Great pain? There was no mention, of course, of the pain caused to voters who were unable to vote because of Tobin’s illegal activity, or the pain of Granite State citizens in knowing that the democratic process was undermined in their election.
Apparently, according to some Republicans, simply getting caught is punishment enough. I hope they’ll excuse me if I decline to hold my breath while waiting for Bush, the RNC or Republican congressional leaders to condemn Tobin for his crimes.
According to the Times-Picayune, prosecutors have tape-recorded conversations between Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and the Lori Moody, head of a technology company the Congressman had dealings with. Reports allege Jefferson accepted thousands of dollars in bribes and then pressured investors to back up the projects.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports former defense contractor Mitchell Wade is cooperating with federal prosecutors and has so much to tell that his court date has been pushed back.
Some groups are beginning to raise questions about a $600,000 severance package for a lobbyist who left to be a top aide to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). The San Bernardino County Sun reports this size of the going-away-gift is surprising, even in the lucrative lobbying profession, for someone about to assume an important appropriations position.
Despite widespread calls for ethics and earmark reform, the Associated Press says members of the House are adding just as many earmarks as ever
The Toledo Blade says don’t call this reform.
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) yesterday defiantly declared himself innocent of charges he accepted bribes for federal contracts. The Times-Picayune reports this announcement came only weeks after iGate's CEO, Vernon Jackson, admitted paying more than $400,000 in bribes to a bogus company controlled by Jefferson's wife and family in exchange for official favors.
Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) faced strong criticism from his Republican primary opponent in their first debate yesterday. The Contra Costa Times reports Pombo’s opponent, former Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.) hammered the current Representative on ethics, saying he should return all his donations from superlobbyist Jack Abramoff and pointing out that several of Pombo's staffers have pled guilty to corruption charges.
The Los Angeles Times reports Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) used his earmarking power to increase the value of land he owns in his district. Without doing any improvements to their 4-acre property, Calvert and his partner sold the plot for a $400,000 profit less than a year later.
The Washington Post writes Rep. Jefferson should resign from Congress because of the ethics questions surrounding him.
The Los Angeles Times says the lobby reform efforts in Washington are falling short. The White House release of the Abramoff visitor records only added to Congress' failure to do something about the "corrupting coziness between legislators and lobbyists that Abramoff came to symbolize."
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer simply asks: “this is reform?"
Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) yesterday angrily denied any misconduct relating to earmarks from his committee. Despite the denial, the The Washington Post reports investigators are looking into Lewis' dealings with lobbyist and former Republican Rep. Bill Lowery of San Diego. A federal government source said subpoenas have been issued in the spin-off from the corruption probe of now-imprisoned former Rep. Duke Cunningham.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-Kent.) was indicted yesterday on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs - the first sitting governor in Kentucky history to be so charged. According to The New York Times , Gov. Fletcher is charged with three misdemeanors - criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and violating the prohibition against political discrimination.
The Houston Chronicle reports indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will resign from Congress on June 9. (Suggestions for names of a national holiday in his honor are welcome!)
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) won a court order to delay the release of possibly embarrassing search warrants in the federal bribery investigation. The Times-Picayune reports this follows the guilty plea last week of iGate CEO Vernon Jackson of charges he steered millions of dollars in stock and cash to the Congressman’s family.
The House ethics committee rises again! In response to abuse of privately financed travel by members of Congress, The Associated Press reports the ethics committee is offering to pre-approve trip itineraries for members.
The New York Times reported today that the FBI's focus on public corruption now includes more than 2,000 - that's two thousand - investigations. "I don't think anybody recognized the number and quality of cases we would generate," said Chris Swecker, an FBI criminal enforcement official.
The Times believes that "the results suggest that wrongdoing by public officials at all levels of government is deeply rooted and widespread"... something much of the American public seems to have already figured out.
While this large total involves investigations at all levels of government, the list includes very high-profile targets, such as the wide-ranging probe into L'Affair Abramoff, and the rapidly expanding federal look-see into the bribery scandal centered on former (and now imprisioned) Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) (See the Corruption Headlines below for new developments in that story.) The Times does generously note, however, that "not all high-profile cases involve Republicans."
