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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ethics: The Dem Counterpunch

The Republicans are flogging the ethics problems of Reps Massa and Rangel to smithereens in hopes of winning new support from independents and swing voters, a hefty percentage of whom see integrity in government as a pivotal issue. It would be a smart strategy — if not for the fact that their own ethics problems dwarf those of the Dems.
To call attention to this comparison, the DCCC’s Brandon English has just released a report entitled “Michael Steele: Republicans’ Glass House is Shattering,” and it provides an excellent example of the fine art of political counterpunching. The text follows:
“That cracking noise you just heard was Republican National Committee Michael Steele’s glass house shattering. While Republicans hypocritically try to make ethics an issue, they would be well served to remember a few facts:
It is the Democrats who passed and enacted historic ethics reform that broke the link between lobbyists and legislators: no gifts, no private jets, and no meals from lobbyists.
It is the Democrats who passed and enacted unprecedented levels of transparency and disclosure, shining sunlight on the activities of Members of Congress and lobbyists.
It is the Democrats who established the Office of Congressional Ethics.
It is the Democrats who got the Ethics Committee – which didn’t function under Republicans – back to work.
When questions about ethics have been raised about any Member of Congress, Democrats have acted quickly to make sure it the question was addressed by the appropriate entity.
The Republican culture of corruption under Tom DeLay and Republican leadership had devastating consequences that the American people are still paying the price for: a complex and costly prescription drug bill written by drug companies, an energy policy written by the Big Oil companies, and record deficits to pay for tax breaks for their most wealthy friends. That’s why it’s not surprising to see disgraced former Republican Congressman Richard Pombo—who embodied the Republicans’ culture of corruption—win the endorsement of NRCC Recruitment Chair Kevin McCarthy.
Here are some of the residents of Republicans’ ethical glass House:

Representative John Boehner, (R-OH-8th) – House Minority Leader John Boehner handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to members on the House floor at a time when lawmakers were considering eliminating a tobacco subsidy. Former Representative Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, criticized Boehner’s ties to lobbyists. “The problem John faces is that he’s so close to K Street; that’s the challenge he’s got,’’ said Shays. [Bloomberg News, 1/10/06].
Representative Eric Cantor, (R-VA-7th) – House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has faced a number of ethical questions including ties to lobbyists and misuse of taxpayer money for political purposes. In 2009, he started the National Council for a New America, a group that ultimately ”flamed out” after a number of questions about its use of taxpayer money for political meetings. A Roll Call editorial said, “Cantor should reimburse his House account from his campaign account or leadership political action committee for the staff resources that he has used.” Cantor also had close ties to disgraced lobbyists Jack Abramoff who actually named a sandwich at his deli after Cantor during a fundraiser, an even that drew criticism since Cantor initially failed to report the debt to Abramoff’s deli. During legal problems surrounding Tom DeLay, Roll Call wrote that “Cantor appears to have acquired a new role: chief defender of Majority Leader Tom DeLay.” [Roll Call, 5/13/09; Time, 11/28/05; Jewish Forward, 6/20/03; Politico, 8/10/09].
Representative Pete Sessions, (R-TX-32nd): Just hours after federal agents charged banker Allen Stanford with fleecing investors of $7 billion, the disgraced financier received a message from one of Congress’ most powerful members, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. ‘I love you and believe in you,’ said the e-mail sent on Feb. 17. `If you want my ear/voice — e-mail,’ it said, signed ‘Pete.’’ [Miami Herald, 12/27/2009] Earlier in the year, Sessions came under fire for steering a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to a company with no experience in government contracting or building blimps. The company hired a former aide to Sessions to lobby on their behalf. [Politico, 7/30/2009] Sessions held a fundraising event at a Las Vegas strip club for his leadership committee, joined by casino executives and payday lenders at Forty Deuce nightclub, located in the Mandalay Bay Restort. [NPR, 7/22/08].
Representative Don Young, (R-AK-AL): Yes, Rep. Don Young is still in Congress, even though he has been the subject of at least two recent federal criminal investigations. One involved a $10 million earmark for a Florida company Young dropped into a 2006 bill just before it passed; another dealt with a broad investigation into political corruption in Alaska, tied to the (ultimately flawed) case that led to former Sen. Ted Stevens’s defeat. [Salon, 3/5/10].
