Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Are House Republican Freshmen Cleaning Up The Mess-- Or Embracing The Corruption?


When House Minority Leader John Boehner came up against Arizona anti-earmark fanatic Jeff Flake, he booted him off the Judiciary Committee (see video at the bottom of this post). Boehner didn't like Flake reminding Congress that Republican lobbyist supreme, Jack Abramoff, "referred to the Appropriations Committee as an earmark favor factory" nor did he appreciate that Randy Duke Cunningham was just the tip of the earmark/bribery scandal that plagues the House Republicans. Today Boehner's happy to allow Flake onto the Appropriations Committee although many Members see Boehner's move not just as something that was forced on him, but as a cynical exercise in naming a corrupt old-time earmark crook-- either Jerry Lewis or Hal Rogers-- to the committee chair. [UPDATE: In a major slap to teabaggers, Hal "Prince of Pork" Rogers was anointed the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee as Boehner and Cantor whistled a couple bars of "Let the Good Times Roll," gently, behind the curtain.]

Jerry Lewis??? Hal Rogers??? These are two of the worst and most corrupt earmarkers in the history of the Congress. If Rove hadn't gotten rid of two U.S. Attorneys Lewis would be rotting in prison next to his junior partner Duke Cunningham now. Surely the newly-elected freshmen propelled into office by Tea Party populism wouldn't let this happen, right? No, wrong. They've only been in DC for a matter of days and the teabaggy freshmen are seeing things in a new (old) light. They're embracing lobbyists and corruption like starving kids in a candy store.
After Francisco "Quico" Canseco beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.) as part of the Republican wave on Nov. 2, the tea party favorite declared: "It's going to be a new day in Washington."

Two weeks later, Canseco was in the heart of Washington for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club. The event--hosted by Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)--was aimed at paying off more than $1.1 million in campaign debts racked up by Canseco, much of it from his own pocket.

After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital's culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.

..."The lobbyists are all saying, 'Welcome to Washington; let me help pay off your debt,'" said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. "It's particularly interesting when so many of this year's freshmen were running against Washington. But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand."

...Incoming GOP lawmakers have held more than a dozen "debt retirement" fundraisers over the past month, according to a partial tally by the Sunlight Foundation. Examples include incoming representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who held a debt-retirement dinner at Carmine's Restaurant last Wednesday night; required donations were $2,500 for guests and $5,000 for sponsors, according to an invitation.

Spokesmen for Walberg and many other newly elected lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment about their post-election fundraising.

Rep.-elect Bill Flores (R-Tex.), a retired energy executive who held a debt-retirement reception Nov. 17, received post-election contributions from political-action committees for, among others, Deloitte, ExxonMobil and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Flores, who ousted Democratic veteran Chet Edwards, also forgave himself more than $600,000 in personal loans, FEC records show.

The financial advisors group also gave $2,500 each to more than a dozen other incoming legislators including Rep.-elect Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), who held a Nov. 18 fundraiser, records show. Benishek took in last-minute donations from Johnson Controls, Delta Airlines and the K&L Gates lobbying firm, records show.

Benishek is a surgeon and abortion opponent who won the seat being vacated by centrist Democrat Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). He campaigned against "ungodly spending" in Washington and pledged not to seek earmarks, which designate federal funds for local projects.

Andrew Theodore, an Alexandria, Va., consultant who raises money for Benishek and nine other GOP freshmen, said the need to pay off debt is particularly acute this year. "This is the biggest freshman class we've had in a while, and as a result you just see more debt out there," he said.

Theodore also scoffed at the idea that accepting money from corporate PACs and lobbyists is at odds with the anti-Washington message of the 2010 class.

"These guys ran against Washington, but they ran against the bad parts of Washington--the bloated bureaucracy and Nancy Pelosi's agenda," he said. "That's not a contradiction to take money from a trade group or corporation that represents free-enterprise principles."

One trade group active since the midterms is the Dealers Election Action Committee, the PAC arm of the National Automotive Dealers Association. The group has made donations to at least a half dozen incoming freshmen over the past month, including Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio.), FEC records show.

Incoming House member Robert Hurt, who railed against "union and special interest money" during his campaign against Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), received contributions for debt retirement from Rolls-Royce, Verizon Communications, Yum Brands Inc. and others. Overall, Hurt received more than $600,000 from PACs in 2010, according to the FEC.

Rather than castigating career criminals like Lewis and Rogers you can expect cynical, already corrupted freshmen like Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Jim Renacci (R-OH), Robert Hurt (R-VA), Quico Canseco (R-TX), Tom Walberg (R-MI) and Dan Benishek (R-MI), just to name a few who are already nurturing lucrative financial relations with earmark-hungry lobbyists-- but only Republican lobbyists of course-- to be asking the likes of Lewis and Rogers how to make Congress a profitable experience for them. And Jeff Flake, who would be the Appropriations Committee Chair if Boehner and the GOP were serious about cleaning up the corruption-- can just pull out his hair again.

A Fox News investigation-- the whole thing is worth watching but be sure to watch the section, at 32:00-- about Boehner firing Jeff Flake from the House Judiciary Committee for being being too aggressive fighting congressional corruption.

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