Monday, March 30, 2009

Murtha's Pet Lobbying Firm Is Closing Down-- Arrests To Follow?


Democratic corruption is no more acceptable than Republican corruption

For profit lobbying should be illegal. For profit lobbyists who have bribed elected officials should be harshly dealt with-- and so should the elected officials who have taken their money and done their bidding in return. The Republican Party's 8 year run with Bush in charge gave their leaders, particularly Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt and John Boehner in the House and Rick Santorum and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, an opportunity to systematize a Culture of Corruption. The Democrats aren't as systematic-- but it will only be a matter of time before they're just as corrupt as the Republicans.

Today's NY Times expounds, at great length, on the closing of one of Washington's most egregiously corrupt lobbying firms, PMA. No one has been arrested yet... but that's coming. And it's a fairly Democratic-oriented firm.
And many on Capitol Hill, recalling the scandal that mushroomed around the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are wondering who else will be ensnared in the investigation as prosecutors pore over the financial records and computer files of one of K Street’s most influential lobbyists, known both for the billions of dollars in earmarks he obtained for his clients and for his open hand toward those he sought to influence.

Former PMA staff members familiar with the inquiry say prosecutors’ initial questions have focused on the possibility that Mr. Magliocchetti used straw campaign contributors-- a Florida sommelier and a golf club executive, for example, appear to have given large sums in coordination with PMA-- as a front to funnel illegal donations to friendly lawmakers, a felony that could carry a minimum sentence of five years.

More alarming to lawmakers and aides, however, is that prosecutors may turn their attention to the dinners at the Alpine and Capital Grille or other gifts they might have accepted from Mr. Magliocchetti-- potential violations of longstanding Congressional ethics rules that could lead to more serious bribery charges if linked to official acts.

Years ago we were always writing about how the House defense appropriations subcommittee-- home of some of the most corrupt congressmen anywhere ("Duke" Cunningham, Jerry Lewis, Duncan Hunter are 3 particularly foul examples from southern California)-- was one of the worst founts of corruption anywhere on Capitol Hill. With the GOP out of power, that subcommittee is headed by a Democrat in the same league, Jack Murtha (PA).
Magliocchetti set up shop at the busy intersection between political fund-raising and taxpayer spending, directing tens of millions of dollars in contributions to lawmakers while steering hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked contracts back to his clients... [He] helped pioneer the lucrative specialty of helping contractors lobby for military earmarks, the several billion dollars in pet spending items that members of the panel insert in annual spending bills, often with little oversight.

...Since 1998, for example, employees of the firm and its clients have contributed more than $40 million to lawmakers, including more than $7.8 million to members on the House defense spending panel and $2.4 million to Mr. Murtha, its chairman. The same lawmakers, meanwhile, have helped finance hundreds of pet projects sought by PMA clients, including earmarks for more than $300 million in the military spending bill passed last year alone. And PMA, still owned by Mr. Magliocchetti until its collapse, grew into a K Street powerhouse with more than $15 million a year in lobbying fees.

Time for the Democrats to jettison Murtha, Rangel, Kanjorski, the most outrageously corrupt in their party, before they start making criminal types like Boehner and Cantor look like reformers. Today's Moonie Times ran a hit piece, coordinated with nationwide cable TV attack ads, painting Chris Dodd as having solicited legalized bribes from A.I.G.'s top executives.
The message in the Nov. 17, 2006, e-mail from Joseph Cassano, AIG Financial Products chief executive, was unmistakable: Mr. Dodd was "next in line" to be chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which oversees the insurance industry, and he would "have the opportunity to set the committee's agenda on issues critical to the financial services industry.

"Given his seniority in the Senate, he will also play a key role in the Democratic Majority's leadership," Mr. Cassano wrote in the message, obtained by The Washington Times.

Mr. Dodd's campaign quickly hit pay dirt, collecting more than $160,000 from employees and their spouses at the AIG Financial Products division (AIG-FP) in Wilton, Conn., in the days before he took over as the committee chairman in January 2007. Months later, the senator transferred the donations to jump-start his 2008 presidential bid, which later failed.

The cable TV ads, one of which I saw on CNN when I woke up at around 5AM, are typical Republican Party smear pieces. The ad singles out Dodd and President Obama as politicians who have taken money from AIG. Open Secrets gives a fuller and less partisan picture.
In the last 20 years American International Group (AIG) has contributed more than $9 million to federal candidates and parties through PAC and individual contributions. That's enough to rank AIG on's Heavy Hitters list, which profiles the top 100 contributors of all time.

Over time, AIG hasn't shown an especially partisan streak, splitting evenly the $9.3 million it has contributed since 1989. In the last election cycle, though, 68 percent of contributions associated with the company went to Democrats. Two senators who chair committees charged with overseeing AIG and the insurance industry, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), are among the top recipients of AIG contributions. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and has collected more money from AIG in his congressional career than from any other company--$91,000. And with more than $280,000, AIG has been the fourth largest contributor to Dodd, who chairs the Senate's banking committee. President Obama and his rival in last year's election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), are also high on the list of top recipients.

