Thursday, June 30, 2005

MTBE...It's Baaaaaaaaaaaaack

Remember how cozy Tom DeLay is with manufacturers of MTBE, the gasoline additive that has polluted groundwater throughout the nation? DeLay was one of the lead supporters of a provision in the House Energy bill approved last April that protects these manufacturers from lawsuits filed by communities with drinking water fouled by this poisonous chemical.

On Tuesday the Senate has passed its version of the energy legislation without the MTBE provision.

Now it's up to a House-Senate conference committee to come up with a final bill. DeLay's championship of these polluters' cause could hold the whole bill up, editorializes the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Stay tuned.

Playing Politics with Ethics: Lots to Report

"The House ethics committee is back in business," according to The Hill today.

It was reported that Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Alan Mollahan (D-W.Va.) have reached an agreement over staffing the committee, an impasse that has rendered the committee useless for several months.

No details of the "deal" were made available, but Mollahan predicted the committee will be fully staffed in three weeks and operational when Congress returns from its August recess after Labor Day. Once the committee is "functional" again, they are expected to launch an investigation of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

We use the term "functional" loosely here. It has become apparent from the rules changes, custom-made committee appointments, and lack of activity that the ethics committee has become a largely toothless entity and is not capable of effectively investigating DeLay.

Speaker Dennis Hastert must appoint an outside counsel to restore Americans' confidence in the House of Representatives.

In other news...

In a blatant attempt to save face, Chair of the House Administration Committee Bob Ney (R-OH) sent a letter to the House clerk, instructing that he only accept electronically filed lobbying reports starting in 2006.

Ney explained to colleagues that the "unprecedented move" would decrease staff time spent processing paperwork and would make the House more accountable and transparent to the public, The Hill reported today.

Ney, who has been tied to scandals involving Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, said that 10% of lobbying disclosures were filed electronically last year.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said the move does not “resolve or absolve the pay-to-play process” that goes on in inside Congress. “Overall it is a good step, but by no means does it finish the journey.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

CREW Calls for Citizen-Filed Ethics Complaints

In the wake of the scandals surrounding Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and Bob Ney (R-OH), Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) has called for an independent investigation into the House Ethics Committee, which has failed to act in any of these cases.

"Cunningham's conduct is serious enough that the FBI has allegedly opened an investigation," Sloan said in The San Diego Union-Tribune. "It is too bad that conduct as egregious as that of Cunningham and Ney is likely to go unexamined by the ethics committee solely because no member has the courage to file an ethics complaint against either man. It is for exactly this reason that outside ethics watchdog groups like mine ought to be able to file complaints themselves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Four Watchdog Groups, Constituents Call on Hastert to Appoint Outside Counsel

Public Campaign today partnered with Common Cause, Public Citizen, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and two dozen of Rep. Hastert's constituents in calling on the Speaker of the House to appoint an outside counsel to investigate the House lobbying scandals surrounding Reps. DeLay, Cunningham, Ney and others.

You can read the full letter that was faxed to Hastert here.

You might recall that a few weeks ago, we sent letters to House Ethics Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Alan Mollahan (D-W. Va.) asking them to restore public confidence in the House of Representatives by appointing an outside counsel to investigate the scandals involving Jack Abramoff and Republic Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Not surprisingly, neither Hastings nor Mollahan responded to their constituents or us, so we decided to make an appeal to their boss.

Apparently, word of the letter got to Hastert before the letter itself did. You can read their pre-emptive response in David's blog below.

The letter coincided with the launch of drive time radio ads that Common Cause is running in Hastert's district. You can listen to the ad here.

And as the American public's faith in Congress sinks to levels not seen since the House Banking Scandals of 1994, how does the Republican Majority respond? By attempting to pass the "Make Congress More Corrupt" bill which would give even greater power to super-wealthy donors. The Pence-Wynn bill has already passed out of Rep. Ney's committee and will probably come to a vote before July 4th. Click here to demand that your Congressperson oppose this destructive legislation. So far, nearly 8,000 people have contacted their representatives to voice their disgust at these attempts to further remove regular people from the Democratic process.

Statement by Nick Nyhart, Executive Director, Public Campaign, Calling On Speaker Hastert to Appoint an Outside counsel

Let me put this in a way that former wrestling coach and current Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will understand: On top of everything else that has happened, with the news that the House Ethics Committee chair, Doc Hastings failed to disclose travel paid for by a corporation whose employees were his top source of campaign money, it’s clear that the ethics committee has about as much credibility these days as the recent “Wrestlemania 21 Goes to Hollywood.”

