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2/19/2009
THEY JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES

This story is not news. It is not surprising in the least - to right or left. Nor is it indicative of anything we don’t already know about Congress as an institution and to a large degree, the elected members who fill out its ranks.

What is surprising is the size and scope of this developing scandal which has about 1/4 of the United States Congress dropping earmarks into a spending bill directed to the clients of one lobbying firm - a company already under investigation by the FBI for funnelling illegal campaign contributions to Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha (D).

CQ Politics has the details:

No matter what the outcome of the federal investigation, PMA’s earmark success illustrates how a well-connected lobbying firm operates on Capitol Hill. And earmark accountability rules imposed by the Democrats in 2007 make it possible to see how extensively PMA worked the Hill for its clients.

In the spending bill managed by Murtha, the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriation, 104 House members got earmarks for projects sought by PMA clients, according to Congressional Quarterly’s analysis of a database constructed by Ashdown’s group.

Those House members, plus a handful of senators, combined to route nearly $300 million in public money to clients of PMA through that one law (PL 110-116).

And when the lawmakers were in need — as they all are to finance their campaigns — PMA came through for them.

According to CQ MoneyLine, the same House members who took responsibility for PMA’s earmarks in that spending bill have, since 2001, accepted a cumulative $1,815,138 in campaign contributions from PMA’s political action committee and employees of the firm.

It should be said up front that there is no evidence - yet - any of these members took illegal contribtions. They aren’t doing anything that almost everyone else is doing. Indeed, this kind of pay for play is rampant around the country from courthouses, to statehouses, to the White House. What it proves is that for all the “reform” that has supposedly taken place in Washington going all the way back to the 1970’s - “sunshine” laws, lobbying reform, campaign finance reform, limiting junkets, etc. - there is still the back room, the wink and a handshake over cocktails, the speech “honorariums” given by lobbying firms at events held in warm, exotic locations, and the whispered agreements outside the rooms where conference committees work to craft the laws of the land.

There is also nothing illegal about earmarks. As I have tried to explain before, one member’s “earmark” that wastes spending is another man’s necessity. Yes, there are bogus examples like the Bridge to Nowhere, and the post office named after the member built in a town of 10 people. No doubt there are roads to nowhere too. But getting rid of the practice would actually be detrimental. Many times, a Congressman will put an earmark in a spending bill because the federal agency being funded refuses to spend money on genuinely worthy projects. Here again, there is a perception gap; what might be a “worthy” project for one district might be seen by someone living in another as waste. The authors of the book “The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, The Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught” point this out in an excellent explanation of what earmarks are and why they are used:

In truth, there is nothing illegal about earmarks and, as the authors point out in a brilliant chapter on the practice, they can be used for good at times. As an example of earmarks being used for a beneficial purpose, a lone Texas Congressman steered billions of dollars to the Afghan resistance fighting Soviet occupation in the 1980’s. Said Representative Charlie Wilson (whose story was told in the hugely entertaining Charlie Wilson’s War) “There are three branches of the government and you have to explain that to the executive branch every once and a while and earmarks are the best way to do that.” Wilson believed that the Afghan resistance would never have triumphed without earmarks because the CIA would not have spent the money effectively.

Having said that, there is absolutely no doubt the process must be reformed - something the Democrats tried in 2007 but ended up doing a half assed job because their own members balked at reforms that would truly bite. There is a little more transparency but still no debate over measures that can be as expensive as a billion dollars. And then there is the impossible to police practice of members giving preferment to campaign contributors and well heeled lobbyists not to mention the whole, bloody practice has gone beyond reason, beyond necessity, and beyond belief:

Earmarks were a problem going back in the 1980’s. For example, the authors point to the 1987 Transportation bill vetoed by an astonished Ronald Reagan who counted no less than 121 earmarks in the bill. Both the House and Senate – Democrats and Republicans – shrugged off the Gipper’s disapproval and passed the bill over the President’s veto overwhelmingly. In 1991, the number of earmarks in the pork laden Transportation bill had grown to 538; 1850 by 1998; and by 2005 the total number of earmarks reached a mind numbing 6,373 costing an additional $24.2 billion. (Source: Taxpayers for Common Sense).

Newt Gingrich and the Republicans saw the earmark as a ticket to a permanent majority. The Republicans would place newer or more vulnerable members on one of the Appropriations Committees which would give them access to the lobbyists who, in exchange for an earmark, would fill their campaign coffers with cash as well as shower the member with gifts, junkets, and other goodies.

