SACRAMENTO BEE STOPS SHORT-- JUST SHORT-- OF ASKING IF ANYONE IN CONGRESS IS MORE CORRUPT THAN JOHN DOOLITTLE. (NO ONE IS.)
Yesterday the Sacramento Bee, the most widely read newspaper in California's 4th Congressional District, ran a scathing editorial about the massive and blatant corruption of one of the most crooked congressmen in the history of the United States, John Doolittle. Although Doolittle hasn't been indicted yet, it is widely believed that he is involved in at least half a dozen serious bribery cases, at least one of which jeopardized national security. There is no reason to suppose that John Doolittle won't be spending the rest of his miserable life behind bars.
And, if what the SACRAMENTO BEE is reporting is true, Doolittle's wife may also soon be looking at significant prison time. In January, 2001, after Doolittle wrangled himself a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee, the fount of bribery-beyond-belief (just ask Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Jerry Lewis, Virgil Goode, Jr., Katherine Harris...), the Doolittles suddenly entered the world of the rich and... criminal.
On March 22, 2001, the congressman's wife set up a business-- Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions in Virginia. By November 2002, Julie Doolittle's firm was receiving consulting fees and by September 2003 she began receiving a 15 percent commission for contributions to her husband's political action committee, the Superior California Federal Leadership Fund. That means since 2002, the Doolittle household has received a personal cut on money from his political fundraising.
With this scheme the Doolittles have hopelessly blurred the distinction between campaign money and personal money. This arrangement raises obvious questions that Doolittle must answer for his constituents. How is his wife's taking a 15 percent cut of political contributions any different from the congressman himself saying he will take a 15 percent cut? How is this different from donors, instead of writing out a $1,000 check to the campaign, writing out two checks - an $850 check to the campaign and a $150 check to the Doolittles?
No matter how you look at it, the Doolittle arrangement steers a cut of political campaign funds to their household income.
It's a lot of money. Doolittle's leadership PAC attracted nearly $500,000 in contributions in the 2004 election cycle. Julie Doolittle's 15 percent commission for her company, according to Federal Election Commission records, was $68,630. In the current 2006 election cycle, the leadership PAC is drawing more money. We're only in March and the PAC already has $502,832 in contributions. At the 15 percent commission rate, Julie Doolittle's company will get tens of thousands of dollars.
The congressman expanded the deal last summer. Beginning in June 2005, Julie Doolittle's Sierra company began to receive a 15 percent commission for contributions to her husband's re-election committee, the John T. Doolittle for Congress Committee. That is potentially a lot more money for the Doolittle household. The re-election committee has always received more contributions than the leadership PAC. In the 2004 election cycle, for example, that committee brought in more than $900,000 in contributions. A 15 percent commission would be $135,000.
In April last year, the Associated Press identified about 50 House members who hire their spouses or children to work for their campaigns, paying them with contributions they've collected from donors. The vast majority of family members, however, work on campaigns as volunteers.
"A family member drawing a campaign salary is nearly always controversial-- it just doesn't look good. Campaign funds aren't supposed to be used for personal use or to enrich the candidate," says Massie Ritsch, communications director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Press accounts to date have found that only Doolittle and Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., pay family members on commission out of their campaign funds. Sweeney's wife earns a 10 percent commission.
The ethics code of the Association of Fundraising Professionals forbids members who work for nonprofit charities from accepting commission-based pay; they may accept flat fees or salaries for fundraising. Political campaigns aren't charities, nor are they for-profit enterprises.
In any case, the reasons for the AFP's code are worth noting. A commission based on a percentage of contributions "can produce reward without merit." Lots of contributions arrive unsolicited. Some are raised by many people, including volunteers. Yet the "fundraiser" gets the commission. Commissions, in the AFP's view, break a trust with donors who have certain expectations that their contributions support the mission of the organization, not private, personal gain. These things are true for political campaigns, too.
The AFP notes that the trend in political fundraising is away from commission-based compensation; the preferred form of payment is a straight fee. Ritsch at the Center for Responsive Politics corroborates that. Even if Doolittle and Sweeney weren't married to their fundraisers, the commission arrangement would be unusual. Political fundraisers, he said, "don't consider commission-based fees to be 'best practice.' "
Doolittle was asked about his wife's commission last month in an interview with The Bee. "If she isn't raising money, she isn't making anything herself," Doolittle said. "Some people just don't like, you know, the family being involved in this. But the problem is the family is the one that has the most direct vested interest of all in being honest about things and ensuring your success."
We don't pretend to know whether the Doolittle arrangement is legal. It certainly strikes us as outrageous. If it is not illegal, it should be. Members of Congress, their spouses and children should not benefit financially from money given to their campaigns. Doolittle is right about one thing: Some people don't like the family being involved in this.
Doolittle's secret DC world of bribery and corruption is emblematic of Republican rule in our nation's disgraced capital. Doolittle ranks with Tom DeLay, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Bob Ney, Katherine Harris and Conrad Burns when it comes to being a linchpin in the GOP Culture of Corruption. He has had a hand in virtually every single pie and is a close associate of all the big name crooks you always read about in the papers, particularly Jack Abramoff, Brent Wilkes and Michell Wade, all three of whom have reportedly agreed to testify against him and are currently assisting law enforcement agencies in putting together at leats 2 watertight cases against him.
At the same time, Doolittle has completely lost touch with the All-American hometown values of the 4th CD, even going so far as to mock people who eat in fast food restaurants. At home Doolittle preaches against vice like gambling; in DC, he's serving the interests of Jack Abramoff's big money interests, wheeling and dealing for Indian casinos while raking in massive bribes from every direction. In northern California Doolittle is the friend all big-spending developers and he is the high priest of unfettered, unplanned, unregulated willy-nilly development. And the boss of a political machine with its fingers around the windwipe of everything that goes on in Placer County.
Grassroots Democrats, independents and even disgruntled Republicans all seem to be coalescing around the reformist candidacy of "Fighting Dem," Charlie Brown. The district is almost an electoral dumping ground for GOP-leaning areas all over northern California so it isn't a natural thing to expect a Democrat to win. But then, John Doolittle isn't a natural thing either.