Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who Is Silvestre Reyes?


Tuesday night a conservative old Democrat, Tim Holden-- despite having all the support the Establishment could give-- lost his congressional seat to an outspoken progressive champion, Matt Cartwright. Silvestre Reyes might not be "as bad" as Holden, at least inasmuch as he never joined the Blue Dogs, but he's plenty bad enough so that Blue America is supporting his progressive opponent for the El Paso congressional seat, Beto O'Rourke. But just who is Silvestre Reyes? There's a lot more to him than just some guy born in 1944 who worked for the border Patrol and was elected to Congress in 1996.

He's the senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He's been a wink-and-a-nod kind of guy on torture, which has brought him to the attention of many groups and individuals who take civil liberties seriously. And in 2008 he was the chief sponsor of FISA, which allows for unconstitutional spying on American citizens inside the country. His bill protects telecomm companies from privacy lawsuits in domestic spying cases as long as the president claims the spying is legal. The reasoning is, to say the least, faulty. But no one ever claimed Reyes was a Brainiac. In fact Reyes was roundly criticized after a 2006 interview in which he claimed al-Qaeda was a "Predominantly-probable Shiite" organization when even school children know it's exclusively Sunni. For many, that was an inexcusable mistake for the head of the intelligence committee to make.

But if civil liberties issues are what make progressives nationally mistrustful of Reyes, it is the old corruption issues that so many long-time congressional incumbents fall into that has him in trouble back in El Paso. In 2004, the inspector general of the General Services Administration investigated problems with the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS), a $239 million network of hundreds of cameras and 12,000 sensors installed along the Mexican and Canadian borders since 1996 that Reyes had championed.

Aside from major problems involving defective equipment, poor installation, cut corners, tens of millions of dollars potentially wasted, and lax oversight of the contractor, International Microwave Corp. (IMC, which had its Texas registered office out of Reyes home!), the investigation focused on IMC’s employment of Reyes’ daughter, Rebecca.

An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employee named Walter Drabik had recommended that the first contractor on the project hire Rebecca as liaison to the INS and then that the succeeding contractor, IMC, do the same, which both did. Ultimately she became IMC’s vice president of contracts and ran the ISIS program. IMC hired Reyes’ son Silvestre Jr. as an ISIS technician for several years. It also hired his other daughter, Monica. Reyes claimed he never interceded to get his children hired.

When Congress threatened to eliminate the program in 2000, IMC appealed to Reyes and other allies in Congress. Soon afterwards, IMC was awarded a no-bid contract expansion worth $200 million. IMC began contributing to Reyes’ campaigns that year and continued through late 2002 for a total of $4,500.

In 2003, L-3 Communications bought IMC, retained both Reyes children as employees, and continued servicing the ISIS program. That year, L-3 began contributing to Rep. Reyes’ campaigns, which it has done every year since for a total of $32,500.

Much like the worst Republican Military Industrial Complex hack, Buck McKeon, Reyes takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from armaments makers and war contractors. In fact, that's where he gets most of his campaign cash-- at least $723,795 since 1996 (most of it, like almost $700,000, from industry PACs). He's also beloved by the sleaziest lobbyists in Washington, who shower him with cash. He took over $45,000 from a corrupt lobbying firm that was shut down for illegally bribing Members of Congress (like himself). From 2006 to 2008, Reyes took $28,800 from the PMA Group via its employees and PAC. Reyes’ PAC, Best PAC, accepted an additional $17,000 from PMA, all but $1,000 of it on the same day. The PMA Group is a defunct lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in 2008 over allegations of numerous types of illegal financial activity in connection with John Murtha (D-PA) and for illegally funneling money to members of Congress. The firm was shut down the following year. In September 2011, PMA’s founder Paul Magliocchetti pleaded guilty in federal court to funneling more than $386,000 in campaign contributions to lawmakers, including appropriators, over nearly six years by reimbursing his friends, family members, and colleagues for making those contributions He's currently serving 27-month prison sentence for running the scheme. In March 2007, Reyes’ brother Chuy set up Reyes’ PAC, Best PAC. “By the first week of June, the PAC had raised $35,000 from 32 individuals, almost every one of whom was an employee of the PMA Group or an employee of a defense or intelligence technology firm represented by PMA. Most of the donations were made on May 7, four days before the Intelligence panel approved the 2008 intelligence authorization bill, which included earmarks for several donors to the PAC.”

Most of the other individuals and companies who had contributed to Best PAC by that point were affiliated with the lobbying firm Potomac Advocates (a.k.a. PRASAM), which specialized in defense and intelligence matters.

