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“The Real Scandal In Denny Hastert’s Life”: Immersed In The Immoral Swamp Of Washington’s Game Of Money Politics

Washington’s establishment of politicos, lobbyists, and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.

The portly Republican, who’d been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, nondescript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high-school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America’s moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol.

“I’m shocked and saddened,” said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that “our Denny” would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. “This has really come out of nowhere,” exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.

Washington’s gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week’s revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert’s alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington’s game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — “the coach,” as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt Speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?

During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hitman, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny’s psychedelic playhouse. With Hastert himself singing “Candy Man,” the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress’ back rooms.

Remember “earmarks,” the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert’s regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.

When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting “riders” attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.

Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn’t return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That’s how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.

Good ol’ Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would’ve done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people’s public trust.


By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 3, 3015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | Corporate Welfare, Dennis Hastert, Sexual Molestation | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“How ‘Public Servant’ Hastert Got His Riches”: An Indictment Of D.C.’s “Revolving Door” Money Culture

Not-so-frequently Asked Questions About the Hastert Indictment.

It’s clear that the indictment of Dennis Hastert has raised more questions than it’s provided answers. But I suspect a lot of people are asking the wrong ones. Hastert’s “misconduct” may turn out to be of sexually predatory nature, in which case talk of how much his reputation is worth is picayune compared the nature of the crime. But there are questions about what he did that are applicable to the entire industry he represents.

The most obvious question, that’s also the least relevant for most Americans: What is the “misconduct” that Hastert is alleged to have been trying to cover up?

This is an important question, to be sure, but indicting Hastert on the financial charges and lying to investigators rather than on whatever misconduct occurred seems to indicate that those charges were the best investigators could come up with. Presumably, if the misconduct was illegal, they’d have mentioned that—and indicted him for it. If the conduct was sexual abuse, as sources are saying, then the statute of limitations has run out. It follows that Hastert wasn’t paying hush money to stay out of jail, he was protecting his reputation.

A better question, and one that many Washington watchdogs leapt on quickly: How did Hastert happen to have enough money lying around that paying out $3.5 million was even within the realm of possibility?

Hastert’s ability to participate in the blackmail is, after all, itself a general indictment of D.C.’s “revolving door” money culture, in which former lawmakers move easily from government into lobbying. In Hastert’s case, the ability to profit off of one’s legislative position is especially galling: While in office, Hastert used the earmarking process to turn his investment in some Illinois farmland into a profit of 140 percent when a federal highway project just happened to make its way through those very fields. Indeed, it was this instance of a completely legal form of insider trading that helped prompt Congress to end earmarks.

And, of course, Hastert made even more money once he was out of office. One study found that, on average—and when the information is publicly available—former lawmakers get a 1,425 percent raise when they make the jump from Capitol Hill to K Street. Hastert, who was worth between $4 million and $17 million when he left Congress, was making $175,000 as a representative. His K Street bump would be to almost $2.5 million a year.

Okay, he made his money as a lobbyist, doing presumably sneaky lobbyist things. That raises the next question: How can Hastert’s reputation even be worth $3.5 million?

Hastert is a former member of Congress known to have profited off of a shady land deal and he’s a registered lobbyist—these are already the two professions that Americans regard as the most disreputable careers available. They are literally last (lobbyist) and second-to-last (congressman) on Gallup’s list of what jobs Americans regard as “honest” and “ethical.” What would one have to do to be thought even less of?

Given the ickiness of what has been reported, it might not be good to think about that question too hard, so let’s turn that question on its head: What kind of reputation could be worth spending $3.5 million to protect?

To consider $3.5 million a reasonable sum to spend on protecting one’s reputation, presumably it has to be worth a lot more than that. And, indeed, in the context of the lobbying world, $3.5 million just isn’t that much money. Especially considering that Hastert was apparently making pay-offs over time. Special interest groups spent almost 1000 times that—$3.2 billion—in 2015 alone. If Hastert viewed protecting his reputation as a kind of investment in future earnings, $3.5 million is on the scale of buying an alarm system for your home, not buying a whole other house.

And, it’s important to remember, what Hastert was covering up with that hush money was not a “reputation” as an average citizen might conceive of it: something akin to honor or trustworthiness or fidelity. A lobbyist’s reputation, after all, actually hinges on his or her established lack of principles. A lobbying client for someone who is a former member of Congress is paying a premium for that person’s willingness to engage in barely-legal favor-trading. A lobbyist’s prices go up the more corrupt he is. Who wants to hire an honest one?