In a word, it has none.

In a national survey last month, just 23% of Americans felt that Congress sees the nation’s problems the same way as they do. Congress’s approval rating has sunk to the same historic levels we saw back in 1993 during the House banking scandal.

That’s because we have another widespread scandal on our hands today – the House lobbying scandal, in which wealthy individuals and corporate interests curry favor with members of Congress with donations and free luxury golfing trips.

Unfortunately, the Speaker is keeping his head in the sand and pretending the House lobbying scandal doesn’t exist. Just yesterday, in advance of actually receiving our letter the Speaker’s spokesperson said they’d leave resolution of this matter to the chairman of the Ethics Committee.

We’d say to the Speaker that the Chairman of the Ethics Committee is on shaky ground as an ethics leader. Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington State failed to disclose that, last year, Washington Group International, his top source of campaign cash last election cycle, paid for a $3,170 trip to Stuart Island, British Columbia. Hastings supported the corporation in its efforts to land a lucrative government contract at the Hanford nuclear waste site in his district and the company’s PAC and its employees gave him $10,200.

On top of that, Chairman Hastings, along with every other Republican on the committee, has received campaign contributions from Tom DeLay’s ARMPAC. In fact, two members of the committee have already recused themselves because they contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund. If giving to support a defendant’s legal defense disqualifies you, doesn’t receiving money from the defendant?

We are focused on an outside counsel for DeLay today, but the catalogue of money-in-politics scandals embroiling Congress is long and the storyline is the sadly similar. Wealthy interests and lobbyists give campaign contributions and personal favors including golf trips, lodging on yachts, and overseas travel to member of Congress. Member of Congress rewards donors and lobbyists with legislative favors and access to the inside track on government contract. And they do it without fear or worry of getting caught because the Ethics Committee is effectively shut down. After they get it running, it’ll be stacked in favor of powerful House leaders. And Americans will only see Congress going on with business as usual.

And this, on the eve of the Fourth of July.

It’s a sad statement about the current state of our democracy and Speaker Hastert ought to be ashamed.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Already they respond. Before getting the letter.

So, Public Campaign and allies are faxing a letter to Hastert tomorrow calling on him to step in, get the Ethics Committee back on track, and encourage the appointment of an outside counsel to investigate Tom DeLay. Here's a blurb from Congress PM today:

Ethics. A coalition of four advocacy groups is launching a multipronged campaign targeting House Speaker Hastert in the latest turn in the ongoing ethics impasse in the House. ... The groups will also call on Hastert to see that there is an independent counsel appointed for an anticipated investigation into Majority Leader DeLay and his travel overseas with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

O.K. Here's the quick trigger response from Hastert's office, before they even get the letter:

"The speaker believes that this is up to the chairman and ranking member to figure out and that outside groups should not try to influence the actions of the Ethics Committee," a spokesman for Hastert said today. "We'd also be very curious to know what outside money is funding this project," he added, noting that some of the outside groups have ties to liberal donors that Republicans argue discredit their claims as nonpartisan organizations.

O.K., again. (If we're outside groups, are we allowed to receive outside money? Just asking.)

But, Mr. Speaker's speaker, you should check in with your ethics chairman to see if you think the American public wants someone who took an undisclosed trip paid for by his top campaign contributor leading an investigation. Just a suggestion.

More Bad News for Hastings

It seems to be one thing after another for House Ethics Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA). First, it's revealed that he had "close connections" to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Seattle-based lobbying firm, and had even taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

Now, it appears he failed to report a trip to Stuart Island, British Columbia, paid for by Washington Group International, a company that is deeply involved in the costly clean-up of Hanford Nuclear Researvation. The company was Hastings' top contributor to his 2004 re-election, giving $10,200, Alicia Mundy of The Seattle Times reports.

It also turns out he accepted a $7,800 trip to England in 2000 from a company he recommended for a multi-billion dollar contract in the clean-up of Hanford.

Hastings spokeswoman claims both trips were "absolutely appropriate and permissable."

Permissable, perhaps, but accepting lavish vacations from companies who are counting on you for multi-billion dollar contracts certainly raises a few eyebrows, no?