Representative Ken Calvert, (R-CA-44th): Rep. Ken Calvert has reaped the benefits of his own earmarks. Calvert is under investigation by the FBI after a story in the Los Angeles Times alleged that Calvert’s earmarks have benefited his own property holdings. In one particular case, Calvert sold a property less than a year after purchasing it for a 79 percent markup after earmarking almost $10 million for the area. Despite his ethically questionable land deals, the House Republican leadership chose Calvert to replace Rep. Doolittle on the powerful Appropriations Committee. In an attempt to make up for his tarnished reputation, Calvert plans to run all earmarks through the House ethics panel in the future. In addition, Calvert is involved in a community controversy surrounding a parcel of land he and his partners bought without competition. In 2007, a Riverside County grand jury found that the services district violated state law when it sold the land to Calvert and his partners. [Los Angeles Times, 5/15/06; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 2008; Washington Post, 6/22/06; Riverside Press-Enterprise, 5/23/07; Riverside Press-Enterprise, 7/03/07].
Representative Marsha Blackburn, (R-TN-7th): Rep. Marsha Blackburn admitted to federal elections officials in 2008 she had failed to report $286,278 in campaign expenditures over her time in Congress, as well as $102,044 in contributions she had never disclosed. Some of the unreported expenditures were payments to her daughter and her son-in-law. [Salon, 3/5/10].
Representative Jerry Lewis, (R-CA-41st): Rep. Jerry Lewis was investigated by federal agents four years ago as part of the same investigation that led Cunningham to plead guilty to taking bribes. He’s also been investigated for his relationship with a lobbying firm, the clients of which Lewis helped obtain millions of dollars in earmarks. [Salon, 3/5/10; Los Angeles Times, 6/8/06].
Representative Gary Miller, (R-CA-42nd): News reports confirm that the FBI and “federal agents” are investigating Rep. Gary Miller’s possible involvement with attempts to secure federal earmarks to purchase tracts of land Miller owns in California. Miller has denied any wrongdoing. Despite the ethical questions surrounding Miller, House Republicans named him the ranking Member of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations of the Financial Services Committee. [Washington Post, 10/30/09; Associated Press, 8/14/06; Los Angeles Times, 8/13/06; The Hill, 1/31/07; Orange County Register, August 10, 2006; Washington Post, 6/22/06].
Representative Vern Buchanan, (R-FL-13th): Rep. Vern Buchanan has a wide array of serious ethics problems. During his first campaign in 2005, Buchanan received $110,000 over the course of a single week from employees of his numerous car dealerships. Two employees gave sworn affidavits stating that they were asked to donate $1,000 to Buchanan’s campaign with the understanding that they would be reimbursed by the company. At least ten lawsuits have been filed by employees and business partners alleging harassment or fraud. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 2009; Sarasota Herald Tribune, 7/24/08; Roll Call, 6/2/08; Sarasota Herald Tribune, 7/29/08; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/31/06; Huffington Post, 8/19/08 Sarasota Herald Tribune, 10/6/05].
Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY-5th): As ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security, Rep. Harold Rogers was responsible for the $41.1 billion Department of Homeland Security budget. Rogers has a history of steering earmarks to campaign contributors and those who fund his travel. In 2009, it was reported that Rogers steered $30 million in earmarks to companies that donated $48,000 to his political committees. The most egregious case, though, was his earmark of ID cards to a company that paid for 11 trips for Rogers and his wife to Hawaii, Ireland, California, and other locations even though the earmark was opposed by the Bush Administration, the Republican Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and industry leaders. The congressman, who was described as the “prince of pork” by his hometown paper, has repeatedly taken official actions on behalf of the top contributor to his PAC, even sponsoring an earmark for a private parking lot in a resort owned by one of his large donors, and even helped secure a $4 million contract for a company while they hired his son. [New York Times, 5/14/06; McClatchy, 4/19/09; Associated Press, 1/19/05; Lexington Herald Leader; 1/19/05].
