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The latest developments surrounding Hall of Shame inductee Bob Ney (R-Ohio) continue to hurt the Congressman, as the federal investigation into his ties with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff continues. The New Philadelphia Times Reporter writes about three top staffers who have resigned as a result of the ongoing controversy, while The Washington Post reports on Matthew Parker, Ney’s district director, who recently became the first staffer to be subpoenaed in the ongoing probe. While Ney has not been formally charged, federal prosecutors described him in court documents as having received gifts, trips and other items of value from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates.
The New York Times reports on former Bush domestic policy advisor Claude Allen, who is negotiating with prosecutors to avoid trial on charges stemming from a scheme in which he tried to make fraudulent returns of items worth at least $5,000 at Target and other stores.
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D-Ala.) and ex-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were found guilty of government corruption charges, The Houston Chronicle reports. The two were convicted of allegations that Siegelman promised Scrushy a seat on a state hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy’s arrangement of $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's 1999 campaign for a state lottery.
Washington Post columnist George Will writes about the Supreme Court’s role in creating a muddled system of campaign finance where campaign spending money is considered free speech and therefore cannot be restricted, but limits on contributions are needed in order to limit corruption and influence peddling. Will argues that reforms are needed where both campaign spending and contributing are regulated in order to remedy the corruption engrained in our political system.
Four Ohio politicians pleaded no contest yesterday in a widespread bribery scandal involving prominent Bush fundraiser Tom Noe. (Last month Noe admitted to giving friends and associates $45,000, which they then turned around and donated to the President Bush’s re-election campaign.) This brings the number involved in the state-wide Republican scandal to 14, and the Washington Post reports on the problems this has caused for Ohio’s ruling Republicans - including Gov. Bob Taft (R-Ohio), who pleaded no contest to failing to report gifts he had received.
After a year of inactivity and plenty of pressure from government-reform groups, the House Ethics Committee will finally reconvene this week, and hopefully launch investigations of allegations against numerous lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal focuses on Rep. Charles Taylor (N.C.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Interior and Environmental Subcommittee, who watchdog groups claim has violated ethics rules in his ownership of U.S. and Russian banks. In response, Taylor called the claims, “groundless, partisan allegations… the same tired lies from the same tired liberals… I’m sure the Democrat trial lawyers working at this organization prepared hundreds of pages of ‘documentation’ for their garbage allegations out of their deep and abiding love for the law, and not because the liberal likes of Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Streisand have paid them tens of thousands of dollars to do so.” Good to know members of Congress are continuing to take the high ground in debating this contentious issue!
The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released this week shows that corruption in government is the second most important issue in determining how people will vote in the 2006 election, just slightly below the War in Iraq, and above terrorism and the economy.
The Washington Post reports on yet another government official with ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff coming under scrutiny. Roger G. Stillwell, an employee of the Interior Department's Insular Affairs Office, which handles the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (a former client of Abramoff’s), has been charged with making a false filing claiming that he did not receive gifts from a prohibited source.
The New York Times writes about the Supreme Court Decision in the Texas redistricting case, the one in which former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) hatched a campaign to carve out new congressional Texas districts to favor Republicans. The editorial argues that instead of standing up for a fair electoral landscape, the court ruling does little to ensure the vibrancy of American democracy.
MSNBC reports the Tigua Native-American tribe, former clients of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, released a photo showing that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) met with tribal leaders – which Ney told Senate investigators he did not remember having. In November of 2004, Ney told Senate investigators that “he was not familiar with the Tigua,” while the newly released Senate report quotes tribal representatives as acknowledging they met with the Congressman for two hours and that he accepted $32,000 from them in exchange for his help to pass legislation to reopen a closed gambling casino it owned. The photo release sheds new light into Ney’s business dealings, which are the focus of an ongoing Justice Department probe into those involved in Abramoff’s corruption ring. So far, five people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of influence peddling including Abramoff and two former aides to former Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), while former Bush aide and chief government procurement officer David Safavian is the only person to be convicted at trial.
The Boston Globe reports that longtime lobbyist Jeanne Campbell has paid for expensive trips for at least 26 lawmakers. She received millions of dollars in contracts to lobby Congress through her Washington-based firm, Campbell-Crane, and escaped House ethics guidelines by linking her lobbying firm to a nonprofit trade association, in order to sponsor travel and influence lawmakers.
The Hill reports on how disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff defrauded one of his clients by deceiving them to donate $25,000 to a charity, money which was then funneled from charity and used to pay for the famous St. Andrew’s golf trip in Scotland where Abramoff wined and dined lawmakers in an influence-peddling scheme.
Roll Call (subscription only) praises the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for setting a standard on Congressional oversight after releasing its thorough report detailing how Jack Abramoff swindled American Indian tribes. The editorial calls for other Congressional committees to follow suit and investigate the use of tax-exempt foundations, which are used to hide money used in back-door deals.
Jack Abramoff has become a household name over the past year. All one needs to do is mention him in order to bring attention to the scandalous ethics abuses which have involved bribes, lies, Indian casinos, lavish trips to golf courses in Europe, and secretly funneling illegal contributions through charities.
While most of the media has focused on these stories, not much attention has been given to looking into the personality and character of the man who created a massive web of corruption throughout Washington D.C. and the rest of the country. Who is Jack Abramoff? What type of person is able to justify these actions to himself? How does his mind work?