The only other politician besides Dodd, who is the senator from the state AIG's Financial Services division is located in, to get over $200,000 from the company is none other than George W. Bush. Neither the Moonie story nor the deceptive GOP ads mentions that. Nor do they mention that of the $4,374,225 AIG and its employees have donated to politicians between 1989 and 2008, it was about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans.

Of the current Republican members of Congress the biggest recipients were:

John McCain (R-AZ)- $99,249
John Ensign (R-NV)- $44,569
Richard Shelby (R-AL)- $31,250
Mike Castle (R-DE)- $29,350
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)- $27,750
Arlen Specter (R-PA)- $27,450
Mike Crapo (R-ID)- $24,500
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)- $24,400
Susan Collins (R-ME)- $22,542
Kit Bond (R-MO)- $20,750
Robert Bennett (R-UT)- $17,700
Bob Corker (R-TN)- $15,150
Judd Gregg (R-NH)- $14,500
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)- $13,500
Miss McConnell (R-KY)- $13,200
John Cornyn (R-TX)- $13,000

And this is just a pittance compared to the $2,215,520,643 that the entire finance,/insurance/real estate sector has doled out to federal officials. Take out presidential candidates-- who always get the most money-- and the five current members of Congress who have scooped up the most in just 2008 alone were:

Miss McConnell (R-KY)- $2,387,708
John Cornyn (R-TX)- $2,051,098
Max Baucus (D-MT)- $1,597,925
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)- $1,563,541
Charlie Rangel (D-NY)- $1,364,819

All five, particularly the first 4 have worked hard to deregulate the sector, which is exactly what the companies were bribing them to do. The ad I saw on CNN didn't mention that. And in the House-- where all financial legislation begins-- over time the FIRE sector has showered money on half a dozen top financial powerhouses, each of whom is well known to be a major crook willing to consistently sell out the interests of ordinary American working families on behalf of the special interests who buy their loyalty:

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)- $4,276,926
Spencer Bachus (R-AL)- $3,789,474
Paul Kanjorski (D-PA)- $3,185,464
Eric Cantor (R-VA)- $3,121,188
John Boehner (R-OH)- $3,045,809
Earl Pomeroy (Blue Dog-ND)- $2,810,794

And criminal lobbyists aren't just a federal problem-- not by a long shot. Today's Sacramento Bee ran the first in a series of articles exploring how lobbyists and the companies that employ them press the lever of power. In California the special interests spent over half a billion dollars on lobbying during the current session of the state legislature and it paid off... handsomely.
Makers of chemical fire-retardants poured in more than $9 million to kill a ban on fire-proofing chemicals in furniture that consumer groups say cause cancer.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians used $4.39 million to muscle through a gambling deal to let the tribe add thousands of lucrative new slot machines to its casino.

The oil industry spent more than $10.5 million to influence the Legislature and state agencies. A 2007 industry association report touted that even in a Democratic-controlled Legislature, "of the 52 bills identified as priorities (in 2007), only three that we opposed were approved by the Legislature."

...Top lobbyists and their employers use the millions to amass armies of advocates to build alliances and cultivate relationships to influence their agenda. They buy meals and gifts and treat policymakers to Disneyland or Kings games. They amp up external pressure by blanketing their targets' constituents with mailers and radio ads.

...Legislators and interest groups alike insist the gifts have no impact on lawmaking.
But Don Palmer, a professor who studies ethics and social responsibility, said human nature suggests otherwise.

"Sociologists call it the 'generalized norm or reciprocity,' " said Palmer, associate dean at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. "We all learned it in kindergarten: When someone is nice to you or generous to you, then you feel obligated to be nice to them."

I wonder if there's some kind of norm that would govern the behavior of a whole industry of criminal types if, say, the 10 biggest givers and the 10 biggest receivers were all on TV, blind-folded and offered a last cigarette before being shot by a firing squad (after a fair trial, of course). On the other hand, there may be a less bloody way to handle this.

Illinois' State Treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, who plans to run for the Senate seat currently held by Roland Burris, made a smart announcement today:
The election of Barack Obama signaled that [the] age of skewed policies is coming to an end. The change Americans voted for in the 2008 election was a call to take back our government from those few, narrow interests that dominated Washington for far too long.

Today, in that spirit, I am taking a step that no major Illinois candidate from either party has ever taken in a run for the U.S. Senate. It is a decision that advances us one step closer to that change that we all fought for and believed in last November. I will simply say "NO" to contributions from all federal lobbyists and corporate PACs.

These special interests do not represent the interests of most Americans, and they should not be allowed to buy a seat at the table when it comes to deciding critical issues or determining the direction of our nation, especially in the midst of our current financial crisis.

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