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, May 30, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Dennis Hastert, Lobbyists | , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Pig By Any Name Is Still A Pig”: Why Congress Cannot Operate Without The Bribing Power Of Earmarks

It seemed like a great victory at the time.

After years of federal taxpayer dollars being misappropriated to pay for pet projects in the districts of congressmen and senators looking to curry political favor with the voters back home, a moratorium was passed in 2011 ending the Congressional pork parade known as “earmarking”.

It appeared to make sense. Federal taxpayers had grown sick and tired of paying the bill for something like the construction and renovation of a botanical garden project in Brooklyn, New York when such a project, obviously, had nothing to do with core federal objectives, serving only to improve the re-election prospects of the Congresswoman who brought the money home to Brooklyn—along with the few Americans who spend their Saturday’s enjoying a picnic in the greatly improved botanical gardens at your expense and mine.

While the concept of earmarking—at the outset—had merit in that it compensated for the inability of the executive branch, who proposes the federal budget, to fully understand what might be rightfully required to achieve federal objectives in a state far away from the nation’s capital, earmarking quickly devolved into a system of vote-buying where a Member of Congress, reluctant to cast a vote for a particular piece of legislation, could be ‘persuaded’ to do so if enough pork was piled onto that Member’s plate in the effort to satisfy an important constituency at home.

Let’s face it—at a point, almost any elected official’s objection to a bill or judicial appointment will crumble when offered enough goodies to ensure endless re-election to office because the elected official is bringing home the bacon to the voters who hold his or her fate in their collective hands.

So, when the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to end the earmarking process a few years ago, it certainly appeared to be a positive step in the direction of gaining a little control over wasteful government spending and a move towards bringing a bit of honestly to the process of government.

But what actually happened?

For starters, if you believe we have done away with the concept of earmarking money for special projects back home—thing again. The earmark moratorium has brought forward an even more insidious process called “lettermarking” where Congressional slush funds are created as tools for funding pet projects without even the limited accountability and public information that came with earmarking. While earmarks required publication of a pork project—along with the amount of taxpayer money being spent and identification of the elected official proposing the earmark—lettermarking allows for such expenditures without any identification of the project, sum and sponsoring legislator whatsoever.

Additionally, we now find that when an elected official is unsuccessful in convincing an agency of the executive branch to contribute money to a pet project, that official often turns to blackmailing the agency involved by threatening to cast a vote to deny some Administration objective. This is precisely what occurred when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to block Obama administration appointments unless money was provided for a harbor dredging project in his home state.

But something even more insidious has followed the ban on earmarking—

Without the persuasive powers of the political ‘carrot’, congressional leaders and the President no longer have the ‘stick’ required to move Congress to get anything of significance accomplished.

The moratorium on earmarks went into existence in February 2011. Since that time we have seen some of the greatest legislative fails in the history of the nation, highlighted by the debt ceiling fiasco of 2011, the inability to pass a jobs bill, an ever-increasing vacancy rate in the federal judiciary as one nominee after another is shelved and, of course, the current fiscal cliff clunker that might be the most embarrassing and damaging display of congressional incompetence of all.

One cannot help but wonder if our current inability to legislate our way out of a paper bag might be different were party leaders and the President to, once again, be free to avail themselves of the one thing that could always win the hearts and minds of elected officials who care, first and foremost, for their own jobs—a healthy and legal bribe.

If the fiscal cliff fiasco has taught us anything, it is that our elected officials no longer even pretend to place the needs of the nation ahead of their own—to quote Mel Brooks—phony baloney jobs. Does anyone imagine that it is a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner has disappeared into the background in the final days of the fiscal cliff debate so as to avoid another misstep that might cost him the Speakership? Does anyone doubt that Boehner’s inability to deliver his own caucus’ support for his ill-conceived “Plan B” is the direct result of special interest groups—such as Club For Growth—whose political contributions are the life-blood that flows into the treasure chests of the more extreme elements of Boehner’s GOP caucus and remain the only carrot of any value when it comes to winning the affections of Congressional Members ?

Indeed, the only politician involved in this game of political chicken who appears to have a reason to actually put the public before politics would be the President—not because he is above playing the game, but because he no longer has to run for political office.

Accordingly, as we head into the new Congress and the expiration of the earmark moratorium, should we not be questioning whether the ban on earmarks has delivered the results that were intended? If Congress has already found a way around the ban—and is doing so by using a process that is even less transparent than what we previously had in place—maybe we would be better off simply accepting that our government only works when legalized, congressional bribery is allowed to more easily enter into the equation.