As if we hadn't already seen enough evidence pointing to the need for an outside counsel to investigate the House lobbying scandals...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Golf & Corporate Scandals: The Republican Baseball & Apple Pie

The lure of the green might be too much for most Republicans to handle, according to a recent article by Michael Crowley for With all of the talk of money in politics and lobbyist-funded luxury getaways these days, you might think I'm talking about money. But no, in this case it is the lure of the golf course.

On a Wednesday afternoon earlier this month, top Republicans quietly disappeared from Capitol Hill. House votes were suspended for several hours. What was afoot? An urgent briefing on Iraq, the troubled economy, the coming avian flu pandemic?," Crowley writes. "Not exactly. The event that lured away the Republican throng, which included House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was the Booz Allen Hamilton pro-am golf tournament held in suburban Maryland. Alas, politics waits for no tournament, and back on the Hill there was trouble."

Turns out an important vote on U.N. reform was nearly lost for the Republicans when they fled to the links.

"Golf is an expression of the party's elite upper-class id. And that id is
what's corrupting the party," Crowley writes.

He goes on to detail the bait that Abramoff used to lure members of Congress to the Northern Mariana Islands. Officially, they were there to witness the deplorable sweatshop conditions. Yet somehow, they had time to fit in several rounds of golf at Saipan's luxurious LaoLao Bay Golf Resort. Consider the Abramoff scandals.

"It seemed to be so much about golf," one disillusioned conservative said.

One of the best examples of the "corrupting function" of the sport is the golf retreat/fundraiser that organized two years ago by DeLay's PACs. Just one day before Senate and House negotiations over a big energy bill, energy-company execs paid up to $25,000 to tool around in a golf cart with DeLay and his top aides. The timing of the fundraiser led to an admonishment of DeLay by the currently dormant House Ethics Committee.

Hastings Might Step Down - Let's Keep the Pressure On

It appears that House Ethics Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) is starting to feel the heat after weeks of sustained pressure by his frustrated constituents, Public Campaign Action Fund, and Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress.

Philip Shenon of The New York Times reports that Hastings might be ready to step down as Chair of the House Ethics Committee. In recent months, the committee has been stalled on its investigation into the scandals surrounding House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) by disagreements over the staffing of the committee. Typically, investigations of this type are led by non-partisan staffers. It has been widely reported that Hastings is trying to fill the position with his long-time chief of staff.

The plot thickened further when Hastings ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were made public. Hastings has accepted $14,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff's Seattle-based lobbying firm.

Shenon quotes an anonymous Republican aide who said:

"But I think that Doc has had just about enough of this," a Republican aide said. "He doesn't need this. He'd like to find a face-saving way out."

At this point, the only way for Hastings to save face is to recuse himself from the investigation and appoint an independent counsel.

We have to keep the pressure on. Call Rep. Hastings at (509) 543-9396 or (202) 225-5816 and tell him to do the right thing and appoint an outside counsel. After you make the call, please post what kind of response you've gotten from his office.

We've got mail

Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2 (both large PDFs) from Sen. McCain's hearings on the Abramoff/Scanlon/Reed/DeLay/Norquist scandals involving $82 billion in bilked fees from six Native American tribes.

These are treasure troves. I've gone through the first one -- it's pretty damning for all of them, but particularly Ralph Reed, who is claiming to be "vindicated" by them. Absolute, 1984-esque, up is down, black is white, right is wrong, nonsense.

So, what's your favorite email exchange, and on what page of which document? Help us find some juicy tidbits...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A yoga instructor, a lifeguard, and a superlobbyist open a think tank...

Sound like a bad joke? Welcome to the wonderful world of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Yesterday, during a Senate hearing looking into Abramoff's lobbying practices with American Indian tribes, Sen. McCain and Sen. Dorgan explored two issues: Abranoff's request to a rabbi for a phony award and the creation of an “international think tank.”

Abramoff's request for the phony award was made to conservative radio host and Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Abramoff's request included asking if Lapin could back date the phony award and make sure that it had a “a sufficiently academic title.” Why did he want the award? So he could fit in at the Cosmo's Club (as Abramoff described in his email to Lapin, the Cosmo’s Club is a "very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc"). And what was Lapin’s response to this seemingly bizarre request? No problem. Lapin wrote “I just need to know what needs to be produced. Letters? Plaques?" Oy vay!

