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Monday December 5, 2005
From San Diego, California
One of the features of the Gingrich Revolution when Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives in January 1995, was a pledge to reverse the accelerating trend toward self-dealing and, in effect, insider-trading which had infected operations in the House over the 40 years of Democratic control.
Rules were changed to make it more difficult for gifts to be exchanged in return for favors. There were restaurants on the House side of Capitol Hill which literally went out of business when the rules forbad Members or staff being treated to lavish lunches or dinners paid for by lobbyists.
We have mentioned here before that lobbying, per se, is a protected function. The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees Americans the right to "petition for redress of grievances." A grievance can be in the eye the corporate federal sales manager; the petition can be paid for of a corporate checking account.
The majority of lobbyists engage in representing their clients' interest to Congress and to the Administration in a perfectly upright and ethical manner. Labor and environmental lobbyists are just as visible on any given day as are lobbyists representing corporations.
What has changed in the past few years is the explosion of "earmarks" within appropriations bills.
An "earmark" is a demand by a Representative or Senator that a specific amount of money be spent by a specific Federal Department or agency on a specific project and is written in such a way that the money ends up in the hands of a specific recipient.
An earmark might require the Department of State to contract for services in the amount of $2,500 with a company which generates a web-based column, issued three times per week, has a database of not less than 30,000 names, and has a title which begins with the letter "M."
See how this works?
Oh. Let me make it clear that was just an example. Mullings has NO contract with the State Department, never has, and because you know how easy it is for me to stay on message, likely never will.
In the case of former Congressman Duke Cunningham, a defense contractor went from what was described by political analyst Norm Ornstein as a "trace element" in Washington one day to a $200 Million dollar contractor the next, through earmarks fueled by bribes demanded by Cunningham and paid by the company.
A bribe can be defined as taking something of value - money, is a good example - in return for performing an official act - like putting an earmark into an appropriations bill.
The most common explanation is that the Congressman or Senator believed that the earmark was in the best interests of the American people. The campaign contributions, golf trips, dinner invitations, sporting events, or other re-legalized gifts had no impact whatsoever. Really. Never even came to mind. Don't know what you're talking about.
Too often the Department or agency which is being, in effect, ordered to spend money, doesn't need, or even want, the item or service.
A project earmarked by Cunningham required the Department of Defense to digitally scan documents relating to the Panama Canal because the Canal is now being operated by Chinese firms and, uh, we need to be able to pull up things like building blueprints so, uh, in case of a war with Communist China we would know what was where.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the company in question was "using its most expensive technology to scan engineering drawings from the 1870s and images of boats from the 1910s."
And you wonder how we got behind supplying body armor for reservists in Iraq.
The Leadership of the House - Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Pelosi - should immediately re-write the rules such that no earmark will be included in any appropriation bill unless it is accompanied by a statement from the applicable Federal entity that the contract is essential to the people of the United States of America.
No statement, no earmark. No earmark, no donation. No donation, no undue influence.
No … free lunch.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the San Diego Union-Tribune detailing the Second Panama Canal Giveaway, the Merriam-Webster definition of a bribe, a really sophomoric Mullfoto - even more than usual, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.
Copyright © 2005 Richard A. Galen
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