We get a glimpse inside that mind in the recently released 357-page report of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which details Abramoff's personal email conversations with his colleagues. The Hill writes about two in particular, which show an astounding level of disrespect and even contempt for his clients - clients he was busy ripping off at the time.
In one email, Abramoff told a friend he was unable to go to lunch because he had a lunch with “the Gabon guys,” referring to representatives from the small, West African country. When asked, “What is Gabon,” Abramoff offered a racial slur.
In another email, Abramoff labeled an Indian tribe he was working with as “troglodytes,” who were a “lower form of existence.”
Such deplorable bigotry and racism against anyone is disgusting, but in these cases Abramoff was actually speaking about his own clients. Should it surprise us that this same person was only too willing to subvert our democracy?
The Houston Chronicle writes about the latest dust-up over the contest to fill former Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) seat in Congress. DeLay "officially" moved out of Texas this spring, a move which, according to Republicans, makes him ineligble for office under state law, and gives them the ability to name a replacement. A judge reviewing the case has suggested that DeLay simply withdrew from the general election after winning the primary -- an interpretation that would keep his name on the ballot, and create a presumed advantage for the Democrat who is running to replace the ethically tarred DeLay. According to the judge, if political parties are allowed to replace primary election winners with more popular candidates, "the abuse would be incredible." The final ruling is expected next week. (Editors Note: All should be aware that DeLay still maintains a residence in his Texas district, where his wife currently lives. Doesn't it figure that everything surrounding DeLay's departure from Congress would be just as problematic as his tenure there?)
Roll Call (subscription only) reports on the ongoing lobbying reform stalemate, now focused on language defining earmarks. Many are concerned the new definition will simply open up new loopholes for pork projects and exacerbate the problem. (And members of Congress often need little encouragement to load up bills with earmarks....)
The New York Times editorializes on yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance reform, arguing that the decision is actually a setback for anti-reform forces who want to open the floodgates for even more corporate and special-interest money to pour into American politics.
Just a few hours ago, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Vermont's campaign finance law of mandatory spending ceiling and low contribution limits. The decision is Randall v. Sorrell.
Though the decision is far from what I had hoped, it is not as bad as I had feared.
The bottom line is that this case upholds the state of current law on campaign finance. While the majority struck down Vermont's contribution limits, the Court made it very clear that it was not striking down all contribution limits and is instead following law that has been on the books since 1976.
In the 1976 landmark Buckley decision, the Court held that money is a form of speech, and that the First Amendment prohibits mandatory ceilings on political spending. However, the court ruled, campaign contributions could be reasonably limited because large contributions create the possibility or appearance of corruption.
In today’s case, the Court invalidated
The decision means that little will change at the federal level and in most states. Perhaps the greatest damage may be to small states and local jurisdictions that have contribution limits lower than the federal standard. Montana — where it costs only $3,000 to run for state office — has contribution limits as low as $300. This is perfectly reasonable — only 10 contributors could supply enough money to run effectively for state office in Montana. But this law may now be subject to legal challenge, as well as other similar laws in local jurisdictions.
While this is not a good decision, it is not a disaster either. Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the case is that the new justices appointed by President Bush — Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito — sided with the majority in making no new sweeping changes to the status quo. It was feared that the new justices might be willing to strike down all contribution limits. But this fear proved unfounded.
Newly released documents in the Jack Abramoff investigation shed light on how the recently convicted lobbyist secretly routed funds through tax-exempt organizations. The Washington Post writes about the federal probe's discovery that charities and other non-profit organizations, some of them controlled by prominent conservative activist Grover Norquist, were used to secretly launder funds from Abramoff’s clients and pass them along to various parties and campaigns -- with Norquist receiving a small slice of the funds along the way. The information released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee also details Abramoff’s dealings with former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, leader of a conservative Jewish foundation.
AP reports on the return of the estate tax fight within Congress. After the Senate recently shot down an attempt at repeal the estate tax, which would hurt middle-class Americans and deprive the US treasury of a trillion dollars in revenues over the first ten years, the House voted recently to cut taxes on inherited estates, relieving thousands of heirs from paying any tax. According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “This is the ultimate values debate… It is morally wrong to do this.”
The Washington Post editorializes on the upsetting state of lobbying reform within Congress. While most of lobbyist conduct is not illegal, the Post points out that much of it is morally repugnant as well as pervasive on Capitol Hill.
The New York Times editorial page writes about House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R.Ill.) neglect of lobbying and earmark reform. Haster is now involved in an earmark abuse scandal involving his financial investments (as we have been covering). Hastert raked in at least $1.5 million in profits after inserting an earmark to fund freeway development near land he purchased.
After two years of hearings and investigation, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), released its report on Jack Abramoff's dealings with Native American tribes yesterday. It isn't pretty. The Washington Post writes about the problems the report presents for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who previously told Senate investigators he was unfamiliar with a certain Texas tribe, despite evidence that the Congressman held numerous discussions with both Abramoff and his tribal client regarding their casino. The New York Times delves into the evidence against former Bush campaign advisor Ralph Reed, whom the report labeled “a central figure in Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying operation.” Bloomberg reports on how Abramoff initiated the bribery scandal in cooperation with his friend Michael Scanlon, former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). The Sacramento Bee writes about the $66,000 paid to the wife of embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) from a California Indian gaming tribe, at the behest of Abramoff. While critics of the report are arguing that it is rich on details but short on accountability and recommended changes, USA Today focuses on the committee's contention that existing laws are sufficient to deal with the sort of massive fraud perpetrated by Abramoff.