The other issued covered was Abramoff's creation of the American International Center, a so called "think tank" located in the beach resort town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The "think tank" was to be run by two boyhood friends of partner and former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon--Brian Mann, a yoga instructor, and David Grosh, a life guard who also lists on his CV construction worker and bartender. Grosh, who said during the hearing that he was "embarrassed and disgusted to be a part of this whole thing,"
when asked by reporters why he accepted the job said "it was wintertime in Rehoboth. You need to make rent money."

Missing from the room were the political power players whose names are also getting kicked around this scandal--Ralph Reed and Majority Leader Tom DeLay. As the Washington Post put it:
"There were also the ghosts in the room: Republican activists Ralph
Reed and Grover Norquist (who appeared often in Abramoff's correspondence but who weren't the focus of yesterday's inquiry) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a friend of Abramoff's referred to elliptically as an unnamed 'member of Congress.'"

The story also received coverage in The Hill newspaper.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Contractor in CunningScam scandal compelled donations from employees

Marcus Stern of Copley News Service (in the San Diego Union-Tribune) has the latest about three employees of defense contractor MZM who were told to make political donations:

Workers say MZM founder pressed them to give to PAC

WASHINGTON – Mitchell Wade, founder of the defense contracting firm MZM Inc., pressured employees to donate to a political fund that benefited Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and other members of Congress, according to three former employees of the company.

Wade, who took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of Cunningham's Del Mar home and allows the congressman to stay on his yacht while in Washington, demanded employees make donations to the company's political action committee, MZM PAC, they said.

"By the spring of '02, Mitch was twisting employees' arms to donate to his MZM PAC," said one former employee. "We were called in and told basically either donate to the MZM PAC or we would be fired."

Many companies have PACs, but campaign finance laws prohibit employers from pressuring workers to contribute to the PAC. They may encourage contributions, but not compel them.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been following this closely.

AP: Checks to DeLay's PACs from Coushattas re-routed

Jack Abramoff, the gift that keeps on giving.

The lede and then some, from AP:

A casino-rich tribe wrote checks for at least $55,000 to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political groups, but the donations were never publicly disclosed and the tribe was directed to divert the money to other groups that helped Republicans, tribal documents show.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now under criminal investigation, told the Coushatta Indian tribe, a client, to cancel its checks to the DeLay groups in 2001 and 2002 and route the money to more obscure groups that helped Republicans on Medicare prescription drug legislation and Christian voter outreach.

DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority and Americans for a Republican Majority never reported receiving any checks from the Louisiana tribe to federal or state regulators, their reports show. The donations, however, are recorded in memos and ledgers kept by the tribe.

"Enclosed please find a check for $10,000 to the Texans for a Republican Majority. This check needs to be reissued to America 21," Abramoff wrote the Coushattas in a May 2002 letter obtained by the Associated Press.

America 21 is a Nashville, Tenn.-based Christian group focused on voter turnout that helped Republican candidates in the pivotal 2002 elections that kept DeLay's party in control of the House.

Several months earlier, the tribe was asked to cancel a $25,000 check to Americans for a Republican Majority and to send that money instead in August 2001 to a group called Sixty Plus that helped Republicans in their two-year effort to get a Medicare
prescription drug benefit through Congress.

Here are some questions:

Who received the original checks from the tribe? Was it Abramoff? If so, was he acting as an agent for the PACs? Were the checks sent to the PACs themselves? If so, how did they get to Abramoff?

Friday, June 17, 2005

DeLay's personal gain from MTBE in energy bill

Today's Newsday carries a story we've known about for awhile -- Tom DeLay holds between $50,000 and $100,000 in ExxonMobil stock and has aggressively pushed legislation which would shield the giant oil corporation from any liability for its pollution of drinking water all across the country. Here's their lede:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay owns stock worth more than $50,000 in ExxonMobil, according to financial disclosure reports, while at the same time he is one of the driving forces behind legislation that would shield that company and other manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE from lawsuits that could cost them millions.

What Newsday fails to do is put this in its proper context. Here is a snippet from an interview DeLay did with the Washington Times, which appeared excerpted in their April 14, 2005, edition (emphasis mine):

[Reporter Charles] Hurt: Have you ever crossed the line of ethical behavior in terms of dealing with lobbyists, your use of government authority or with fundraising?

