Friday, May 19, 2006

On Beyond Abramoff: Congressional Bribery Investigation Widens

It sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, doesn't it? I wish it were as light-hearted! Link above to an excellent Boston Globe article reporting in depth on the Justice Department's widening investigation into Congressional bribery. Here are some tidbits to whet your appetite (and in case the Globe closes the article):

On March 8, 2004, after a private, chartered flight from Washington, Congressman Randy ''Duke" Cunningham checked into a luxury oceanfront suite at the Delano Hotel, a restored Art Deco jewel on Miami Beach. Prosecutors say the San Diego lawmaker, in town to shop for a yacht, racked up more than $15,000 in bills during the trip, including $848 in meals.

Court records show that Mitchell Wade, an ambitious defense contractor with deep pockets, picked up most of the tab. Prosecutors say the Miami Beach trip was pocket change compared with the more than $1 million in bribes Wade paid to Cunningham, a former fighter pilot and powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, to steer government defense contracts his way.

But Wade had more money to spread around.

Within days of sending Cunningham to Miami, prosecutors say, Wade gave $32,000 in laundered campaign funds to Representative Katherine Harris, the Florida Republican and Homeland Security Committee member whose help Wade was seeking to create a complex for MZM Inc., his company, in her home state. Documents say Wade also funneled $46,000 into the campaign account of Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Virginia Republican who also sits on the Appropriations Committee.

Wade then discussed getting specific defense appropriations with Harris and Goode or their staffs, according to court documents. Weeks after Wade arranged for most of the contributions to Goode, Wade walked away with a pledge for a $9 million facility in Goode's district with help from Goode's office, the court filings say

Harris and Goode both say they didn't know the contributions had come from straw donors and were illegal. They have not been charged.

Nevertheless, court papers indicate that the investigation that snared Cunningham -- in which the California Republican, now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison, admitted that he took millions in bribes -- and led Wade to take a plea deal could go much deeper. At least three other federal investigations involving members of Congress are also underway, linked to questions about whether lawmakers traded the power and influence of their offices for hefty campaign contributions and lavish gifts.

''There is some increasing panic among members who worry that there may be e-mails in which they sort of promised to do something that is contemporaneous with campaign contributions," said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

Previously, Mann said, members of Congress may have believed they were following the rules as long as donations they received were legal. Now, he said, members are concerned that Justice's Office of Public Integrity is looking at possible connections between campaign contributions and official action. The investigations are warranted, Mann added, because ''things got really out of hand" with members taking action on behalf of contributors or those provided gifts


Word about the various investigations has been trickling out in news reports for months. Authorities want to know whether Representative Alan B. Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat and Appropriations Committee member, used his clout to hand government contracts to nonprofit groups run by his friends; whether disgraced former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff bribed Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio; and whether the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Jerry Lewis of California, also a Republican, improperly awarded contracts sought by a lobbyist who has been linked to Cunningham.

The anxiety level in Congress increased this week after the House Ethics Committee -- long criticized for its reluctance to investigate members -- announced that it was looking into the behavior of Ney and Representative William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who is suspected of receiving bribes.

All of the members under scrutiny have denied wrongdoing.

Perhaps most significant, the Ethics Committee said it will examine the Cunningham case to determine ''whether other House members or staff are implicated." The committee said it would check out allegations that members and staff received ''hotel rooms, limousines, and other services in exchange for performing official acts"

Though Cunningham and Wade both pleaded guilty, federal officials also want to know whether a second unnamed defense contractor may also have wooed congressmen, other defense contractors, and the CIA's third in command with poker parties, a hospitality suite, and possibly prostitutes.

Gee, I thought the emphasized text is the same as prostitution.... Just a bit less physical; Our Congress is letting these bribery-prone lobbyists have their way with the American public. Bend her over, boys, I've got the cash, you can do what you like.

I decorated this thought with an image from the Portugese-American blog, who comments that he loves the English language because there is no entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for Bitch Slap, so he illustrates it thusly, and explains it is the way a pimp may slap a prostitute. Take that Taxpayers! Among those being investigated right now, though not definitely implicated are: Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia and Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida (yes, you may remember her from the election brou-ha-ha). They both claim to be surprised that the money they received from Mr. Wade and his mysterious associate might have been in exchange for services received.

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