Two weeks ago, Senate Republicans failed to repeal the estate tax, an action that would help the wealthiest Americans while hurting the rest of us. The New York Times editorializes on the stubbornness of the pro-repeal camp and their new effort to "comfort the comfortable." While House Republicans are calling their new legislation a ‘compromise,’ the new bill would still essentially gut the estate tax, exempting more than 99.5% of estates and costing the treasury $760 billion over the next ten years. Guess who will make up that shortfall?
The Washington Post looks into the profitable property investments of several members of Congress who purchased land in their respective districts, passed federal legislation for development in the area, and then sold the property after the value of the property shot up. The Post focuses on House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) (read our previous blog on him), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.). All three representatives argue that they were securing funds for their home districts, and suggest that the earmarks did not have any impact on the land values of their investments. Apparently Speaker Hastert, who secured an earmark for a $55 million freeway interchange only 5 1/2 miles from his property, would have us believe that the development had no influence on the $1.5 million in profits he made after selling the place....
Roll Call (subscription only) describes the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's final report detailing how disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff used over $40 million from Indian tribes in a seven-year-long bribery scheme. The report maps the kickback schemes Abramoff employed, persuading several tribes to pay tens of millions of dollars to his associate, who funneled half of the profits back to Abramoff.
Bloomberg is reporting that tax records and other documents show Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) helped to funnel at least $179 million in U.S. government contracts in the past six years to companies who contributed to his charity foundation. Mollohan is under federal investigation in the bribery scandal and as we have noted before, has stepped down from his seat on the House ethics committee pending resolution of the investigation into his finances.
An editorial in Roll Call (subscription only) comments on the depressing state of lobbying reform legislation in Congress, arguing that Senate and House Republicans failed to deal with the major ethics issues, such as greater transparency and disclosure in the relationships that lobbyists have with lawmakers and their staffs. Republicans are also abjectly failing to deal with the problems surrounding travel and gifts, which allow corporate jets and chartered planes to whisk lawmakers across the country - or even to Scotland - for a round of golf.
Former White House procurement chief David Safavian was found guilty yesterday in the first case involving the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Washington Post notes that the scandal has yielded four other guilty pleas, and that the conviction further endangers Congressman Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is also tied to Abramoff. Joel Seidman of NBC News writes a detailed summary of the evidence used in the case, and comments on the likely trial of Ney on the horizon. Finally, Roll Call (subscription only) reports Safavian will most likely appeal his conviction of four felony counts.
NBC’s First Read is reporting that the Democratic National Committee will file an appeal today with the White House Office of Administration in their search for records documenting how many times disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, recently convicted procurement officer David Safavian, and other Abramoff colleagues and associates visited the White House. In May, the DNC filed its second request for the records, but was unsuccessful in retrieving them. (We have blogged about the previous efforts to retrieve the records, which resulted in a grand total of two - count 'em - two recorded visits. Can new White House Press Secretary Tony Snow spell s-t-o-n-e-w-a-l-l...?)
The National Journal’s Congress Daily reports that the House lobbying and ethics overhaul package will most likely not meet its July 4th deadline as disagreements over gift rules and earmark overhauls continue to be contentious issues between the Senate and the House. While the Senate bill zeroes out the gift rule, prohibiting any and all gifts from lobbyists, the House refuses to change the existing rule, despite recent lobbying scandals, such as Jack Abramoff’s famous St. Andrew’s golf trip.
Jack Abramoff's lead attorney, Abbe Lowell, writes in USA Today on lobbying and ethics reform where he states - believe it or not - “As long as campaign engines need to be fueled, special interests and lobbyists who have the most immediate interest in legislation will have the most incentive to supply the gas. This gives lobbyists an unfair advantage in access and persuasion.” It sounds like he's been reading our Clean Up Washington materials! Lowell calls for a re-examination of the relationship between lobbyists and public officials, and outlines some reform proposals.
Today's conviction of former White House aide David Safavian, on charges that he lied and obstructed justice in the investigation of his dealings with disgraced former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is a breath of fresh air. (See today's headlines, below.) While a number of players in the wide-ranging corruption probe, including Abramoff himself, pled guilty to charges, today's conviction follows the first trial coming out of the Abramoff scandal.
Every once in a while, justice is served.
The larger and more important question, though, is who will follow? Safavian was found guilty on one count for lying about the infamous Abramoff-organized trip to St. Andrew's golf course in Scotland in 2002. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was on that trip, and Ney's former chief of staff Neil Volz (who has pled guilty), testifed against Safavian. Will Ney be the next one indicted? What about other inductees in our Hall of Shame, many of them under scrutiny for their ties to Abramoff? Given that Safavian was the top White House procurement officer, will his conviction once again raise the question of Bush's ties to Abramoff?
The even larger question, of course, is whether additional convictions of current lawmakers will bring about changes in the way Congress does business, including better ethics rules and lobbying reform than the toothless jokes Congress offered up this spring. And if not, will that failure then lead to a reaction by the electorate in November...and a new crop of legislators more interested in doing the people's business rather than the business of their campaign contributors and lobbyists?
Former White House aide David Safavian was found guilty today on four counts of lying and obstructing justice, in the first trial held in connection with the influence peddling scandal of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As reported by Reuters, Safavian, who was the chief of staff at the General Services Administration when the crimes took place, was convicted for lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring properties from GSA. He was also convicted for obstruction of investigators looking into the famous Abramoff-organized golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland in 2002. Hall of Shame inductee Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was also on that trip, and Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, was instrumental in the prosecution's case against Safavian.
