Sunday, September 06, 2009


It's easy to say that there's something in the water in Washington, DC that turns earnest, well-intended congress critters into money-grasping whores anxious to do the bidding of lobbyists and their clients for a sizable campaign donation and the promise of a post congressional job. The fact is, however, under our election system, we should expect it. For just about every congressional term I've been alive at least one distinguished member has been indicted for such corruption, and many more have been exposed for their chicanery which turned out to be just barely legal. Billy Tauzin, who rammed through the Medicare Part D plan which included a donut hole and the ban against federal negotiation with pharmaceutical companies, walked directly into a cushy and well-paying PHARMA job from his congressional office. His calculated actions changed the laws on such behavior, but he walked.

For the last eight years we've watched a lot of Republicans go down, but that is only because they were in power so they got the attention (and the money and the perks) of the lobbyists. I anticipate that the current congress, controlled by the Democrats, will result in a few of our Donkeys getting the stink-eye from the Justice Department. Many more, especially of the canine variety, will likely just slink by because they've found (with the help of their lobbyist friends) just the loophole they need to avoid indictment. People like Max Baucus, who now appears to be the power-wielder on health care reform, is a good example of what goes on in DC even these days.

But still they persist, apparently believing (and, just as apparently, rightfully so) that the chances are good that they'll skate. The latest evidence of this is the soon-to-be former Senator Mel Martinez (R-Florida). The good senator stunned a lot of people with the announcement that he would not only not be running for another term but that he would be stepping down in the immediate future. What was up with that? Was he conceding that Gov. Charlie Crist would beat him in a primary and this would be a way to make life difficult for Crist?

Well, the news is out that Sen. Martinez may have a few problems that wouldn't wait for the next election. From McClatchy DC:

Sen. Mel Martinez's office repeatedly intervened in a 2007 legal dispute between the Defense Department and a company owned by a top Republican fundraiser who is now at the center of a campaign-finance investigation, according to records obtained by The Miami Herald.

In a series of phone calls and e-mails, a Martinez aide urged Pentagon contract officers to seek a ``fair resolution'' to $14 million in contract claims sought by the International Oil Trading Co., a fuel-supply company co-owned by Harry Sargeant III of Boca Raton. ...

As Martinez's staffer was lobbying the Pentagon, Sargeant and his wife donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee -- then headed by Martinez. At the time, Sargeant was the finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

That's "Get Out of Jail Free" with a vengeance, no?

But wait, there's more:

Sargeant gained notoriety last year as a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose campaign returned $50,000 in suspicious donations solicited by a Sargeant business partner. In February, an employee of a Sargeant company was indicted on federal charges of funneling illegal contributions to several candidates, including McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- a college buddy of Sargeant's. [Emphasis added]

This time it's another Republican, but I have no illusions that it could just as well have been, and probably will be in the future, a Democrat. That's how folks in Washington, DC roll. And we're the ones they roll over, unless, of course we do something about it.

It's time for a federal public finance law and for an even stronger law against moving from congress to board positions of corporations over which a member of congress has by virtue of a committee assignment been overseeing. We needn't throw out lobbyists. Some lobbyists are representing interests that are often important to us. Let's just make them lobby us instead of elected officials who have several years before another election.

I am naive, I know, but not naive enough to believe this will happen any time soon, but in the mean time, I think we ought to agitate against the kind of egregious behavior exemplified by Senators Baucus and Martinez strongly and loudly enough that we at least make them nervous. And we need to push the Justice Department into even more investigations against such behavior.

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