Earmarks were part of the so-called “K-Street Strategy” where lobbyists became enormously influential not only in re-electing Republicans but in crafting and critiquing legislation. It corrupted the Republican party and, with the Democrats having their own “K-Street” connections, has already corrupted them too.

Earmarks are a symptom. It is the whole rotten ediface of governance in America that is corrupt and I don’t know whether it’s because the people we elect are of a mean moral character or the system itself is just too much of a temptation for politicians to pass up the opportunity to enrich themselves. Probably both. Surely this is not the kind of government imagined by Madison. Even Hamilton might have raised an eyebrow at the excesses of self aggrandizing politicians who may come to Washington determined to resist the siren calls of lobbyists and their gift horses only to fall prey in the end to apathy or worse, the belief that “everybody does it” so why should I be a chump?

I have grown cynical since 1979 when I found myself in Washington as a 24 year old sprite, agog at the majesty and towering historical figures with whom I was rubbing shoulders. But the reverence I had for politicians and our system of government back then was misplaced. I see now that the stately buildings, the stirring rhetoric, the passion, the belief in ideas was a mirage, a beautiful facade behind which was the crumbling, rotten ruins of 200 years of hopes, aspirations and bloody sacrifce made irrelevant by hard-eyed, cynical men who exploited people like me and what I believed for their own gain. By the time I left Washington 6 years later, I had been disabused of my boyish naivete, having seen the grubby underside of politics and governing as well as the grasping, conniving nature of so many who weild power, ideally to benefit the people but instead, to protect and enrich a wealthy elite. The education of Rick Moran was complete.

And yet, my cynicism has always been tempered by the realization that they are, after all, human and that the fault was mine for placing they and the government of the nation I love on such a high pedestal. Today, I see things with a little harder edge to my observations. But I still believe that the men and women who represent us can do a much better job while maintaining their integrity. If they can’t help themselves, then laws and rules must be designed to lead them not into temptation - make it so hard for them to exploit their position for personal gain that they either keep their souls or go back to selling used cars or whatever activity their debauched character finds comfortable.

If they are going to act like kids in a candy store when they get to Washington, perhaps it’s time to start treating them like children who need to be constantly taught the right thing to do. It’s apparent that somewhere along the way, most Members of Congress forgot those basic lessons and need remedial instruction.

By: Rick Moran at 8:30 am
27 Responses to “THEY JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES”
  1. 1
    Jim Digriz Said:
    10:08 am 

    Hi Rick,
    Have you given up posting on 24?

    Jim

    No, Jim. Just finding time is the problem. Hope to have one up later this afternoon.

    ed.

  2. 2
    golfer1 Said:
    10:33 am 

    Rick, I hope you’re feeling better. I know that delayed the 24 posting last week.

    Lots of chicken soup (grin)

  3. 3
    michael reynolds Said:
    11:31 am 

    The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; it’s what’s legal. — Michael Kinsley

  4. 4
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    11:47 am 

    I wonder if it’s possible to legislate integrity into existence, where none existed before.

  5. 5
    uh-oh - Nearly One-Forth of the House got donations from corrupt firm connected to Murtha | Political Byline Pinged With:
    1:01 pm 

    [...] The Swamp, NPR, Outside The Beltway, The Washington Independent, Liberty Street, Right Wing Nut House, Betsy’s Page, Hot Air, Wizbang, Taegan Goddard’s …, Riehl World View,  Sister [...]

  6. 6
    EBJ Said:
    2:26 pm 

    Rahm Emanuel talked of using disasterous circumstances to push through a controversial agenda. I wonder if he’s given any thought about those on the other side seeing the same opportunity? Has there ever been a better time to push mandatory term limits? If ‘our’ representatives can’t manage a horse to water how can we lose by trading them for ‘players to be named later’?

  7. 7
    bsjones Said:
    3:13 pm 

    Rick

    Great post.

    James Madison never thought we would have these problems:

    If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
    James Madison

    Madison thought the system was perfect. The internal controls on government are the “separation of powers” and “checks and balances”. The external controls on government are “We the People” and our ability to vote criminals out of office.

    He must be rolling in his grave with disgust.

  8. 8
    Neo Said:
    3:42 pm 

    What is illegal is ‘identity theft’

    Marvin Hoffman is listed in campaign finance records as one of the many lobbyists with the powerful PMA Group donating money to lawmakers. But Hoffman is a soon-to-retire information technology manager in Marina del Rey, Calif., who has never heard of the Arlington lobbying firm or the Indiana congressman to whom he supposedly gave $2,000.