NBC's First Read is reporting that the legal defense trust created for Cheney chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who is facing trial for his role in leaking a CIA operatives name and then lying to investigators, is holding a $500-a-head reception tonight. The trust has already raised over $2 million for Libby’s legal defense.
The Center for American Progress writes about a pork-barrel project that personally enriched House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Hastert bought 265 acres of isolated farmland in Illinois, then aggressively pushed for federal funding to build the "Prairie Parkway” linking the isolated land to major cities, allowing him to earn profits of at least $1.5 million when he sold a portion to a developer.
Roll Call (subscription only) is reporting the Justice Department and the lawyers of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff are agreeing to postpone the day he has to report to federal prison, signaling that his ongoing cooperation with federal prosecutors is proving helpful in the corruption probe of Congress.
The New York Times writes about the political atmosphere in the state of Kentucky, where a total of 15 indictments have riddled Governor Ernie Fletcher’s (R-Ky.) administration, including accusations that Fletcher illegally forced Democrats out of state civil service jobs and gave them to political loyalists.
In the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Robert Novak writes about the corruption and ethical misconduct when earmarks are added to bills to serve the self-interest of members of Congress or campaign contributors. Novak, a staunch conservative, notes that a majority of members, along with the Republican leadership of the House, continue to reject any reform.
The Times-Picayune reports on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) removal from his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee last Friday. The action was taken by a voice vote in the full House, following a recorded vote in the Democratic caucus. It was the first time any rank-and-file-member has been removed from a committee seat. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) commented on her role in ousting Jefferson, who is the subject of an ongoing federal bribery investigation, putting members on notice that “anybody with $90,000 in their freezer, you've got a problem with the (Democratic) caucus.” Meanwhile, the federal judge who approved the FBI raid on Jefferson's Hill office last month noted that he's unlikely to be sympathetic to arguments that the raid infringed upon the separation of powers, according to NBC’s First Read.
The New York Times writes about the revolving door among former Department of Homeland Security employees and the private sector security industry. The Times reports that 90 former officials in the department and the White House Office of Homeland Security now work for companies who do billions of dollars worth of business in the homeland security industry, a move the former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department calls “almost incestuous.''
The National Journal’s Congress Daily is reporting that the Supreme Court might rule as soon as today on the 2003 GOP-friendly redistricting of Texas, a move which was orchestrated and spearheaded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and which helped the Republicans gain six House seats in the 2006 election. (As a reminder, the Washington Post reported in December of 2005 that Justice Department Lawyers concluded unanimously that the redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act, but were overruled by senior officials, many of whom were political appointees.)
In case you missed this excellent op-ed, Jonathan Chait wrote in last week's L.A. Times about Democratic politicians such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who complain about the need for greater funding of domestic programs while simultaneously voting to repeal the estate tax, a major revenue stream, using bogus arguments about small businesses and family farms. As the author notes, the fact that the Waltons of Wal-mart fame - one of the billionaire families pushing the repeal - live in Sen. Lincoln's state is no doubt "purely coincidental."
The Washington Post reports Democrats in the House have stripped Rep. William Jefferson (R-La.) of his Ways and Means Committee seat. The Times-Picayune writes that, if the full House concurs, it would be the first time in the 217-year history of Congress in which a rank-and-file member has been removed from a committee. The federal judge who issued the search warrant for the FBI raid on Jefferson's office will preside over a hearing where separation of powers will be the issue, says NBC’s First Read. Jefferson is under federal investigation for allegedly taking bribes in relation to contracts with African countries. One man already pled guilty to paying over $400,000 in bribes to Jefferson.
The L.A. Times reports on a House panel scrutinizing the Department of Homeland Security for signing a $25 million contract with a transportation company involved in a prostitution scandal affiliated with Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the former Congressman convicted of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from defense contractors. The New York Post reports that the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R-NY) berated Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday for contracting with the limo company promoted by Cunningham.
Clarence Page from the Chicago Tribune writes about the corruption scandal surrounding Rep. William Jefferson (R-La.), arguing the Congressman should step down. He says that while the Congressional Black Caucus’s loyalty in supporting Jefferson is well intentioned, the facts, including the $90,000 found in his freezer, the FBI’s claim that he accepted $100,000 in bribe money, and the conviction of two other men in the ongoing FBI bribery probe, has not held up well in the court of public opinion.
Roll Call (subscription only) writes on developments in corruption allegations swirling around House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and his aide Jeff Shockey. After numerous media reports about a $2 million "golden parachute" Shockey received from his former lobbying firm back in 2004, he is now admitting that the $1.5 million figure he reported eariler was incorrect, and that he did indeed earn more that $2 million the year he left the lobbying firm Copeland Lowery - a firm which was apparently very happy to see a lobbyist leave to take a top position with the House Appropriations Committee.
Roll Call (subscription only) reports that Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who won the democratic primary in California’s 11th district, will face incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), a Hall of Shame inductee, in November’s election. Despite Pombo's ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other alleged corruption scandals involving his family's finances, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now expected to stay out of the race… making us wonder how the Democratic party plans to in fact show its stated commitment to ending the “culture of corruption” in Washington.
USA Today reports on recent disclosures of the finances of House and Senate members, which are under increased scrutiny due to the recent corruption and bribery scandals in Congress.