Most amusing of all, the paper calls the initiative "one of the Bush administration's least known anticrime efforts." I'd venture to guess that it's one of the least known within the Bush Administration itself. After all, what are the chances that this administration has been actively pushing criminal investigations into the activities of the Republican-controlled Congress, investigations which are not only leading to indictments and prison terms but which might also cost them dearly in the mid-term elections? Certainly this was not Karl Rove's brainchild.
As FBI director Robert S. Mueller III remarked, "... you come to realize first of all that public corruption tears the fabric of a democratic society. You lose faith in public officials, it leads to cynicism, it leads to distrust in government."
You can say that again, brother.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Attorney’s office is expanding the corruption probe that first ensnared former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) to include Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Investigators are looking into whether the same lobbyists who bribed Cunningham also had a relationship with Lewis or other members of Congress. But wait - there's more. As reported in The Washington Post today, the rapidly snowballing investigation also now includes Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who is being investigated for possible improper relationships with Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor identified as "co-conspirator #1" in the Cunningham indictment. And who, in case you hadn't heard, is Kyle "Dusty" Foggo? Until he resigned this week, he was the #3 man at the CIA, a position he was appointed to (from relative obscurity) by his former congressional boss, Porter Goss -- who as you know ALSO happened to just resign from the CIA, one week before Foggo. My goodness, where IS this going to stop?
Roll Call (subscription required) reports the Department of Justice has a newfound determination to enforce revolving door laws which had previously been ignored.
The guilty pleas of indicted Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) former deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy and Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) former chief of staff Neil Volz, represent the first time lobbyists have been criminally charged for their work on Capitol Hill.
The New York Times also reports that Cunningham is refusing to cooperate with Pentagon investigators about the bribery scheme that landed him in jail by refusing to give up the names of other people who might be involved in it.
As followed by our friends at Talking Point Memo's Muckracker, the group which filed suit to get the records of Abramoff's visits to the White House, Judicial Watch, is a little less than happy with what they recieved yesterday: an informal document that listed a grand total of two - that's right, two - Abramoff visits to the White House. And they came without even the standard information about who he visited, and who requested the meeting. "We ... have reason to believe there are additional details about Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House that have not been disclosed," said JW President Tom Fitton in a bit of classic understatement.
House Republicans gave Rep. Ney “a standing ovation,” according to The Hill, after he refused to resign and promised to fight a likely federal indictment. Nothing like a good show of support for ethically challenged politicians.
A new poll published by The Record shows even voters in Rep. Richard Pombo’s supposedly “safe” district are fed up with his ethical problems and ties to Delay, threatening his general and even primary election campaign.
The New York Daily News reports superlobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House will finally come to light today as the Secret Service releases visitor records. Clean Up Washington has called for the White House to disclose the details of the Bush-Abramoff connnection for months - hopefully the release of these records will be an important first step in that direction.
The USA Today writes the ethical trouble of some Democrats is dulling their attempts to use ethics as a campaign issue.
The Associated Press reports the guilty plea of Rep. Bob Ney's (R-Ohio) former chief of staff Neil Volz has started another merry-go-round of returning campaign contributions on Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Volz has donated $26,035 to Republican campaigns and committees since 2002.
Roll Call (subscription only) notes that the Republican leadership is noncommital on Ney's future in Congress, even as the embattled representative goes before the Republican caucus today to defend himself.
The Hartford Courant says after the Senate and House passed ethics reform, the score is "Muck, 2; Ethics, 0."
The East Valley Tribune writes "Congressional ethics reforms need some reforming themselves."
The ethics problems keep getting closer and closer to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) as his former chief of staff Neil Volz pleaded guilty yesterday. Volz is the fourth person to plead guilty in the criminal investigation of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff's operation, including Abramoff himself and two former congressional staffers who worked for indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). The Associated Press reports the ethical questions surrounding Ney might finally be hitting home as more constituents reconsider their support.
After Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) said Katherine Harris can't win her Senate race, the Herald Today says the queen of the recount might face several new challengers in the Republican primary.
The Hill reports on a GOP letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking for Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) to be removed from the Appropriations committee until ethical questions are resolved. (Mollohan has already temporarily stepped aside from his position on the House ethics committee.) In response, Pelosi spokeswomen Jennifer Crider said:
“I look forward to reading their letter to Speaker Hastert (R-Ill.) on Congressman DeLay, Congressman Ney, Congressman Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).” She went on to say she also "must have missed their letter on incarcerated Congressman Cunningham (R-Calif.).”
Also according to The Hill, high gas prices might cause a backlash against one of DeLay's favorite special interest projects: a $1 billion earmark for oil and gas research. Without the earmark, the oil and gas companies might have to dip into their tens of billions of dollars in profits [shudder] to make ends meet.
In a darkly humorous column, Charles M. Madigan of the Chicago Tribune wonders what would happen if we were allowed to live under the ethical rules Congress follows.
As reported in our Corruption Headlines below, Rep. Bob Ney's (R-Ohio) former chief of staff Neil Volz pleaded guilty today to charges stemming from the Justice Department bribery and corruption investigation of convicted former Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Like Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, two former top aides to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) who have also entered guilty pleas in the wide-ranging investigation, Volz went to work for Abramoff after leaving his government job - further cementing Abramoff's reputation as a one man revolving door operation between Congress and K Street.
With this latest guilty plea from a top aide, it increasingly beggars the imagination to conceive how members of Congress such as DeLay and Ney who were deeply invovled with Abramoff can continue to maintain their innocence. Their own legal problems aside (DeLay is under indictment in Texas for money-laundering and Ney is acknowledged to be "Representative #1" in the Justice Department's investigation), how is it possible that so many of their top aides can plead guilty to engaging in criminal conspiracies - with indications that the conspiracies might have been hatched while they worked in Congressional offices - and yet their bosses knew absolutely nothing about it?
Perhaps it is the case - only time and further investigation will tell. But even if it is, should these members (and others who are in the investigation's crosshairs) not then humbly resign for gross incompetence? How can the American people expect them to run our country when they cannot even run their own offices?
According to the Associated Press, Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) former chief of staff Neil Volz pled guilty to conspiracy charges stemming from the Abramoff bribery scandal. According to court papers:
"The purpose of the conspiracy was for defendant [Neil] Volz and his co-conspirators to unjustly enrich themselves by corruptly receiving, while public officials, and providing, while lobbyists, a stream of things of value with the intent to influence and reward official acts and attempting to influence members of Congress in violation of the law"
Sounds like business as usual for a member of our Hall of Shame.
The Los Angeles Times details the rise to influence of defense contractor Brent Wilkes. In a textbook example of the "pay to play" government that seems to have taken over Washington, the man who is acknowledged by his lawyers to be "co-conspirator #1" in the bribery case against disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) used gifts, favors and large campaign contributions to get close to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Cunningham, and a number of other Congressional leaders, winning $100 million in government contracts in the process.
The Associated Press reports indicted Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) staffers knew convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged a Scotland golf trip in 2000, potentially falsified reports on the trip, and were concerned "if someone starts asking questions." According to one expert on federal disclosure reports, it "clearly shows some members live in a dream world of high-class living and fictional accounting. DeLay's office was part of the public deception."
According to Roll Call (subscription required), Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), his wife and two top aides took a five-day trip to Spain in June 2004 that was paid for by a group of government contractors for whom Mollohan steered tens of millions of dollars in earmarked funds, according to travel records and other documents.
In "We Don't Know Jack," The Washington Post editorializes that, even though it took "a Freedom of Information Act request, a lawsuit, and a court order," the White House "stonewall" on its relationship to Abramoff is crumbling.
The Times Union says the House outdoes the Senate in passing toothless legislation.
The Cincinnati Post writes that how increased disclosure “would have prevented Jack Abramoff's lobbying excesses, or Rep. Tom DeLay's formers aides from selling access, or Rep. Duke Cunningham from accepting bribes is not at all clear.”
