Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why Is The House Ethics Committee Taking So Long On Buck McKeon?


Buck & Schmuck

The House Ethics Committee is investigating Buck McKeon for taking bribes from Countrywide, a major player-- like in a really bad player-- in the subprime mortgage meltdown. McKeon was a "Friend Of Angelo." These days McKeon is still scamming and raking in bribes, but he's moved on from the housing industry and the for-profit student loan industry to put most of his focus on reaping immense amounts of cash from the war industries. He's now the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee and he's on the record taking more bribes from armaments companies and war contractors than anyone else in Congress-- more than Boehner and Cantor... more even than any senator! But McKeon has his paws out all the time-- and everywhere and it's just coming to light that he's also taking bribes from local entertainment corporation, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA), owned by the Starwood Capital Group. I wonder when law enforcement gets serious about his serial record of criminal behavior.

Right before he introduced legislation tailored specifically to serve MMSA, McKeon solicited and received donations-- bribes-- from executives of the company. That's illegal. He also violated FEC rules by failing to disclose very valuable in-kind contributions from Rusty Gregory, CEO of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

Like every other Member of Congress McKeon is prohibited from accepting corporate donations for his campaign, either directly or in kind. Thus, he could not host a fundraiser at MMSA without either paying for the gifts, food and beverage given to donors, or in lieu of payment he would have to declare this as an in kind donation from Mr. Gregory. Gregory and his wife both made a maximum contribution to McKeon on March 30, 2011. In kind donations are included in the federal maximum ($2,500 per person, per election) and if Gregory donated gifts, food and beverages to the campaign for the fundraiser, it must be declared and subtracted from his allowed donation.

MMSA executives have given McKeon at least $17,600 since 2004. On March 4th last year McKeon held a fundraiser at MMSA, hosted by Gregory. The invitation and donation form were (and continue to be) hosted on MMSA’s corporate website, a violation of FEC rules for using corporate resources for campaign fundraising. Campaign donors were given lift tickets, ski coaching, lunch, and dinner. Based on pricing found on their website, lift tickets are worth $69 and coaching $99 per hour. MMSA banquet pricing for lunch is $17 - $33 and dinner $38 - $55 plus dessert $9, and drinks additional. Total value of the package was approximately $265 per person. The Buck McKeon for Congress financial report for Q1 2011 fails to show expenditures for the event paid for by Buck McKeon for Congress to MMSA or in kind donations from MMSA or affiliated persons. McKeon seems to have quite the penchant for this kind of shady behavior.

In return for all this kindness, McKeon introduced HR 2157. Here, in part, is what MMSA wrote for him to parrot on the floor of Congress (and in the Congressional Record):
"Mr. Speaker, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is located in the northern half of my district, in the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth provides between ten and thirty percent of the total employment in Mono County and is a premier recreation destination for tourists all throughout California and the U.S. Each winter, Mammoth sees an average of 1.3 million visitors. These visitors pump vital money into the local economy by populating hotels, restaurants, and stores throughout the region. Tourism is the life-blood of the Eastern Sierra.

"Mammoth has operated on a Special Use Permit from the U.S. Forest Service since 1953. The base area of the mountain is aging rapidly and is in need of renovation and redevelopment in order to provide a safer, more enjoyable experience for visitors to Mammoth Mountain. However, these renovations are difficult to achieve under the terms of the Special Use Permit.

"Since 1998, Mammoth Mountain has been working with the Forest Service to complete a land exchange between their main base parcel and other desired Forest Service acquisitions. These acquisitions include high resource value lands in the Inyo, El Dorado, Stanislaus, and Plumas National Forests. The exchange would allow the main base to undergo significant and needed renovations.

"My legislation is meant to supplement and codify this agreement. It is needed for two reasons:

1) Two parcels that the Forest Service wants are outside Inyo National Forest boundaries. Both parcels are currently leased by the Inyo National Forest from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

2) There is more value in the Mammoth Mountain parcel than all the land parcels exchanged in total, so Mammoth needs legislation for permission to pay a cash equalization to the federal government that will be used for future forest acquisition.

"The agreement is widely supported by the local community because residents, business owners, and local governments understand the great value of having Mammoth Mountain in their community. Besides jobs and recreation, Mammoth supports a significant portion of the tax base, providing needed revenue throughout the region...

"Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving my bill time on the floor. Mammoth Mountain has been a good steward of the environment, a solid partner in economic vitality for the region, and an honest party in negotiations with the Forest Service. This land exchange will be mutually beneficial for all parties involved and I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 2157.