The fight between embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and his own House Democratic Caucus will come to a head this afternoon when the Caucus meets to discuss removing the scandal-ridden Congressman from his powerful House Ways and Means Committee seat, Roll Call (subscription only) reports.
As reported in the Washington Post, President Bush reconfirmed his trust in White House strategist Karl Rove yesterday, and stated he has no reason to apologize for his role in the disclosure of a CIA officer's identity three years ago - even though he actively deceived the media and general public by saying he had no part in the unmasking of Valerie Plame.
Roll Call (subscription only) investigates the latest ploy by lobbying firms and private special interest groups seeking to gain influence in Congress: sponsoring the amateur softball teams enjoyed by many Congressional offices. While staffers and sponsors claim the practice is innocent, ethics experts and Congressional watchdogs raise concerns about special interests paying for the softball teams of House and Senate staff.
BlackNews.com columnist Earl Hutchinson writes about the racial debate surrounding the efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to have Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) removed from the House Ways and Means Committee. While some Congressional Black Caucus leaders protest that there has been unfair treatment of Jefferson, an African-American. But in the author's opinion, “Pelosi didn't axe Jefferson because he's black. She axed Jefferson because he's politically damaged goods…."
The Washington Post describes Bush political advisor Karl Rove’s escape from indictment in the CIA leak case. The article points out that Rove’s credibility does not emerge from the investigation unscathed, remembering in 2003 when he allowed then-Bush spokesman Scott McClellan to tell reporters that he had no role in the unmasking of former CIA agent Valerie Plame - even though he was telling the FBI something different at the time. The investigation has proven that Rove did indeed speak to two reporters about Plame’s identity. AP reports that the failure to charging Rove for lying in 2003, which saved the administration from political liability in the 2004 election, “shows there often are no consequences for misleading the public.”
More details have surfaced into the lobbying-for-earmarks scandal erupting around House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and one of his top aids, Jeff Shockey. The California-based lobbying firm Copeland, Lowery, Jacquez, Denton & White, which employed Shockey and which has ties with Rep. Lewis, celebrated increased fees and a jump in revenue when Shockey left the firm for an influential position on the House Appropriations Committee in 2005. Roll Call (subscription only) reports extensively on the story, including the fact that Copeland Lowery rose from the 54th to become the 32nd largest lobbying firm (in terms of revenue) in the same year that Lewis became Appropriations Chairman and Shockey became a top aid.
Karl Rove spoke at a Republican fundraiser in
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who temporarily stepped down from his seat as ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee pending the completion of a federal investigation into his finances, admitted to misstating over a dozen transactions on his financial disclosure forms, according to the Washington Post.
NBC’s First Read reports that House Democrats will meet tomorrow to consider temporary expulsion of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, pending the results of a federal investigation into bribery allegations against him.
Roll Call (subscription only) writes that the hyper-partisan farewell speech of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) last week epitomized the bitter and resentful climate he created in Congress during his tenure. With his departure, Democrats and Republican will hopefully be able to cooperate in solving the country's problems.
After three years of speculation and investigation, the New York Times reports today that Karl Rove, President Bush's top political advisor, will not be indicted for his role in leaking the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. Reuters reports that the announcement removes a significant political and legal hurdle for the administration before the November congressional election.
The Hill reports that members of Congress are now speaking out about bribery allegations surrounding embattled House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), allegations which epitomize the abuse in the congressional spending process created by unlimited earmarks. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), who circulated a newspaper story linking Lewis to “the inherent risk of corruption at the heart of the congressional earmark process” is calling for reform.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R- Calif.) took to the airways in order to argue that her ongoing fight to remove Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from his House Ways and Means Committee seat is in the interest of upholding the high ethical standards of the Democratic Caucus, as reported by Roll Call (subscription only). Jefferson has refused to step down from the powerful committee despite the ongoing federal investigation into bribery allegations; the Congressional Black Caucus is protesting that a double standard exists because other members suspected of criminal wrongdoing have not been treated similarly.
The Note gives their predictions on what to expect now that Karl Rove is apparently off the hook from Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the CIA leak case, predicting that the White House will continue to refuse to give any details regarding the administration’s role in the affair. (That would have been our guess too....)
A pre-trial status hearing is scheduled for today into the CIA leak case of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, as reported by MSNBC. Libby's lawyers are still fighting for release of documents pertaining to the actions of White House advisor Karl Rove. The papers are held by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The AP reports on Judge Reggie B. Walton’s decision to withhold other classified documents pertaining to the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame because of the threat their release poses to national security, a concern evidently not shared by those who outed her back in 2003.
In the continuing aftershocks from the FBI search of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) office, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla) introduced a resolution stating that the FBI’s search was not improper and that Congress is not above the law. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on how Brown-Waite’s resolution differs from the arguments of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and many other members of Congress who were vocal opponents of the raid of Jefferson’s office.
Roll Call (subscription only) reports that Jeff Shockey, a top aid to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), received a $1.9 million "golden parachute" last year from his former employer, a lobbying firm that specializes in securing appropriations earmarks for clients. (The $1.9 million deal was three times the amount previously released to the media.) Shockey's attorneys claim that the buyout met all ethical and legal guidelines applicable to House staffers.
Douglas Turner of the Buffalo News writes about the recent departure of Tom DeLay, the Republican culture of corruption within Congress, “the system of legalized bribery” in Washington, and the challenge that Democrats face in the upcoming Fall election.
Tom DeLay: "I exit, as always, stage right."
