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Home / Hall of Shame / Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.)

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.)

  • Weakening environmental regulations that personally benefit his family. Pombo is chairman of the House Resources Committee, which oversees the Department of the Interior. In October 2004, Pombo’s aides asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to immediately suspend environmental impact guidelines that could have resulted in a loss of income for wind-power turbine operators in the Altamont Pass in northern California. Those operators included Pombo’s parents, who earned more than $125,000 in wind-power royalties in 2001. The guidelines, which include recommendations to replace older wind turbines with models that reduce the number of migratory birds that would be killed, are voluntary at the federal level but local officials often use them in permitting decisions. Pombo’s aides sent the letter during the time period in which the permit covering the Pombo family ranch in Altamont Pass was being appealed by environmentalists who were seeking to force operators to replace their turbines in accordance with the guidelines and shut down some turbines during migratory season. Both actions could have reduced the Pombos’ royalty income. Additionally, a few days after sending the letter Pombo aides also confronted U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials about their agency’s actions at Altamont, which included designating the pass a problem area due to bird deaths and consulting with local officials on turbine permits. That same day, a Fish and Wildlife supervisor ordered agency biologists to cease all involvement in the Altamont permit appeal. Pombo’s aides did not disclose the family’s financial stake in the matter in either the meeting with Fish and Wildlife officials or the letter to Norton, which Pombo claims his aides wrote and signed without his knowledge. [Los Angeles Times, 4/07/2005]
  • Keeping it all in the family. Pombo’s wife and brother received more than $255,000 in 2003 and 2004 from his campaign committee, accounting for about a quarter of his committee’s total expenditures in that time period.    Pombo paid his wife and brother a total of $357,325 from his political fund over the last four years for duties listed as bookkeeping, fund-raising, consulting and other unspecified services. [Associated Press, 12/5/2004Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2005]
  • Taxpayer funded family vacation. In 2003, Pombo rented an RV and took his family on a trip touring several national parks. He billed taxpayers about $5,000 to pay for the trip, claiming that it was part of his official duties as Chairman of the House Resources Committee that oversees the national parks. Congressional ethics rules prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for family members to accompany Pombo on “official business.” Pombo claimed there was no extra cost in brining his family along in the RV. He also insisted that he met with several park directors on the trip as part of his fact-finding mission. The Sacramento Bee reports that some park directors have no recollection of meeting with Pombo. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/10/2006; Sacramento Bee, 2/13/2006]
  • Went to bat for a ‘Team Abramoff’ tribal client from whom he received big bucks. Pombo’s campaign committee and PAC have received $40,500 since 1999 from admitted felon and former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and clients he personally represented, putting him eighth among members of Congress in contributions received from Abramoff.    Pombo also received at least $20,000 from members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which was represented by Abramoff and other lobbyists at his firm, a group that has been dubbed “Team Abramoff.” In 2003, Pombo went to bat for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts – an Abramoff client located far from Pombo’s northern California congressional district – to convince the Interior Department to grant official recognition to the tribe. Pombo met with Interior Secretary Norton and R. Lee Fleming, who oversees the American Indian recognition program. During the two weeks following the meeting, the Mashpees contributed $20,000 to Pombo’s PAC, accounting for about 5 percent of the total amount the committee received in the 2003-04 election cycle. In October 2005, the tribe was placed on “active” consideration status for recognition, putting it on track for full recognition. [Center for Responsive Politics; Los Angeles Times, 12/24/2005]
  • Short-circuited an FDIC investigation into the primary owner of a failed S&L that cost taxpayers billions. After Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) dubbed a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation(FDIC) investigation into a savings & loan flop that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion “a form of harassment and deceit on the part of government employees,” Pombo and Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) went to work to scuttle the case. They used their power as members of the House Resources Committee to subpoena confidential FDIC records on the case, including details of the evidence FDIC investigators had compiled on Charles Hurwitz, a wealthy businessman who had held the largest interest in the failed S&L and from whom the government was seeking $300 million. Pombo and Doolittle then inserted the confidential information into the Congressional Record, which FDIC officials said damaged their ability to investigate the banker. The FDIC’s chief spokesman called the inclusion “a seamy abuse of the legislative process.” The case was dropped. [Los Angeles Times, 1/8/2006]
  • Appears to have abused the franking privilege. As chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo can spend tax dollars to pay for mail distributed to the general public that concerns the committee’s normal business, such as meeting agendas. The “franking” privilege, however, is never to be used to pay for mailers that promote or attack candidates immediately before an election. Don’t tell Pombo that. Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Pombo used his franking privilege to mail $68,000 worth of color fliers to snowmobile owners in Minnesota and Wisconsin – two toss-up states in the election – praising President George W. Bush’s initiative to open up Yellowstone National Park to snowmobiles. A complaint filed by Public Citizen was dismissed by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the commission that oversees franking abuses, not on the merits of the case but, ironically, because the commission had not acted promptly enough on the complaint. The complaint is available at http://citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1824. [Public Citizen complaint, 11/11/2004; Roll Call, 7/14/2005]

To keep up to date on these stories and other corruption news, go to our Watchdog Blog.

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