    “It’s alarming that someone is stealing my identity somewhere,” Hoffman, 75, said in an interview. “I’ve never heard of this company.”

    This obviously would be illegal for PMA Group to do, but what isn’t know yet, is whether any of the targets of PMA Group knew this was going on.

  9. 9
    sara in va Said:
    3:44 pm 

    Don’t know if you allow yourself the indulgence of watching American Idol. I love it. Anyhow, this season, one of the most talked about contestants is Tatiana del Toro, an attention craving, uber drama queen.

    On Tuesday’s show, after her performance, in a surprise move, she very sincerely added this comment: “This is my Dream America! It is up to You to make My dream come true.”

    No kidding, she really said that, with pouty lips and moist eyes, appearing very much to think we actually cared.

    She was booted off Idol in last night’s show. Apparently, nobody in America gave a rip about helping her out with her Dream. She was shocked, truly shocked, of course.

    My point is (sorry for the roundabout) that there are way too Tatianas who think we owe them their dream, simply because they have one.

    Wish to God we could vote the greedy no-talent, lying, uber drama queens in Washington out as easily.

  10. 10
    BubbaJ Said:
    4:43 pm 

    Ditto about term limits. That would be real change we could believe in. It’s time for a march on Washington.

  11. 11
    Maggie's Farm Trackbacked With:
    5:32 pm 

    QQQ…

    I have grown cynical since 1979 when I found myself in Washington as a 24 year old sprite, agog at the majesty and towering historical figures with whom I was rubbing shoulders. But the reverence I had for politicians and our system of government back …

  12. 12
    JB "WHEELS" WEGENER Said:
    6:01 pm 

    “They aren’t doing anything that almost everyones else is doing.”

    You have it right Ed. We the little people have no control what so ever over any of these lifetime political son’s of B’s !

    They feed us lies to get into office and then feed on our hard earned bucks to enjoy their life in whatever way they choose regardless of what it does to our family life, AIG to vegas with baloone payments and instant bucks they were given to them without telling anyone where the bucks went,….little george did that before he left office ! They care nothing about our children except that they want them to grow up and work for them in whatever job, (they have picked for them such as a war that was not needed at the time-iraq, and now all agree that it should have been an afgahn war that will be pumped up by obummer), and when our kids get back from their war many have a very hard time getting help for their wounds and other benefits they have coming !

    The lifetime polititions need to be exterminated-voted out !

    SFS
    Wheels

  13. 13
    bsjones Said:
    7:19 pm 

    We are not powerless.
    If we refuse to make excuses for those in Washington that are crooks, and then refuse to vote for them, they will not win re-election.

    Hope is not lost.

  14. 14
    bsjones Said:
    2:24 am 

    check this out:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/business/worldbusiness/19ubs.html?_r=3

    Just curious…..

    Anyone willing to defend the tax evaders who put their money in Swiss bank accounts and call what happened to UBS an unwarranted government intrusion on personal freedom?

    Recently I have been arguing for more accountability for government and its ruling elites. Sometimes (but, not always) this accountability comes from part the government itself. In this case it came from the Justice Department. I think this is relevant post because it points the way to how, we, ordinary people can start taking back our country. We use the levers of government against those who lie, cheat, and rob from us.

    Here is the same story as reported by a moonbat website:
    http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/swiss-bank-open-files-us-authorities

    Enjoy!

  15. 15
    sara in va Said:
    7:10 am 

    bsjones,

    Again, here we are, hatin’ on the rich.

    19,000 people with swiss bank accounts vs. millions on welfare of some sort. Where are the investigators who should have found Obama’s illegal Aunt, living off the public dole?

    They both choose to “lie, cheat and rob”. The GREED and self-interest is certainly the same. I want to see Obama’s Aunt (in the US illegally, living in public housing) grilled by Congress. Now, I might enjoy THAT show.

  16. 16
    Gayle Miller Said:
    8:27 am 

    If you disapprove of the “porkulous” bill - go here (http://www.cnbc.com/id/29283701) and vote! Right now the “disapprove” votes are at 93%.

  17. 17
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    10:13 am 

    sara

    Now, I might enjoy THAT show.

    That’s really awesome of you.

  18. 18
    sara in va Said:
    10:52 am 

    Chuck,

    Yep, me and about 50 million others. Do you feel somehow superior because you support illegality, when it’s done by the “poor”? Congrats, dude.