... and he leaves us with a canned closer that has been used many times before. Oh well, originality was never one of DeLay's strong points -- winning at any cost is what DeLay shall be remembered for in the history books.
DeLay epitomizes the very worst, and dangerous, attributes of a person attempting to rise in power, partly for the sake of ideology but also for the sake of attaining power itself. DeLay is an outspoken ideological conservative, but his tactics reveal just as much love for power.
He was one of the architects of the "Republican revolution" in 1994 to sweep out corruption and the stranglehold on democratic procedures in the House that the Democratic majority at the time personified. But he swiftly rose up the ranks of power by embracing -- and taking to new heights -- those same strategies of corruption and authoritarianism in the House.
All of us are familiar with the corruption Tom DeLay represents when it comes to money and politics. Less known, but of even greater concern, is the strict authoritarianism in the House of Representatives that DeLay ushered in and is leaving us with. He has re-written the rules of procedure by solidifying unitary control over committee leaders and the Rules Committee.
Under the autocracy that DeLay built, never before has floor debate in Congress been so silenced. Most bills now have closed or restrictive rules attached to them, which means that debate and amendments cannot be considered. When companion bills from the House and the Senate are sent to conference committee to be ironed out, DeLay's autocracy would frequently lock out all the Democrats and even dissenting Republicans from discussions, allowing the autocracy to write the final legislation, insert any earmarks it chose and then push the bill for a final vote with no opportunity for amendments.
Even when the House ethics committee rather timidly "admonished" DeLay in 2004 for his unethical behavior, DeLay's autocracy had three disloyal Republican members on the committee fired and replaced with those who were known to be loyal to DeLay.
Sometimes this ability to win at any cost is misconstrued as effectiveness. It is far more dangerous than that. It is a deep-seated disdain for democracy, for the democratic procedures and civil liberties that get in Tom DeLay's way.
At least today democracy won.
Good riddance DeLay -- though I know your hostility to American democracy will continue to be felt as you enter the world of
Its official: Roll Call (subscription only) reports that the House Steering Policy Committee voted last night to oust the embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from his Ways and Means Committee seat. Unless Jefferson steps down voluntarily, the vote is expected to be ratified on Thursday. AP is reporting on the unfolding tension between the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who initially called for Jefferson to step down from his seat two weeks ago.
NBCs First Read reports on todays developments in the New Hampshire Republican phone-jamming story, where two GOP party operatives have already been convicted of illegally attempting to suppress Democratic turnout in the 2002 Senate election. The Democratic National Committee has dispatched its legal team to provide pro bono assistance to the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which is now taking legal action against leading GOP party members involved in the 2002 scandal.
The Washington Post covers yesterday's final House floor speech of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who told fellow Republicans (Democrats for the most part boycotted the event) that he always served "honorably and honestly." DeLay now faces an expanding investigation of his office's involvement in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, in addition to money-laundering charges in Texas.
In todays New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman writes about this week's failed attempt by conservatives to repeal the estate tax during a time of war and increasing deficits. Krugman argues that those who advocate such repeal are catering to wealthy donors and disregarding the dramatic fiscal implications of a repeal.
We are delighted to announce that the forces of fiscal sanity and fairness won a very important battle in the U.S. Senate today, as those trying to force a vote on full repeal of the estate tax failed to get enough support to end a threatened filibuster. The repeal attempt is, for the moment, dead.
We would like to thank every one of the Clean Up Washington activists and Corruption Watchdogs who made this victory possible.
The battle for estate tax repeal at its core represented the very essence of corruption in our nation’s capitol: special interests using large sums of money – through political contributions, intensive lobbying, and deceptive PR campaigns – to force through legislation to enrich themselves, rather than help the American people. A Public Citizen report proved that a small number of super-wealthy families (the Waltons, Mars and Gallos among them) were behind the repeal campaign. The report received nationwide news coverage and shaped the public debate by pointing out the self-interest of the ultra-rich families backing estate tax repeal.
While those families would have popped fancy champagne corks if the repeal had passed, the remaining 99.7 percent of us would have suffered mightily. Full repeal would have cost the U.S. Treasury up to $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) during the first ten years, a shortfall that would have resulted in cuts in vital services or higher taxes for everyone.
Unsurprisingly, too many senators chose to serve the interests of the wealthy elite, continuing to live in a fantasy land where debts never have to be repaid. Fortunately, enough of them – bolstered by your phone calls and emails – chose to do the right thing.
The Republican leadership may try to bring up a “compromise” bill, and you can be sure that we will be there to meet them if they try. In the meantime, please accept our thanks once again for this important victory, and have a sip of champagne yourself – the cheap stuff, of course!
Read here for the statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Click here to tell your senators that you support this vote for fairness and fiscal sanity.
As his final days in Congress come to an end, indicted former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Tex.) continues to go out with a bang. The Hill reports on a closed-door GOP meeting yesterday where “The Hammer” told Congressional Republicans that they “would pick up seats” this November if they remained unified on positions that “embrace Republican values to fight judicial activism” and “seek broad changes to the federal tax code.”
With the bribery investigation continuing, Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) is resisting calls by the Democratic leadership to vacate his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Roll Call (subscription only) reports that even after the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee met Wednesday evening to expel him from the exclusive panel, Jefferson continues to fight for his seat on the committee. As this saga continues, a clash between Democratic leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus may unfold.