Most of the donors to the PAC were also longtime supporters of Murtha, Alan Mollohan (D-WV), and Peter Visclosky (D-IN). Together with Reyes, the men provided Best PAC donors with 12 earmarks worth $30 million in the House-passed Defense appropriations bill.

For example, Reyes requested and won inclusion of an $800,000 earmark for El Paso-based Romanyk Consulting to “develop a program to help secure laboratories working with biological agents.” Andrew Nicholas Romanyk had contributed $4,000 to Reyes’ campaign from September 2006 to March 2007 and contributed $1,000 to Best PAC on June 1, 2007. He also requested and won inclusion of $2 million in earmarks for Raytheon and Trex Enterprises, two PRASAM clients. Raytheon had given $5,000 to Best PAC on May 1, 2007 and had given $2,000 to Reyes’ campaign in January 2007.

Keith Ashdown, the chief investigator for watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said at the time that the PAC “looks like it was solely set up to funnel money to Democratic interests in exchange for earmarks.”

And Reyes has been running the same corrupt scams with the Telecoms-- sponsoring bills for them in return for payoffs and bribes. When he was named chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in December 2006, he said he was going to confront the Bush administration on its warrantless wiretapping program. Instead, in June 2008, he sponsored a bill to give telecom companies retroactive immunity for illegally allowing the Bush administration to spy on American citizens without warrants. The bill ensured that pending lawsuits against telecommunications companies would be dismissed, which would shield them from future lawsuits, and which granted the government sweeping wiretapping authority with little oversight. Reyes voted for his hideous bill with all but one Republican and with a minority of Democrats. Verizon and AT&T showered members of Congress with contributions in 2007 and 2008 as the Bush regime pushed Congress to grant telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for letting the National Security Agency illegally
eavesdrop on Americans and mine their communications records. In 2007 and 2008, Reyes accepted $4,000 from Verizon and has taken $20,500 from them in his career. He took $10,000 from AT&T in those two years and has taken $20,000 lifetime. In May 2011, Reyes broke with the majority Democrats and voted for a four-year extension of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act regarding government surveillance. Extended would be the government’s authority to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by terrorists; the requirement that banks, telecommunications companies, and libraries yield up to the government any information about a customer that it wants without informing the customer; and the government’s authority to track terrorists acting independently of any foreign power or organization.

And Reyes takes bribes from financial predators galore-- $538,451 as of March 30. And he works hard for the money. In September 2000, he voted for the Archer (R-TX) motion to suspend the rules and pass HR 4986. The bill exempted from federal taxes most income earned abroad and repealed portions of PL 98-369 that created foreign sales corporations (FSCs) at a cost of approximately $1.5 billion over five years. The bill would treat all foreign sales alike as long as 50 percent of the content of the goods sold was produced in the U.S. Additionally, current FSCs would be abolished on Sept. 30 and certain products, including oil, gas and unprocessed softwood timber, would not receive the benefit. The measure passed 315-109. The year before that Reyes voted for HR 833, a bankruptcy bill which revised bankruptcy laws to require individuals to file for relief under Chapter 13, rather than Chapter 7, which is more forgiving. Every Republican but one voted for it and most Democrats voted against it. Corrupt conservative Democrats-- like Hoyer, Holden, Crowley, Velázquez, Blagojevich and Reyes-- voted with the GOP. Two years, four years and five years later he did it again, voting for the notorious bills that targeted consumers on behalf of credit card companies. The worst of these was Bush's bankruptcy bill 2005 which every Republican supported and all the corrupt conservative Democrats went along with. Again, all the corporate whores and the worst Democrats, like Hoyer, Holden, Israel, Crowley, Bean, Ed Case, voted with the banks against consumers and against progressives like Grijalva, Conyers, Nadler, Baldwin, Pelosi, and Frank. Reyes, of course, sided with the corrupt conservatives. The banking, credit card and retail industries, widely credited with writing the 2005 bankruptcy bill, lobbied for it for eight years and gave $56 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress in the 2004 elections. Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Programs Director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said of the 2005 bankruptcy bill that, “By making it harder for consumers to wipe away abusive loans in bankruptcy, this bill rewards the bottom feeders in the lending industry. These are the firms bombarding college students with high interest credit card offers, or peddling predatory mortgage loans to older Americans, or marketing payday loans at triple digit interest rates to cash strapped members of the military.”

And of course, Reyes voted for the bankster bailout both times it came up in 2008 and in 2009 he voted to not allow mortgages to be modified by judges in bankruptcies. All that, while missing over 800 roll call votes, one of the worst records in Congress and only getting 2 substantive bills passed in his entire career, both dreadful (an Intelligence bill and FISA). But Lockhead Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Boeing and Raytheon-- war armaments industries-- fully embrace him and keep financing his career. There's an alternative, Beto O'Rourke:

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