Mr. DeLay: "Ever" is a very strong word. Let me start out by saying, you can never find anything that I have done for personal gain. Period. What I'm doing is what I believe in; I'm doing it the way I believe in it. Yes, I'm aggressive. I'm passionate about what I believe in, and I'm passionate about winning and accomplishing our agenda.

I know since 1995 that everything that we have done has been checked by lawyers, double-checked by lawyers, triple-checked by lawyers, because I know I have been watched and investigated probably more than even Bill Clinton.

They can't find anything, so they're going back to my childhood, going to my family, going to things that happened eight years ago. There's nothing there. And they can keep looking. There's nothing there. I have tried to act ethically; I have tried to act honestly. I have tried to keep my reputation - to fight for my reputation - while it's been besmirched, and I have tried to do it in a way that brings honor to the House.

I guess we can stop looking.

Well, here's one more thing before we stop (yeah, right). ExxonMobil made a $50,000 charitable donation (PDF, page 9) to DeLay Foundation for Kids in 2003. How convenient.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More explosive info about Cunnigham and defense contractor

North County Times reports this:

Yacht owned by defense contractor docked at Cunningham's slip


A defense contractor whose real estate dealings with Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham have raised ethical questions has another connection to Cunningham: He owns a boat docked at a Washington yacht club ---- a boat on which Cunningham stays while working in the Capitol.

Cunningham, R-Escondido, sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which has awarded millions of dollars to the contractor, Washington-based MZM Inc.

The relationship between Cunningham and MZM President Mitchell J. Wade came under scrutiny earlier this week when news surfaced that another company controlled by Wade purchased Cunningham's Del Mar home in 2003 and later sold it for a $700,000 loss.

Upon learning of the transaction, some experts on government ethics questioned the real estate deal and the relationship between the contractor and the congressman.

Now, another connection between Cunningham and Wade is raising questions ---- a boat owned by Wade and occupied at least part-time by Cunningham.

U.S. Coast Guard records show that Wade owns the 42-foot, 34-ton boat, which bears the name "Duke Stir."

Capital Yacht Club dock master Kelvin Lee said this week that the vessel is docked at Cunningham's slip at the marina on the Potomac River in Washington.

Lee was hesitant to give more details, but did say that until recently, a boat with the name "Kelly C" was docked at the slip. Washington Harbor Police officials said this week that Cunningham is the registered owner of the Kelly C. That boat was removed for possible refurbishment and replaced by the Duke Stir, Lee said.

MZM officials did not return phone calls Wednesday for comment on the boat or Cunningham's living arrangement.

Repeated efforts Wednesday to reach Cunningham by phone in Washington were unsuccessful. However, Cunningham's office sent a written statement from Cunningham saying his use of Wade's boat is within ethical boundaries.


Ney targeted with ads

Campaign for America's Future has a print ad (PDF) in two Ohio newspapers in Rep. Bob Ney's district to drive local attention to the spate of scandals swirling around the representative. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer picks up the story, as does the New Philadelphia Times Reporter.

Disclosure filings show DeLay's legal defense fund and liabilities mounting

Here's the AP story, and here's the New York Times.

DeLay raised $439,000 for his legal defense fund (but no more from American Airlines, Nissan, and Verizon, thanks to the American Progress Action Fund's Drop the Hammer campaign. He has up to $315,000 in liabilities to three firms, as of the end of 2004.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

New congressional scandals; DeLay offers his thoughts (are you on the edge of your seat?)

I just wanted to put up a quick post this morning -- we're in staff meetings and are a little tied up for the next few days. But even as we meet to discuss next steps in our campaign to hold DeLay accountable and clean up Congress, scandals involving our elected officials aren't subsiding.

The latest involve GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California and Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

The LA Times reported over the weekend that Murtha's brother lobbied for ten defense firms which benefited from the appropriations bill Murtha helped write as the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcomittee. This kind of "cashing in" is all too common in Washington -- on both sides of the aisle.

A more curious revelation was the news reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune that Rep. Cunningham sold his house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1.675 million, and Wade sold the house a year later for a $700,000 loss to a company he owns.

This morning's Union-Tribune adds a wrinkle: the realtor (and family members) who brokered the transaction (and who received a healthy commission on the sale for the sale of another Cunningham house at $2.55 million) gave substantial campaign contributions to Cunningham over the years:

Realtor Elizabeth Todd and two family members have made 18 separate contributions totaling $11,500 to Cunningham's congressional campaign committee since 1997, according to records at the Federal Election Commission.

