Saturday, June 24, 2006

Corrupt Government?

I've posted several times recently about the Congressional practice of earmarking. I know many people seem to think individual members of Congress should be able to earmark budget monies, but I tend to the conclusion that the practice of earmarking suggests our Congress has been corrupted. There are more stories in the news all the time that point in this direction as well. Here's something from one story in the Washington Post:
"House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land 5 1/2 miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds.

A Republican House member from California, meanwhile, received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. And another California GOP congressman obtained funding in last year's highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.

In all three cases, Hastert and Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller say that they were securing funds their home districts wanted badly, and that in no way did the earmarks have any impact on the land values of their investments. But for watchdog groups, the cases have opened a fresh avenue for investigation and a new wrinkle in the ongoing controversy over earmarks -- home-district projects funded through narrowly written legislative language.
Here's something from the Wall Street Journal ($$$):
"More broadly, the Lewis episode underscores the link between Member-steered earmarks and the opportunity for corruption. Convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff openly boasted that earmarks were his political currency and he called the Appropriations Committee that doles them out a 'favor factory' for lobbyists. Duke Cunningham parlayed earmarks into a Rolls Royce in his driveway, until his greed landed him in the pokey. We also now know that one of the major beneficiaries of the most notorious earmark from last year -- the $300 million Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska -- is a relative of GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski.

This spring, House Republicans elected new leaders and promised to restrain earmarking. But this week the House is busily approving a $68 billion Treasury, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill stuffed with more than 1,500 new earmarks at a cost of some $900 million.

They include $500,000 for a scenic trail in Monterey, California; $1.5 million for the William Faulkner Museum in Oxford, Mississippi; $500,000 for a swimming pool in Columbus, Ohio; and $500,000 for an athletic facility in Yucaipa, California. Several of these projects, including the athletic facility, have been promoted by Bill Lowery's lobbying firm -- the very firm in the middle of the Jerry Lewis probe.

Yesterday, Jeff Flake of Arizona and other Members offered amendments to strip the earmarks, but they lost those floor votes by a wide margin. Our favorite: a $500,000 earmark for renovating a swimming pool in Banning, California. The same pool had already received a $250,000 earmark in each of the previous two years. Mr. Flake's floor proposal to strike the swimming hole subsidy got all of 61 votes.

The Washington Times has an interesting editorial regarding Congressman Murtha:
"Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported how the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents 10 companies that received more than $20 million from last year's defense spending bill. 'Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting -- whose top officials also include former congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a congressional aide for 27 years -- received a total of $20.8 million from the bill,' the L.A. Times reported.

In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha 'reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point Shipyard to the city of San Francisco.' Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company which owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Mr. Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, lists Mr. Murtha as the top recipient of defense industry dollars in the current 2006 election cycle. "
In this last "clipping" I almost forgot to mention House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi along with Congressman Kanjorski. I think by some accounts in the news and commentary industry the corruption resides only on the Republican side of the isle, but of course, as this story suggests both sides of the political isle probably have excellent examples to offer.

And, from Bloomberg we have:
"Representative Alan Mollohan helped funnel at least $179 million in U.S. government contracts over the last six years to companies that gave to the West Virginia Democrat's family-run charity, tax records and other documents show.

The money went to 21 companies and nonprofit groups that contributed $225,427 to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation in 2004 -- almost half of the charity's revenue, according to the documents. The congressman, an Appropriations Committee member whose finances are under federal investigation, is the secretary of the foundation, which is named for his father.

The charity, which distributes scholarships to West Virginia students, raises most of its money from corporate sponsors of an annual golf tournament attended by Mollohan, 63. The event gives company executives an opportunity to meet with him in a casual setting without having to report the donations as lobbying expenses."
Man, this is starting to get depressing. How many more stories are there? Well there is this from The Washington Times:
"When most people hear the word 'Enron,' they mentally complete the phrase by adding the word 'scandal.' As reporter Lester Holt of NBC's 'Today' put it in a Jan. 1 story, 'Enron has been the poster child, if you will, of corporate scandals.'
It isn't the only one, though. There's $40-billion scandal with most of the same elements -- even connection to prominent politicians. Just don't expect to see much about it on TV. After all, the top people involved here are Democrats.
Welcome to Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage giant. As part of a scandal that's been running nearly two years, Fannie Mae has 'misstated earnings' to the tune of $10.8 billion. That's some tune.

So far, the Fannie fiasco has cost Chief Executive Officer Franklin Raines and several other top executives their jobs. The stock has dropped from nearly $80 a share to around $50 -- roughly $30 billion in lost value. And the company recently settled with the federal government and agreed to pay $400 million in fines, stemming from allegations the firm fiddled with the books to ensure bigwigs got performance bonuses. "
It's not about Congress (unless we can wonder about Congressional oversight responsibilities), but it is still about our national government. It may not be corruption, but it sure doesn't look like good government.

Let's not forget the Executive Branch of government. This from the Washington Times:
"A jury found former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty yesterday of covering up his dealings with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Safavian was convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction."
Maybe this isn't pointing to a corrupt national government, but it sure isn't what I want in Washington. How about you?

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