But mostly beneficial to Congressman Buck McKeon who is using taxpayer assets as a bargaining chip to get illegal corporate donations and lots and lots of quasi legal bribes from MMSA executives. Yesterday Santa Clarita's most important radio station, KHTS, reported on the latest McKeon scandal. And they reiterated that McKeon "is prohibited from hosting a fundraiser at Mammoth Mountain without paying out of his own pocket for the ski lift tickets, ski lessons, food and beverages. If the Gregorys donated those items they would need to account for that and have that amount subtracted from their maximum donations."
“Certainly to take a gift from a corporation is illegal. To not disclose contributions on your finance report is against FEC rules. By taking a gift from a corporation is blatantly illegal,” said Rogers.

Rogers says tracing the amount of money McKeon raised during the “Day on the Mountain” support event will be difficult because payments could have been made on different days. To make things transparent, McKeon would need to divulge the amount he made himself.

Santa Clarita Valley voters who’ve become cynical over campaign contributions, will at least wonder why McKeon has not introduced legislation to stop the CEMEX mega mine with a land swap.

Following McKeon’s announcement of the Mammoth Mountain deal, even one local Republican Scott Wilk, who is running for the 38th Assembly District, joined Rogers in a press conference to denounce McKeon’s lack of progress on CEMEX. (KHTS coverage of that story can be found by clicking here.)

Haueter attended that press conference and said that neither Wilk nor Rogers understood the differences between CEMEX and the Mammoth Mountain land swap. Haueter says CEMEX would be considered by the House of Representatives as a bill with earmarks and could not advance.

Rogers isn’t buying that argument saying McKeon puts pork and earmarks in his Defense Authorization Act. So why not earmarks for Santa Clarita?

“He does this land exchange to benefit a private corporation and he says that’s not an earmark, and that’s currently in the district, and that’s my definition of what an earmark would be. But he’s not willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for CEMEX,” said Rogers.

Perhaps McKeon disagrees with Rogers’ assessment of the Mammoth Mountain arrangement, but he seems to be unwilling to confront him in person. McKeon failed to attend an April 30th candidates forum hosted by SCVTV, KHTS AM 1220 and The Signal newspaper.

Haueter told KHTS McKeon was unavailable that day and asked to reschedule. Tami Edwards who made the arrangements for SCVTV disputes Haueter’s claim of requesting a date change.

The Palmdale Chamber of Commerce who is holding a candidates forum May 16th said McKeon would not be attending. Rogers says he knows why McKeon is ducking him.

“I don’t think he wants to really answer for the type of things he’s been doing since he’s been in Congress. I think that he’s under the influence of a lot of industries. He may not want to answer to them directly in any type of forum,” said Rogers.

Rogers says he understands a Congressman has a busy schedule and has offered the McKeon campaign any date and time to debate.

“I think it’s a legitimate reason to work around his schedule and that’s why I’ve offered to work around his schedule. I think he is doing an awful lot of work and that’s why I’ve made myself available any time,” said Rogers.

Apparently, McKeon could not make time for Rogers tomorrow because he is holding another fundraiser, this time at the Agua Dulce Winery from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., in Agua Dulce. The admission is free, and so is the food, wine tasting and children’s craft fair.

McKeon’s guest of honor will be Congressman Allen West from Florida’s 22nd District. Perhaps West provides the Tea Party bona fides needed for McKeon to attract a certain electorate, but a curious choice for the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee to select a “Congressman and American Patriot” who narrowly missed facing a court-martial for violating two articles under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Local news blogs have anticipated protests from Libertarians and Democrats at the event.

Rogers thought it was ironic that the fundraiser will be held at a winery near where the dust from the CEMEX mega mine would be settling over the vines. But as fundraisers go the number one mission is to follow the money.

In this case, the grapes of math.

Blue America has endorsed Lee Rogers in another race against an especially bad and especially vulnerable Republican that is being ignored by the DCCC. I suppose if Rogers were a slimy, corrupt Blue Dog the DCCC would have him on their Red-to-Blue program and Steve Israel would be raising money for him. But he isn't slimy, he isn't corrupt and he sure isn't a Blue Dog-- and Israel is not raising money for him and the DCCC seems uninterested. Lee Rogers is an earnest progressive surgeon who wants to do the right thing for his neighbors. If you'd like to help, you can do it here on the Blue America ActBlue page. Or, if you're in the area, come out to meet McKeon and Allen West this afternoon at the winery. I'll be there too. Lucky I got a scan of the page from the KHTS website. As soon as McKeon saw it, he freaked out and called the owner and had it taken down. Now's it's preserved... for the historical record:

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