Meanwhile, a San Diego realtor put the transaction between Wade and Cunningham in this light:

Revelations of the deal have sparked outrage in Cunningham's district, which includes several North County communities, such as Del Mar, Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos and Escondido. Much of the anger has focused on the question of how a house could sit on the market for eight months and sell at a loss of $700,000 when prices were sharply rising and many houses were receiving multiple offers above the asking price almost immediately upon being listed.

Said San Diego Realtor Christian Peter: "In November 2003, property values increased approximately 20 percent on a year-to-year basis in San Diego County. A $700,000 loss would be unheard of, and anyone who bought property in 2003 and held onto it for any period of time should have made a significant amount of profit."

So, you'd think that all this would bother our congressional leaders. Tom DeLay, from The Hill:

“Duke Cunningham is a hero,” DeLay said during a press briefing Tuesday. “He is an honorable man of high integrity.”


“I know that John Murtha is an honorable man,” DeLay said during the briefing, adding that he did not know any details of the [LA Times] article. “He is a man of great integrity.”

Whatever, Tom.

But, the real reason behind all these ethics stories and the hold up of the investigations is politics, DeLay says. Anne Kornblut of the New York Times has the latest back and forth on the Ethics Committee, including Rep.Louise Slaughter's seconding the call from Ethics Committee Chair Doc Hastings urging him to step down.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Columbian Makes a Request of Doc

Editors of The Columbian in Clark County, Washington agrees with Public Campaign member Versa Kang's call on Doc Hastings to appoint an outside counsel to investigate Tom DeLay's scandals.

"Given the severity of the many complaints about Delay.

Given the fact DeLay is a House leader and can make life uncomfortable for GOP lawmakers.

Given revelations this week that Hastings has ties to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who is closely linked to DeLay.

And given the probability that if a Republican-led Ethics Committee does not find fault with DeLay's actions it is likely the public will perceive a 'whitewash.'

Given all that, we think Hastings ought to take the advice of a small group of his constituents calling themselves Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress and step down from the investigation if not from the committee itself."

Kang, a 66-year-old Yakima retiree who has voted for Hastings in the past said: "This really goes to my sense of ethics and accountability."

Friday, June 10, 2005

Hastings Constituents Demand Answers

A group of Yakima, Washington residents sent a letter yesterday asking their Congressman, House Ethics Committee Chair Doc Hastings, to do the right thing and appoint an outside counsel to look into the scandals surrounding Tom DeLay. They sent the letter in light of new information, reported two days ago in the New York Times, that Hastings has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Seattle-based lobbying firm.

"Rep. Hastings, how will you be able to serve in this role and impartially investigate how Members of Congress were corrupted by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his former firm of Preston, Gates and Ellis, when you yourself have had close ties with them?," his constituents asked.

The Washingtonians, one of whom has voted for Hastings in the past, also announced the formation of a new group: Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress.

Alicia Mundy of the Seattle Times reported that the days of Hastings intentionally low-profile are coming to an end.

"Doc Hastings, the laconic Republican congressman from Pasco, has spent much of the past three days trying to avoid being sucked into the vortex of ethics complaints swirling around House Majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas."

Local NBC affiliate KNDO interviewed one of the letter's signers, Versa K'ang, a 66-year-old retiree living on Social Security who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past.

"'For the sake of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, and for the sake of the people, we're asking that the Ethics Committee turn over its investigation of Tom Delay to an independent investigator that he support actually getting rid of the Ethics Committee,' K’ang said."

Les Blumenthal, of the News-Tribune, reported that Hastings had no comment.

Maybe he's pretending he still has a low profile.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Oppose the "Make Congress More Corrupt" Bill

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is at it again. Yesterday, he passed out of the Committee on House Administration, which he chairs, HR-1316 - the "Make Congress More Corrupt" Bill.

The Republican-led Congress is trying to do away with the limit on the total amount of contributions to federal candidates so that wealthy donors can donate up to a million dollars in support of their preferred candidate. That's outrageous. It'll make Congress more corrupt and less accountable to us.

The "Make Congress More Corrupt" bill would give the wealthy and well-connected the ability to elect who they wanted. Politicians would spend their time collecting large checks from a small handful of donors, and no time talking to you.