New revelations have surfaced in the corruption scandal developing around House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). Tom Casey, the CEO of software company Audre Inc, told NBC that after making campaign contributions to Congressional Representatives in 1993, Lewis awarded his company $14 million from the Pentagon and allowed Casey to write his own language into law. Roll Call (subscription only) is also reporting that the FBI is investigating Lewis's personal financial records, along with those of his wife and two close advisers, as part of its growing lobbying-for-earmarks investigation. The investigation is also reaching Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) who has also come under financial scrutiny by the FBI, which sent a special agent from the investigation in California to the congressman's Washington office to retrieve the records of the lawmakers and advisers.
NBC's First Read writes on the latest in the New Hampshire GOP phone-jamming story, in which two Republican operatives were already convicted of illegally attempting to suppress Democratic turnout in the 2002 Senate election. The New Hampshire Democratic Party is now taking legal action against some of the biggest names in Republican politics, including former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, Terry Nelson (former 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign worker), and veteran consultant Chris LaCivita.
In an op-ed in The Hill, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) writes that Delay’s resignation from Congress “brings an end to what the press has referred to as a ‘criminal enterprise’ run out of the former majority leader’s office.” The congresswoman also cautions that this "culture of corruption” goes deeper than one person and states that, on ethics, Americans deserve “a new direction.”
Today’s Roll Call (subscription only) published its last interview with Tom DeLay, at least as Representative from
“I’m very proud of my career. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here. I’m proud that in our 12 years in the majority we’ve been able to advance conservative causes on very slim margins. I’m proud of the fact that we built one of the largest political coalitions in this town. I’m proud of the
According the article, he is supposed to give a 20 minute farewell speech from the floor of the House tomorrow. We can hardly wait to hear how he chooses to congratulate himself, again.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) will serve his last day as a "public servant" on Friday and - almost as if on cue - yet another scandal has surfaced for The Hammer. The Washington Post reports on a new FBI probe into allegations that GOP lobbyist Ed Buckham, DeLay’s former chief of staff, opened a retirement account for the Congressman’s wife in the 1990s, and contributed thousands of dollars to it in exchange for legislative favors and official acts from DeLay.
House Democrats are calling for embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to appear before them today to discuss stripping him of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, according to Roll Call (subscription only). The Hill reports on House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) denouncement of Jefferson. “He sits on a tax-writing committee, and he had $90,000 found in his freezer. I think he’s got a tax problem if nothing else,” Hoyer said.
A former Congressional aid to the House defense appropriations subcommittee admitted that a military contractor paid half the cost of a $1 million town house she bought 11 months after leaving the Congressional job. The New York Times reports Letita Hoadley was in charge of inserting pet projects into spending bills for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors.
In a highly contested election to replace convicted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), Republican Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) narrowly defeated Democrat Francine Busby in California's conservative 50th CD. The L.A Times reports that Bilbray won 50 percent of the vote with Busby trailing at 45 percent in an election where ethics and corruption scandals played a significant role.
Ties to Jack Abramoff, Indian casino money, and other ethics abuses were unable to stop "Hall of Shame" inductee Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) from getting the Republican nomination in a California Republican primary election yesterday. The SF Chronicle reports on the election and the tough fight Pombo faces in the Fall.
In response to the Senate bill this week which would repeal the estate tax, The Seattle Post looks into the misleading and inaccurate arguments of those who argue for repealing the estate tax, an act that “would increase the deficit and leave a larger burden on our children and grandchildren.”
While on tour last year, popular HBO comedian Bill Mahrer remarked on the revelations of lavish congressional junkets emerging at the time, many of them connected to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mahrer noted that if someone took him to
Just how many legislative favors, I have to wonder, did members of Congress do in return for the 23,000 trips that were given to them by corporations and other private interests between January 2000 and June 2005 - trips worth nearly $50 million, and which included corporate jet rides, $500-a-night hotels, and exotic destinations including Paris, Hawaii, Italy, and, of course, that golf course in Scotland?
These numbers were discussed in The Washington Post's coverage of the new Center for Public Integrity study on Congressional travel (see Corruption News Roundup, below). House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) promised in the wake of Abramoff's guilty plea to ban such privately funded travel, but those promises turned to dust, and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) won election as House majority leader on the specific promise not to ban such travel. (Not surprisingly, his office was one of the biggest recipients of the privately-funded trips.)
Kevin Madden, Boehner's spokesperson, was quoted in the article as saying that such travel "’leads to greater understanding of the issues' at no cost to taxpayers." While an objective observer might reasonably ask how discussing Social Security at a Colorado ski resort leads to "greater understanding" than discussing it in a Washington office, the assertion that these junkets come at "no cost to taxpayers" is just flat-out wrong.
It is wrong because these freebies that members of Congress, their families and staff receive from corporate America are part of a system of legalized bribery, a system that persuades members to approve multi-billion dollar subsidies for the corporations that pay for the trips, or to pass monstrous corporate giveaways such as the $500 billion-plus Medicare prescription drug bill – all of which cost the taxpayers dearly.
No reform of Congress will be complete until such trips are banned or severely restricted.
In the meantime, though, I certainly understand the desire to go to
According to much of the coverage, former Bush aide David Safavian testified yesterday that he had shared non-public information about government properties with disgraced super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Bloomberg writes about allegations that Safavian gave Abramoff insider information on a client of his, Tyco International, encouraging him to sell his stock. AP examines the defense team's claims that Safavian did not lie to investigators about information he shared with Abramoff, but was, he claimed, instead "just mistaken about the time frame.”