Cynical? Absolutely.

But how is it any more cynical than a political system that welcomes the bribery offered up by special interests in the guise of huge and often unlimited campaign contributions that benefit incumbents in exchange for their vote—particularly if the cost of earmarks to the taxpayer is far less than the cost to taxpayers when our legislators refuse to act, despite knowing that their inaction will cost our economy, and therefore our taxpayers, even more money?

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the cost of earmarks to taxpayers in 2010 totaled $15.9 billion dollars—a drop in the bucket when compared to the economic losses resulting from the failure of Congress to act rationally during the 2011 debt ceiling drama or what we stand to suffer if government cannot find a little courage as we hang over the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Accordingly, while returning to earmarks may mean a return to wasteful spending of taxpayer money on projects that bring no benefit to the nation as a whole, it could also mean saving even more money than is wasted by avoiding the financial setbacks that come with endless debt ceiling debacles and fiscal cliff fumbles.

Until we decide to completely remove the systematic rigging of elections to favor incumbents—which is precisely what earmarks seek to do as does the unlimited money that flows to incumbents from the myriad of special interests who call the shots in Washington—we may as well give in and allow the system to, at the least, function.

Conversely, if you are offended and troubled by earmarks—and you should be—you should be equally offended and troubled by the special interest groups that have taken their place. When incumbents cannot gain an advantage over challengers by bringing home the pork, they will go for the next best thing—enough campaign cash to allow them to outspend their challengers at election time.

To get rid of one without getting rid of the other makes no sense. At least earmarks produce legislation that might protect and create jobs for taxpayers while unlimited campaign money produces only jobs for elected officials themselves.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, December 29, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Elections, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bringing Back The Grease”: House Republicans Discuss Reviving Earmarks

The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House.

In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.

Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.

Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other pork barrel projects.

But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks – special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills – could make a comeback.

“I just got up … and did it because I was mad because they were talking about how we can’t get 218 votes,” Rogers told Reuters, referring to the minimum of 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the 435-member House.

“There was a lot of applause when I made my comments. I had a few freshmen boo me, but that’s okay. By and large it was very well embraced,” he added.

New Republican members backed by the Tea Party movement have railed against earmarks as a symbol of out-of-control government spending and unaccountable lawmakers.

Congress has another nine months to operate under an earmark ban, so discussions on lifting the ban are in their early stages, members and aides say.

But on the House side, where a splintered Republican majority is struggling to muster enough votes to pass bills, second thoughts about the earmark ban are “pretty pervasive,” said a senior aide.

Rogers’ remarks in the closed caucus meeting in early March were echoed by two other Republican lawmakers, Representatives Louie Gohmert and Kay Granger, according to some at the meeting.

House Speaker John Boehner, who pushed for the earmark ban, is considering forming a committee to study earmarks reforms, according to Rogers. Other sources also said that during the closed meeting, the speaker said he would consider reforms, and other leading Republicans did not shoot down the idea.

Boehner has acknowledged that the ban makes his job more difficult. In past years, one reason the sprawling transportation bill could move through Congress with bipartisan support was because thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects were tacked onto the bill, he has said.

But reviving earmarks is still so controversial that Boehner and other leaders are unlikely to publicly discuss it in an election year in which pork barrel spending is still under attack. The discussions so far appear to be among Republicans.

“The House did the right thing in instituting an earmark ban, and the American people strongly support it,” a Boehner spokesman said in response to questions.

In the Senate, Thad Cochran, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee – an earmark gateway in the old days – told Reuters: “At some point there will surely be conversations about alternatives” to the earmark ban. He was quick to add that he has not tried to initiate the conversation.

Democrats agreed to banning earmarks after suffering big defeats in 2010 congressional elections and after President Barack Obama warned he would veto bills containing them.

But like Republicans, Democrats have differing views on keeping the ban. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is on record defending earmarks, saying elected representatives are more in touch with local needs than executive branch bureaucrats.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog group, said discussions about reviving earmarks suggest the desperation of a Congress in which stalled legislation is now routine.

The difficulties in passing bills are leading lawmakers to conclude the only answer is to “bring the political grease back into the system,” Ellis said.


Political analysts have long referred to earmarks, or “member-directed funding” as it is sometimes known, as the grease enabling legislation to move through Congress.