If you think Congress doesn't listen to you now, think about what would happen if Republicans succeeded with their proposal to allow virtually unlimited donations.

Click here to e-mail your representative and demand that s/he oppose HR-1316 -- the "Make Congress More Corrupt" Bill.

[5:10 p.m. Update: Since 12:00 noon, more than 4,000 people have already e-mailed their Congressperson. Keep it coming! -- David]

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Hastings Should Appoint Outside Counsel

Following yesterday's revelations about Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings' close relationship to the lobbying firm that hosted Jack Abramoff sleazy dealings, the Seattle P-I weighs in and says it's not credible that Hastings can impartially oversee an investigation into Tom DeLay. That's what we said in a letter to Hastings and ranking Ethics Committee member Alan Mollohan almost two weeks ago.

Here's a snippet from the editorial (which was entitled "Hastings Connection: Too close for comfort"):

The disclosure of close connections between House Ethics Committee chairman Doc Hastings, a powerful Seattle-based Washington, D.C., lobbying firm and embattled House Speaker Tom DeLay seals the argument that an outside special counsel should pursue the DeLay investigation.

Adding urgency to the matter is the glacially-slow pace at which the Ethics Committee is getting around to conducting its business. Job number one is Tom DeLay. According Mike Allen's reporting in the Washington Post, it will be months before a staff is hired and put to work. DeLay is ready -- he lawyered up this week by adding Richard Cullen of McGuireWoods to his legal defense team.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New trouble for Hastings

Ten days ago, we sent a letter (with other groups) to Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and ranking member Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) demanding that they appoint an outside counsel in the Tom DeLay investigation.

Today's New York Times gives us more reason to believe that Hastings cannot oversee this investigation. Hastings, according to documents uncovered by Times' reporter Phil Shenon from the Northern Marianas Islands government, has close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's former law/lobbying firm, Preston Gates.

In fact, Abramoff had identified out Hastings as a key target of lobbying for the firm on behalf of the Northern Marianas when he served on the Natural Resources Committee. Hastings responded on cue:

The firm's billing records show that after lobbying contacts on behalf of the Northern Marianas in 1996, Mr. Hastings placed statements in The Congressional Record in opposition to the minimum-wage proposal; he praised the islands' government for "moving in the right direction toward self-sufficiency."

[Ed] Cassidy, [Hastings'] chief of staff, said Mr. Hastings was barred from commenting on whether he faced a conflict of interest on the ethics committee on issues involving Preston Gates, since the comments might be seen as a reference to an investigation before the panel.

But he described the relationship between the congressman and the law firm as routine, and insisted that there had never been any lobbying contact of any sort with Mr. Abramoff.

Cassidy, it should be noted, is Hastings' choice for Ethics Committee staff director, a move that the Democrats on the committee oppose because it has always been routine for the committee to have nonpartisan staff, not a political appointee.

Preston Gates' employees, Shenon discovers, contributed $14,000 to Hastings, with $1,000 coming from Abramoff.

The problem is, why do we accept as "routine" a close relationship between lobbyists and the people we elect to serve us? "Routine" in this context is just another word for "corrupting" in my book. And it seems to serve the GOP Congress well, as it did the Dems when they had control a decade ago. Who is not served well is the public.

Here's some more from the end of the news article:

The records show repeated lobbying contacts in June and July of 1996, when Preston Gates was eager to have Mr. Hastings take action in support of the Northern Marianas government in blocking the minimum-wage proposal.

According to the records, there was a flurry of contacts in the days before and after a June 26, 1996, subcommittee hearing, including a June 20 meeting with an aide to Mr. Hastings at which a Preston Gates lobbyist discussed proposed questions for the lawmaker to ask at the hearing.

A transcript of the hearing shows that in brief remarks, Mr. Hastings said he had a "particular interest" in hearing from witnesses about the Northern Marianas and then introduced a prepared statement into the record in which he praised the islands' government for "moving in the right direction toward self-sufficiency" and warned that the imposition of the minimum wage "could crush its fragile economy."

At the hearing, he also asked that an opinion article that had been published in The Washington Times in support the position of Northern Marianas government on labor issues be placed in The Congressional Record; the billing records show that the article's author was a paid consultant to Preston Gates.

