Remain Calm, Etc: Don’t Blink
Posted October 24, 2013on:
Good Thursday, Widdershins.
How often have we been treated to politicians yammering about “waste, fraud, and abuse” in “entitlements”? Close your eyes and conjure up memories of those “welfare queens” driving their Caddies down to Social Services to fill up the trunk with food stamps while honest hard-working Amurricanz are barely getting by, and yada yada yada. If I’ve heard about WF&A once, I’ve heard it a blue million times.
Not that WF&A does not exist – indeed it does. I have been in line behind the odd person purchasing a porterhouse with their SNAP card, but it isn’t terribly often. I worked in a city hospital long enough to know to know that there actually are women who deliberately have each and every child with a different man, as he can only give her a few hundred a month in cash. I also live near Miami, where some honest-to-God cases of vendor fraud have occurred and been prosecuted. WF&A is out there, but it certainly isn’t the norm, and many times it’s stopped because it has been reported. Such is not the case with our legislators.
The annual CREW Report of the most corrupt members of Congress is out, and many of the same names are front and center. This year’s report mentions 11 members of the House of Representatives (3D, 8R), 2 Senators (1 each), and 4 Dishonorable Mentions (2/2). Here are the opening paragraphs from the Executive Summary:
CREW’s ninth report on congressional corruption names 17 members of Congress—13
members who engaged in serious misconduct and four members whose transgressions brought
them a dishonorable mention. Seven members are on the list for the first time this year, and 10
are returning. In fact, six—Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Gregory
Meeks (D-NY), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Don Young (R-AK), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—
are on the list for at least the third time.
Why are we still talking about these six? If the Department of Justice (DOJ), the House
and Senate ethics committees, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were doing their
jobs, we wouldn’t be. The glacial pace of investigations into misconduct means many cases
have dragged on for years and some have been dropped entirely with no explanation, despite
strong evidence. At least 11 separate individuals and companies associated with Rep. Buchanan,
for example, have been fined for their involvement in making conduit contributions to his
campaigns. Key witnesses have sworn Rep. Buchanan directed them to reimburse people for
contributions, but the congressman implausibly has denied all knowledge and, incredibly, the
FEC and DOJ have refused to act.
The full report is 145 pages long, so for our purposes, we’ll just hit the highlights – please refer to the CREW report for the seamy details of which laws were violated by whom and when. The important thing to keep in mind is that with the advent of PACs, it has become more and more difficult to keep up with these folks. God knows, they appear to be rather adroit at bobbing and weaving their way through a lush field of lucre. Let’s start with Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NY), who has been in office for 13 terms. This is his second mention on the CREWS list, and it is a doozie,
Seems that Andrews received a prior warning (2009) from the FEC for purchasing some clothing with campaign funds. He repaid the money, and absolutely ignored the committee’s admonition to avoid further incidents. This year, he and his family flew to Scotland and stayed at a 5 star hotel, charging the campaign somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000 Andrews felt that this was just fine, and stated that the purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of a donor. Several years ago, he hosted a party celebrating his twentieth anniversary in Congress and his daughter’s high school graduation. Needless to say, his campaign funded that soirée to the tune of $10K. Said campaign has also spent $100K or so on travel back and forth to Hollywood, always accompanied by one of his daughters, In fact, many of his trips to various destinations appear to be timed to the performances of his daughter Josie, a budding thespian. Not only did the Andrews campaign fund travel, lodging and food to said destinations, but also made four-digit contributions to any number of theater projects in which Josie was involved. Bravo, Representative Andrews! No encore will be needed, we are believers.
Then there’s Rep. Michele Bachmann, who funneled campaign funds into the promoting her book tour. Per her editor, her “staff” decided to make the book tour a “collaborative effort” with her Presidential campaign, touring a number of cities as a candidate while hawking her memoirs on the side. Email lists from her Presidential bid were used to plump up attendance at book-signings, and book purchasers were signed up as volunteers for Bachmann for America. (Nothing to see here, move along.) The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has heard mountains of testimony – pro and con – and will be sifting through this one for some time. There are also allegations of improper use of campaign funds to pay staffers and to defend a lawsuit. Some staffers state that they were advised that they would not be compensated for work done unless they signed a non-disclosure agreement. What fun – I’ll bet that OCE and the FBI are just harassing her because she is a Christian,
Then there is Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) who has represented the fine folks of Manatee County for four fun-filled terms, with three appearances on the CREW list. Vern’s major problem has to do with funneling of corporate funds into his political campaign by having employees donate, then reimbursing them. (See the Executive Summary for the filthy details.) Vern owns a number of car dealerships on the Gulf Coast, and cruised his way into office on his “conservative principles”. Vern was also in a partnership once upon a time, but the partner grew weary of testifying to various committees about the whole dealership conduit into campaign funds and dissolved the agreement. Further, yet another unhappy Buchanan employee complained that vehicles from the dealership were being diverted for campaign purposes at less than fair marker value, and his CFO filed a complaint with the IRS alleging tax evasion. He is up to his eyeballs in suits, and his campaign has coughed up well over $400K in legal fees. Despite all of this, Vern Buchanan remains beloved in his area, and will doubtlessly be re-elected by a wide margin, because he is a “true conservative” who is “under attack” from the “liberal press” per a friend who is one of his constituents, She just doesn’t see a problem with his prospects for future federal employment, and I fear that she may be right, He has survived investigation after investigation, frequently with negative conclusions, yet continues to cruise down the Congressional freeway on someone else’s nickel.
What can be done about this? I haven’t got a clue. If your constituents feel that everything’s great, the FEC and OEC impose handslaps, and election laws with PACs are murky, these folks will be with us for a very long time. I can’t imagine that Congress plans to pass any laws that might make their own life more difficult, either.
I suppose that waste, fraud, and abuse are in the eye of the beholder. So don’t blink – WF&A is so rampant in Washington that it’s become part of the scenery. If you blink, it will blend quickly into the background of other wrongdoings.
This is an open thread.
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