Republican Representative Steven LaTourette, an 18-year House veteran, said the earmark ban “has affected discipline” within the party. “You can’t get 218 votes (out of 242 Republican House members) and part of that has to be if you can’t give people anything (earmarks), you can’t take anything away from them.”

If a member of Congress agrees with 90 percent of a pending bill but is “uncomfortable” with the other 10 percent, “Sometimes taking care of your district (with earmarks) made up for that 10 percent,” he said.

Some believe earmarks got a bad rap.

Public outrage focused on projects like the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” connecting the Alaskan mainland with an isolated island, or a teapot museum in North Carolina.

Other earmarks have funded crucial projects, proponents say. One example is the “Predator” drone, the unmanned military aircraft used in Afghanistan and other hot-spots to target militants without jeopardizing U.S. soldiers’ lives, that came from a lawmaker’s request.

Both sides in the debate agree that before earmarks resurface, reforms are essential.

Earmarking was long controversial because many of the projects showed up in the fine print of legislation without warning and with little or no public debate.

Congressman Gohmert believes the solution is rules to keep spending on specific companies and projects from being “air dropped” into bills without oversight.

“We can be specific without having it be crony capitalism, monuments to me, bridges to nowhere,” Gohmert said.

Others propose limiting earmarks so that they only go to local or state government-backed projects or universities. And reforms should also break the links between campaign contributions and earmarked projects, members say.

In pitching earmarks, Gohmert and other Republican lawmakers and aides lament that the ban has been a boon to Democratic President Barack Obama, whose administration can still dole out projects as it sees fit.

“I think there’s a way that it can be done that we take back the purse strings that the Constitution gives us without just handing sacks of money to the president,” Gohmert said.

But even if momentum grows for an earmark revival, some members are unlikely to join in.

Representative Jim Jordan, who heads a conservative coalition in the House, told Reuters: “My read is that the ban on earmarks is where it needs to be.”

And Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican who wants a permanent ban, said earmarks should not be a tool for buying votes on important bills.

Pork barrel spending was “the bane of the American taxpayers’ existence.” he said.


By: Richard Cowan, Reuters, March 30, 2012

April 1, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea-pocrisy Is Not Particularly Complicated

Michele Bachmann, at her announcement speech today, offering an extended paean to the Tea Party:

I am here in Waterloo, Iowa to announce today: We can win in 2012, and we will. Our voice has been growing louder and stronger. And it is made up of Americans from all walks of life like a three-legged stool. It’s the peace through strength Republicans, and I’m one of them. It’s fiscal conservatives, and I’m one of them, and it’s social conservatives, and I’m one of them. It’s the Tea Party movement, and I’m one of them.

The liberals, and to be clear I’m NOT one of them, want you to think the Tea Party is the Right Wing of the Republican Party. But it’s not. It’s made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who’ve never been political a day in their life, libertarians, Republicans. We’re people who simply want America back on the right track again.

The Los Angeles Times yesterday, revealing some very un-Tea-Party-like behavior from the Bachmann family:

Rep. Michele Bachmann has been propelled into the 2012 presidential contest in part by her insistent calls to reduce federal spending, a pitch in tune with the big-government antipathy gripping many conservatives.

But the Minnesota Republican and her family have benefited personally from government aid, an examination of her record and finances shows. A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state of Minnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.

And she has sought to keep federal money flowing to her constituents. After publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s stimulus program, Bachmann requested stimulus funds to support projects in her district.

Bachmann yesterday defended herself by describing the clinic funding and “one time training money” for employees that didn’t financially benefit Bachmann’s husband. But presumably the clinic itself benefitted from having government money train its workers. Otherwise it’s hard to see why Bachmann’s husband’s clinic wanted the funding. And of course, there’s all that stimulus money Bachmann wants for her district.

I don’t really know if these revelations will damage Bachmann’s status as the Tea Party’s leading warrior queen (yes, you have been dethroned, Sarah Palin). That’s because this sort of hypocrisy is widespread among Tea Partyers themselves — let’s call it “Tea-pocrisy.”

As Steve Benen has been documenting — see here and here — there’s no shortage of officials and political activists who embrace the Tea Party even as they benefit directly or indirectly from government generosity themselves. Some House GOP freshmen have even been the direct recipient of farm subsidies.  And now the relevations about Tea Party chieftain Bachmann herself.

The point, as always, is that Tea Partyers are frequently for government spending as long as it’s benefitting the right people. Tea-pocrisy is not particularly complicated.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, June 27, 2011




June 27, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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