Representative Sam Graves, (R-MO-6th): Rep. Sam Graves has been the subject of a new scandal every few months over the past two years. Graves has been the beneficiary a contributor’s plane — and Graves “frequently flies the airplane to events around the district.” Yet, ethics experts have stated the trips are concerning since travel on corporate flights for free is not permitted and because the company in question had business before the House. Graves’ failed to disclose his personal financial stake in an ethanol company while he invited members of the company to testify before a House committee. In 2008, the Missouri State Auditor claimed that Graves was avoiding paying taxes on two of his eight planes by not listing them with the county assessor’s office. [Roll Call, 11/7/07; Roll Call, 12/04/07; Kansas City Star, 12/06/07; Kansas City Star, 10/7/08; Roll Call, 3/9/09].
Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC-10th): Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is a third-term member of Congress, representing North Carolina’s 10th congressional district. McHenry spent the early part of 2007 trying to answer questions about possible voter fraud engaged by a campaign staffer who were registered to vote at McHenry’s home while payroll records showed he lived in Tennessee. McHenry paid $20,000 to the defense fund of the staffer and his spokesman accused the prosecutor of a “three-year smear campaign,” even though the prosecutor had only recently taken office and had even helped host a McHenry fundraiser. [Roll Call, 4/16/08; Shelby Star, 5/11/07; CBS News, 5/11/07; Charlotte Observer, 5/15/07].
Representative Mike Turner (R-OH-3rd): In 2007, Roll Call broke the news that the “largest year-end legal payment – more than $115,000 belonged to Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio who paid the law firm Freund, Freeze & Arnold to “dig up dirt on himself.” That begs the question – what is Mike Turner so afraid of? It seems the research was related to a $1.5 million no-bid contract received by his wife’s marketing company, The Turner Effect. Half of the funding for the contract came from a major donor to Turner’s campaign. The ethical cloud resulted in the naming of Turner in 2008 as a “dishonorable mention” in the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s annual list of the Most Corrupt Members of Congress. [Roll Call, 2/1/07; Dayton Daily News, 2/1/08; Dayton Daily News, 3/1/08; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 2008].
Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA-18th): Rep. Tim Murphy has been the target of an FBI investigation for his misuse of his taxpayer-funded official office for campaign activities. Six former and current Murphy employees came forward in late 2006 to state that they had been coerced into working on campaign activities including door-to-door campaigning, use of the office for campaigns strategy sessions, use of office equipment for campaign work, and preparing a mailing to campaign contributors. Since news of the FBI probe against him broke, Murphy has spent at least $79,000 on legal fees from his campaign account. Murphy was so intent on covering up his abuse of taxpayer money, that he fired one of the whistleblowers in his office, and physically took documents showing misconduct from a reporter asking him questions about the scandal. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/06; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/11/06; KDKA, 12/14/08; CREW Press Release, 5/18/08; FEC].
Representative Nathan Deal, (R-GA-9th): Rep. Nathan Deal is leaving Congress to run for governor of Georgia. But even conservatives have pointed out that he’s also the subject of a House ethics investigation into contracts between a business he owns and the state government. [Salon, 3/5/10; RedState, 3/1/10].
Representative Steve Buyer, (R-IN-4th): Rep. Steve Buyer helped found the Frontier Foundation, Inc in 2003 and was its honorary chairman. Family members, including his daughter and son, make up its board and ran its day-to-day operations. Although Frontier claimed its central purpose is to provide scholarship for Indiana students, in its six years of existence it has not awarded a single scholarship. Even the paltry donations the foundation has made have no relationship to scholarships – largely, they went to a charity run by a drug company lobbyist and the NRA. Instead, Frontier has held fundraisers at golf resorts where representatives from corporations and trade groups with issues before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Rep. Buyer sits, have access to the congressman. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 1/25/10; Fox News, 1/29/10; CBS News, 11/11/09].
Representative Henry Brown (R-SC-1st): In 2004, Rep. Henry Brown started a fire on his property despite an alert that the day’s conditions were particularly hazardous. When the fire skipped onto federal property and burned part of a national forest, Brown refused to pay the fine, demanded the federal regulations be retroactively changed to clear him and made an “implied threat” that he would more closely scrutinize the USDA Forest Service budget. Some four years later, $1,000 in fines were waived without an explanation as to how that agreement was reached and the fine was paid. A whistleblowers report was filed by Forest Service officials who claimed that that Brown and other officials engaged in congressional and ethical violations and possibly bribery and/or extortion. Editorials criticized Brown for the special treatment he received and the apparent “congressional muscle” that was misapplied.”

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