Roll Call (subscription required) reports that House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may once again call for the resignation of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the House Ways and Means Committee. Pelosi, a vocal opponent of the “culture of corruption” in Congress, has already publicly asked Williams to resign, but may now seek to have the full Democratic Caucus join in the denouncement.
Today’s Washington Post reports on a study which shows that over the past five and a half years, lawmakers accepted nearly $50 million in privately funded trips. The study, by the Center for Public Integrity, shows that at least 2,300 of the trips cost $5,000 or more, 500 cost $10,000 or more, and 16 cost $25,000 or more, and that they included $500-per-night hotel rooms in exotic locations such as Paris, Hawaii and Italy. Also noted was the report's findings that "lawmakers' financial reports that disclose the details of the trips are routinely riddled with mistakes and omissions."
The Seattle Post writes about this week's Senate vote to repeal the estate tax. About the trillion dollars in lost revenue that would be made up by future generations, the Post quotes Brookings Institute scholar Diane Lim Rogers, who noted that “a repeal of the ‘death tax’ is, in fact, a ‘birth tax’ imposed on all American babies."
The New Jersey Times looks at the budgetary impact of the one trillion dollars in revenue which would be lost if the estate tax is repealed. With the nation’s debt at record levels, mounting war costs, the Katrina cleanup, and the imminent entry of legions of boomers into Social Security and Medicare, a repeal of the estate tax, it concludes, would be "fiscal madness."
As controversy continues to swirl around the embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), whose office was searched by the FBI in connection to an alleged bribery scandal, today’s Washington Post investigates the allegations concerning a "corporate labyrinth" which secretly received payments from high-tech ventures in African countries. Many of the payments appear to have been redirected to Jefferson's wife and five daughters. As noted in the Post, federal investigation of Jefferson's business negotiations have already yielded guilty pleas from one business partner and a former top aide. Both confessed to involvement in a bribery scheme. Jefferson continues to deny any wrongdoing.
The AP reports that David Safavian, a former Bush aide on trial for lying to investigators about his relationship with disgraced former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, took the stand again today under continued cross-examination by federal prosecuters. Safavian, a chief of staff for the General Services Administration and later chief procurement officer for the White House, is denying that he concealed ties to Abramoff and suggesting he was "mistaken about the time frame" of advice given to Abramoff, stating that it the conversation happened a few weeks before he attended a luxury-filled golf trip to Scotland arranged by Abramoff in August of 2002, and not after, as he had originally testified.
Ethics issues will be a central focus for voters in a Republican primary tomorrow which pits Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) against former Rep. Paul "Pete" McClosky (R-Calif.). Pombo, a 14-year incumbent, has come under intense scrutiny for his ties to Abramoff. As chairman of the House Resources Committee, which oversees both Indian gaming issues and U.S. territories, Pombo was courted by Abramoff's biggest clients: casino-rich Indian tribes and officials of the Northern Mariana Islands eager to fend off U.S. labor laws.
The Washington Post reports that Abramoff personally gave $7,500 to Pombo's campaign and political action committee while seven of his lobbying associates gave another $7,000. Additionally, the tribal clients and Northern Mariana interests pitched in $29,250. The San Francisco Chronicle writes about Pombo’s struggles with environmentalists, an issue highlighted by the fact that his primary opponent, McCloskey, authored the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
The San Jose Mercury News reports on the federal investigation into House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), and his relationship with a former Congressman-turned-lobbyist whose firm’s clients include Lewis’s home town and home county. Both Riverside County and the Cal State Bernardino Foundation were required to hand over records of contacts between Lewis and the lobbying firm that now employs former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.). The Washington Post reports that San Bernardino County paid Lowery's firm $60,000 last year for representation on appropriations and budget bills - further illustrating the "revolving door" problem that occurs when former public servants seek to exploit privileged relationships with politicians.
Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times about the upcoming Senate vote to repeal the estate tax. After postponing the original vote last fall because of Hurricane Katrina, the Republican leadership will once again attempt to increase the wealth of those who will already inherit millions even as they cut health care to "balance the budget." While this time they won’t be debating the issue with impoverished Americans clinging to their rooftops while floodwaters rise around them, the measure remains an unconscionable give-away to America's wealthiest families.
As the trial of former White House aide David Safavian continues this week, the defense attempts to steer attention towards the irrelevant details of a recreational golf trip Safavian took, and away from allegations he lied to investigators about favors recieved from Jack Abramoff while helping the now-notorious lobbyist gain influence. The Washington Post reports on the latest developments in the Safavian trial, while the New York Times writes about Neil Volz, a convicted former aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). In testimony, Volz admitted to preparing a travel disclosure statement that intentionally understated the cost of a lavish 2002 golfing trip to Scotland.
As reported in the LA Times, a spokesman for Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced today that the Senator misstated ethics rules when recently defending his acceptance of free boxing tickets given to him in 2004 and 2005 by the Nevada Athletic Commission, a group involved in trying to influence Reid's legislation to create a federal boxing commission.
Bloomberg News reports on a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity, which demonstrates how the House Appropriations Committee has become a "revolving door" for both former Congressmen and aides turned lobbyists who can exploit relationships they have developed with lawmakers.
House Judiciary Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) held an unusual recess hearing in order to further complain about the FBI's search of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) office. In the article, "Sensenbrenner's Jefferson Windbag Hearing," Louisiana reporter Jeff Crouere, who lives in Jefferson's district, identifies yesterday's hearing as the epitome of "inside the beltway" politics.