Mr. Cassidy, the spokesman, said Mr. Hastings had no idea that the author was affiliated with Preston Gates, adding that the lawmaker "reads that paper every day, rain or shine, and doesn't typically call up the columnists to ask who paid their salaries that week."

I wonder if he read this newspaper article in the Galveston Daily News from Monday about the awful conditions on the Northern Marianas Island.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

DeLay Doubles His Defense

Tom DeLay (R-TX) has hired another lawyer to defend him as an ethics committee investigation looms. Bennett Roth and Michael Hedges of the Houston Chronicle report that DeLay has enlisted Richard Cullen, a former state attorney general in Virginia who served as chief counsel to former Sen. Paul Trible, R-Va., when the lawmaker was a member of the House-Senate select committee looking into the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, ethics investigations proceedings have stalled over a disagreement between ethics committee members who are required to appoint a non-partisan professional staff. Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) has asked to appoint his long-time chief of staff, which would violate committee rules adopted in 1997.

[Ed. Note: A Daily DeLay reader wrote me to let me know that Cullen, in addition to being GOP-connected, is a criminal defense lawyer extraordinaire, not a DC fixer who specializes in inside the Beltway advocacy or political damage control. This reader suggests that DeLay is more serious now about staying out of legal trouble in Texas than the Ethics Committee investigation. --David]

[Ed. Note #2: The DD reader referenced above wrote again to clarify -- perhaps it's the Justice Department probe of Jack Abramoff DeLay and Co. are concerned about and that led to Cullen being brought in. The reader writes,

"the White Collar Defense and Government Investigations Practice Group that Richard Cullen heads at McGuireWoods ... consists entirely of former federal and state prosecutors with ample experience with federal and state grand juries. You don't need these guys to represent you before the House Ethics Committee - you need them if you are about to be involved in a serious criminal investigation. ... I think DeLay is worried about being called before - or indicted by - the D.C. grand jury investigating Abramoff et al."

Hmmm... --David]

Monday, June 06, 2005

"The DeLay Effect" Endangers House Republicans

According to Mike Allen of The Washington Post, Republican strategists are beginning to worry that the recent ethics scandals surrounding Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) might have a negative impact on his colleagues in the 2006 elections.

"Among those endangered are at least two committee chairmen and several other senior members. Congressional districts that traditionally have been safe for Republicans could become more competitive, according to party officials," Allen writes.

Allen lists Bob Ney (R-OH) as #1 on the most endangered list, noting that he has retained a criminal lawyer to deal with ethics investigations into his dealings with American Indian tribes.

Other members who are attracting attention for ethics concerns are Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who ranked #1 on the DeLay Rankings, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), and Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC).

GOP strategists are becoming more concerned as news organizations in various states dig further into travel records and campaign contributions of their representatives, making it look less and less like a "Washington problem."

"'Join Congress, See the World,' stated a front-page report in the Chicago Tribune. 'There's no locale too exotic or destination too far for Illinois' delegation to visit in service of its constituents.' The Times-Picayune of New Orleans cracked on its front page, 'State's politicos like to travel -- And they like other people to pay for it.' The front page of the May 29 Hartford Courant trumpeted, 'Public Trips, Private Funding -- State Delegation Frequent Travelers,'" Allen writes.

Republican strategist Rick Davis said that the ethics problems are putting the party into "a bit of troublesome water."

I'd say that's an understatement, if you listen to one of Ney's constituents in Zanesville.

"I'm beginning to think they just ought to bomb every politician out there," said Joseph Wagner, a Republican who recently shook Ney's hand at the NRA convention.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Call Hastings and Mollohan: Demand Outside Counsel

On Friday, we joined three other watchdog groups in faxing a letter to Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking Democratic member of the committee, demanding that they appoint an outside counsel to investigate House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

We urged them to act within two weeks.

Please take a minute and make two telephone calls today to these members to respectfully request that they act without delay.

Recent news coverage and historical precedent call for an outside counsel to be appointed in a matter such as this.

Call Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings in his district office in Pasco, Washington at 509-543-9396, or his Washington, DC office at 202-225-5816.

Call Ranking Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan at his district office in Wheeling, WV at 304-232-5390, or his Washington, DC office at 202-225-4172.

When you call, be firm and respectful. Tell the person who answers the phone that you want the Ethics Committee to appoint a highly-qualified, independent-minded outside counsel to investigate Tom DeLay.

Let us know how the calls went!