  19. 19
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    12:39 pm 

    Sara,

    No, I’m a rule of law kinda guy. It’s just that watching people suffer doesn’t really turn me on. Everyone’s got their thing though, that’s cool.

  20. 20
    bsjones Said:
    1:42 pm 

    Hi Sara in VA,
    Not surprisingly, I see it a bit different. I think all criminals should be held accountable through a just application of the law regardless of their class or background. Criminals should go through the appropriate part of the justice system for their misdeeds.

    Hypothetical situations:
    A man lies to collect double unemployment benefits.

    A man sells cocaine in Miami and launders his illegal profits by investing in local businesses.

    A man defrauds investors to make a profit on Wall Street, he puts the profits in a Swiss bank account to hide his gains and avoid a U.S. tax liability.

    I want to see all of these criminals punished. No house arrest for ANY of them.

    An argument could be made that the drug dealer causes the most social harm, so he should get the harshest sentence. Maybe. As we have all found out, sometimes Wall Street crime can have a wide ranging negative social impact too.

    Also, some things I dislike are legal. If a woman has an abortion, she has not done anything illegal. It makes no sense to call her a criminal. She has broken no law. Likewise, anyone who collects a social security or other welfare payment is not a criminal for collecting it, if they have not committed fraud and meet all the criteria necessary to collect it. Just because something offends me does not make it illegal.

    Finally, if what you say about Obama’s Aunt is true, accountability demands she go through the appropriate deportation proceedings. If she gets away with being here illegally, it will be because:
    1. there is little enforcement of immigration laws
    and/or
    2. Obama is president. (In America, the president and his closest comrades are above the law.)

    It will not have anything to do with Obama being a Democrat.

  21. 21
    sara in va Said:
    3:06 pm 

    bsjones,

    Here we are again, and I think we agree. I was just trying to make a point that people don’t mind seeing CEOs “suffer” (as Chuck says). I would imagine that more people get turned on by the payback they imagine they’re getting when wealthy people squirm.

    I don’t get off watching poor people hurting. If you only knew how many hours I spend in my community volunteering….I see lots of things I disagree with. There is nothing wrong with demanding accountability. Is there? Tell me there’s not, or there’s no hope at all anymore.

    Getting back to Rick’s post.

    A month or so ago, regular listeners of Rush Limbaugh were all freaked out because they thought that he was one of the conservatives invited to dine with Obama. Rush had put the word out that he was in Washington DC, people put two and two together, came up with the idea that Obama had cleverly, manipulatively, asked Rush to come and offer input. People were truly upset by the thought that Obama might unleash a charm offensive that would sway El-Rushbo.

    While I was 99.9% positive Rush would never give up his stance against porky spending just because Obama smiled in his direction and offered flattery, there was still a minute possibility that he might.

    And what caused that fear, that .01%? Because, even the most well-intentioned people have gone to Washington and come back stained. Look at Rick. He came back completely disillusioned by what he experienced.

    This is what we fear: “Rush,” says Obama, “You support me on this deal, and I can promise you we won’t go after you on the Fairness Doctrine.” Stuff like that. We wonder - will our leaders sell us out?

    Whatever happens up there, whether it’s bribery or blackmail, it’s not good. We need to save people from it. We need term limits to save people from going to Hell and us from living in it.

  22. 22
    eaglewingz08 Said:
    3:11 pm 

    It really isn’t the lobbyists that one should blame, it’s the size of the federal gov’t. When the gov’t has so much money to hand out, people will do their best to retake as much of what was lost as possible. With the federal gov’t ready to hand out eighteen trillion dollars in the next four years (four budgets of over three trillion plus the stimulus,plus TARP1-20, plus the FED injections, plus mortgage financing) anyone who is anyone will be up on capital hill to get their share because there won’t be enough money in the private sector to fund Nancy Peelousy’s plastic surgeon.

  23. 23
    bsjones Said:
    3:31 pm 

    Sara in VA,

    It’s nice to be in agreement with somebody around here on occasion.

    One more thing…
    Retribution is one part of justice.
    If someone kills my wife, I would like to see them suffer as she suffered.

    If my retirement account and/or pension is destroyed one year before I retire, by corrupt white collar criminals (be they Ken Lay or Arthur Anderson stooges), I would like to see them suffer as I suffer.

    I gain a psychological benefit “when the punishment fits the crime.”