How about a $10 million government contract?
This latest glaring example of official corruption involves Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), the "Queen of Recount" from the 2000 Presidential election, and Mitchell Wade, the disgraced defense contractor who has already pled guilty to bribing convicted former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and also to making $32,000 in illegal contributions to Harris' 2004 campaign.
According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Wade then started wooing Harris for a $10 million contract for his company with a $2800 dinner at one of Washington D.C.'s more expensive restaurants. Over dinner he promised to organize a fundraiser for her 2006 Senate race, and simultaneously asked her if she would submit his contract request in the appropriations process. Harris complied, even thought the request was weeks late for the appropriations deadline and poorly written. And when her staff demurred, Harris, according to their statements, adamanently insisted that it be forwarded to the defense appropriations subcommittee. (The subcommittee ultimately rejected the request.)
In her defense, Harris told the Tampa Tribune in July of last year that she "knew little" about the $10 million project and insisted she had taken no special action to support it. As for the ultra-expensive dinner, she insisted for months that she had paid for her own food, only admitting recently that Wade had picked up the tab. She called this an "oversight" on her part and proceeded to contribute $100 to a Jacksonville ministry, saying that amount would "more than adequately compensate for the cost of my beverage and appetizers." (My goodness, but that Mr. Wade must eat and drink a lot!)
So Rep. Harris gives $100 as her share of a $2800 dinner with a convicted bribe artist, at the same time she's willing to stick taxpayers with a $10 million tab for an unnecessary defense project. Sounds to me like someone is bucking for inclusion in our Hall of Shame - and/or an indictment from the Justice Department.
Advocates of the status quo in Washington won a victory yesterday, passing sham ethics reform in a close vote as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Investigative reporting by the Orlando Sentinel exposes more of the dealings between indicted defense contractor Mitchell Wade and Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Harris made Wade's $10 million appropriation request a “priority,” despite the request being late and unusually large. In the weeks before Harris submitted the appropriations request, Wade spent up to $2,800 entertaining Harris at one of Washington's most expensive restaurants.
According to the Associated Press, on the same day the House passed their excuse for ethics reform, high-tech entrepreneur Vernon Jackson pled guilty yesterday to bribing Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) with more than $400,000 to promote Jackson's business in Africa.
Flush with record profits from high gas prices, the Times-Tribune reports gas and oil companies have pumped more than $110,000 into Sen. Rick Santorum’s embattled re-election campaign.
Long-time Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz asks if Congress has become a joke.
It's hard to describe the sham reform bill being voted on in the House any better than the inimitable Molly Ivins, so let's just hear from her most recent column on the issue. The "lobby reform" bill, she says, is a "contemptible, cheesy, shoddy piece of hypocrisy... [that shows] a sort of cheerful, defiant, flipping-the-bird-at-the-public attitude." Yup, that's just about right.
Continuing, she says "watching Washington be taken over by these little sleaze merchants is not only expensive and repulsive, it is destroying America, destroying any sense we ever had that we're a nation, not 298 million individuals cheating to get ahead." Yeah, check on that too.
She concludes "I'm sorry these creeps in Congress have so little sense of what they're supposed to be about that they think it's fine to sneer at ethics. But they work for us. It's our job to keep them under control until we can replace them. Time to get up off our butts and take some responsibility here. Let them hear from you."
Once again, we couldn't agree more. Click here to give them a piece of your mind.
The House votes today on weak ethics reform as the USA Today reports the public has little or no confidence Congress can police its own ethics. The USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend found:
"59% of Americans voice "not much" confidence or "none at all" that Congress can police its own ethics, such as curbing travel paid for by special interests."
So much for an outpouring of support for the ethically challenged Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). The day after unimpressingly winning his primary race against an unknown opponent, The Hill reports Ney’s legal defense fund has raised just $40,000 this year, less than half of what he has spent so far on lawyer fees.
According to USA Today the Jack Abramoff scandal has scared members of Congress into taking fewer privately sponsored trips - for the moment, anyway. (Remember that the sham reform bill to be voted on by the House today would ban privately funding trips, but only until December of this year, i.e. until after the elections.)