    Is retribution, or punishment, the only purpose of justice? I say no. I still think it is valid.

  24. 24
    bsjones Said:
    5:52 pm 

    Sara,
    Sadly, current events mean we do not have to use hypothetical scenarios anymore. Sir Allen Stanford of Texas (also of Antigua and Barbuda) is to be indicted.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/sir-allen-stanford/4735829/Sir-Allen-Stanford-could-face-criminal-fraud-charges.html

    A video is here:
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c0c761d6-fdee-11dd-932e-000077b07658.html

    At the end of the article it states: “One former employee said he tried to pass on his concerns to regulators six years ago.”

    and

    “Mr Hazlett said he repeated his concerns during an arbitration hearing when he left the bank and believed regulators would follow up on them.”

    Oh well. Stuff happens.

    Sir Allen Stanford is the first American to be knighted by Antigua and Barbuda. He is also a citizen of the small island nation, considered a tax haven by a site that proclaims, “Tax Havens are GOOD.”

    http://www.zyra.org.uk/taxhaven.htm

    I am not excited by this or getting off on it in any way. I am sad and scared. What does it mean when the stream of corporate corruption flows this freely?

    I hope to God, if found guilty, he will be punished. I will start praying that he is not placed under house arrest or simply returned to his island paradise home toe escape justice.

    Anybody out there share my concerns?

  25. 25
    mannning Said:
    8:48 pm 

    The short answer, bsjones, is a resounding YES!

    We need to find, fix, and punish those who violate the law, and yes, let the punishment fit the crime. Perhaps we need a few more laws to close loopholes that allow some of these creeps to escape. Perhaps we need to rein in the power of the President to pardon money men–surely for altruistic reasons alone, don’t you think?

  26. 26
    bsjones Said:
    9:18 pm 

    Manning,
    Re: pardon power

    The president IS NOT a MONARCH!!

    Let’s constitutionally abolish this ridiculous and antiquated presidential power.
    It is unnecessary, as our judicial system provides the accused plenty of opportunity to acquit themselves.

    The problem with the pardon power is it is absolute in nature. A president can pardon anyone who was convicted of a federal crime (excepting impeachment). Once it is granted, it cannot be overturned.

    I am particularly offended when a president pardons someone in his own administration in an attempt to protect himself or his reputation.

    “Wherever there is interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done.”
    James Madison

    The presidential pardon is an enormous power to do wrong.

    Where is the accountability?

  27. 27
    Thon Brocket Said:
    2:11 am 

    It’s the fundamental problem of democracy - legislators bribing electors with their own money, and electors voting themselves state handouts. It’s always the same - though the manifestations are enormously different in different countries - and always will be.

    I believe that the only way to solve the problem while maintaining democracy is to separate the powers of taxation and general legislation by electing two separate legislatures - one solely to legislate (without the power to tax to pay for it - so the voters can only elect them on their legislative promises and record) and one solely to raise taxes (without the power to spend any of it - so the voters only elect them on their taxing intentions).

    This idea is just a combination of two thoroughly well-tested constitutional arrangements - bicameralism and the separation of powers. The explicit purpose of the doctrine of separation of powers is to prevent the domination of a single political faction in the government of the nation. It’s pretty clear that in almost all Western democracies the tax-and-spend, big government, statist faction dominates and will continue to dominate (Is Old Europe becoming less Socialist, or America less porkalicious?). Separating the powers, so that a politician got elected not on promises of pork to his constituents, but on either his pledge to legislate responsibly or his pledge to tax responsibly (not both - there’s the rub) would move the balance of power towards the citizen and away from the state.

    There are plenty of suggestion for adjusting the mechanism ( term limits, graded priorities, various ideas for tax reform, a hundred others, some of which may have real value in reducing the problem), but they’re only addressing the issue at the edges. The ability of power-seekers to make the standard corrupt bargain with the electorate lies at the root of the problem. End that, and you solve the problem.

    This isn’t just an American problem. I’m British, and though we don’t have the spectacular pork-o-rama of American politics, we have the even-more-pernicious aspect of the same problem - the pervasive intrusive welfare state, whose fundamental MO is “Vote for me and I’ll get you lots of lovely skools ‘n hospitals ‘n government jobs. I might have to raise your taxes just a teeny wee bit to help pay for it, but I’m really going to soak those rich stockbroker bastards for most of the money.” So I’m interested in looking at this idea wherever it might apply, not just in America.

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