The Washington Post's instructions to Congress on the House ethics legislation: Kill this bill
Molly Ivins writes for the Sacramento Bee about the “Corruption of Congress.” The House ethics bill is “contemptible, cheesy, shoddy piece of hypocrisy it appears to be ... or the Republicans have a sense of humor.”
We at Clean Up Washington can barely contain ourselves. As reported in today's top story, below, the Secret Service will release records of when convicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff's visited the White House - and with whom he visited. This should be an interesting test for new White House spokesperson Tony Snow....
And if you thought the effort to control lobbyists in the U.S. Congress is running into some rough sledding, just take a look across the pond. The European Union, where lobbyists seem to be proliferating (many from the U.S., and many of them starting to adopt U.S.-style lobbyist practices), is also slowly backing away from the problem. In an interview about the EU's stance on the issue, Estonian Commissioner Siim Kallas explains that "to start legislation with compulsory registration [of lobbyists] would face enormous legal difficulties. We would not achieve anything until after the end of our mandate, that is quite sure." Currently there is no registry at all of lobbyists in the EU, and Kallas justified his proposal for a voluntary registration system on the grounds that the lobbying firms were preparing to challenge a mandatory registration system every step of the way.
Lastly, for a fairly thorough summary of the scandals and resulting lack of action here in the U.S., check out "U.S. Grapples with Corruption and Loses" in - of all places - the Tehran Times. (Yes, that Tehran.) They seem to have a pretty good bead on the situation after interviews with our own Legislative Representative Craig Holman, Public Citizen's lobbyist on ethics and campaign finance legislation, who concludes by noting "today Capitol Hill is being run by and for corporations. The motive here is profit and it has nothing to do with what is good for the country." My goodness - even repressive theocracies feel emboldened to rub our government's nose in our own corruption....
The Associated Press reports the Secret Service has agreed to turn over White House visitor logs detailing how often convicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff met with Bush administration officials - and with whom he met. (The agreement was reached to settle a lawsuit brought by watchdog group Judicial Watch, filed after the Secret Service refused to honor the group's Freedom of Information Act request.) The date slated for the release is May 10 - we can hardly wait!
According to the Miami Herald, Rep. Katherine Harris’ (R-Fla.) Senate campaign is in shambles, sending Florida Republicans scrambling to find a replacement. One of her problems is her involvment with Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who pled guilty to bribing former Rep. (and now imprisioned) Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Our colleagues at Common Cause today filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, asking them to investigate possible violation of bribery laws by Harris. Seems like Rep. Harris has some 'splainin' to do....
We have been urging politicians to take principled stands on ethics, but this isn't quite what we had in mind. The Washington Post writes the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and his 66 members are challenging House leaders on the ethics bill, claiming it's reducing their power to channel pork to home districts.
The Associated Press reports voters head to the polls today for primary elections in three key states, including Ohio where politicians face a sea of ethics scandals.
The San Antonio Express-News tells readers not to fall for the "GOP’s Ethics Reform Sham," saying:
"Even by Washington standards, the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 is a disgraceful sham."
The Daily Bulletin writes "Sometimes, we hate being right," because in Congress, their low expectations on ethics reform have been confirmed.
Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) faces a tough primary challenge because of his questionable ethics record. Northern California’s CBS affiliate reports former Republican congressman Pete McCloskey came out of retirement to challenge Pombo on ethics.
“We were upset about the ethics of the DeLay, Abramoff, Pombo Republican leadership,” said McCloskey. "When we couldn't get anybody to run, my friends said, ‘Pete you've got to.’” Noting that this is the only race in the country pitting a conservative "Tom DeLay Republican" against an old-style GOP moderate, McCloskey added "I just don't recognize this Republican party."
According to the Associated Press, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) continues to assert his innocence as the Justice Department continues its investigation into his corrupt practices.
The Connecticut Post writes the arrogance in Washington has maintained the status quo on ethics.
The Journal-News says the House ethics bill will have no effect at all.