Corruption Update: Californian Republicans Deep in the Muck
Lots of news about corruption these days as we head into the '06 elections. Republicans read the Busby/Bilbray election earlier this year as voters didn't really care about corruption. Yet, with the spate of stories coming out and the number of incumbents under investigation, it seems like this growing scandal still has a chance to be a big part of the election. Last year, I had noticed that there seemed to be three or four states where corruption seemed to have taken over the Republican party. Texas is obvious because it was the state that produced Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and George W Bush. The Florida Republican Party, with Jebby as governor, is watching with horror as Rep. Katherine Harris conducts a joke of a campaign which is now threatening the hold of the party on the state. And there's Ohio where Rep. Bob Ney is upset because he thinks he'll be hit with an indictment at the worst possible time: when he's in the final weeks of the campaign. But as I wrote previously, it was fascinating to realize how much of the Culture of Corruption was centering on the California Republicans.
The LA Times has found that Californian Republicans are particularly overrepresented in these scandals because even though California is a blue state, Californian Republicans have a lot of clout. Out of the 20 Republican House members from California, 6 of them have powerful chairmanships on major committees.
Despite the state's predilection for voting Democratic, six of its 20 Republican Congress members are chairmen of major committees. Their rise has brought millions of federal dollars and other benefits to parts of the state. Bill Thomas snagged about $755 million for his district in last year's highway bill. Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, tucked $4.25 million for his district into one recent spending bill — more than the individual allocations for 11 states.
Some congressional leaders, however, have grown so close to well-connected lobbyists and have been so aggressive in channeling tax dollars to favored interests that their activities have sparked scrutiny and calls for reform. One California chairman, Lewis, is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation.
The November elections will decide whether five of California's "Big Six" chairmen — Rep. William Marshall Thomas (R-Bakersfield) is retiring at the end of the year — continue to hold their powerful positions. The others are: Representative Charles Jeremy (Jerry) LEWIS (R-Redlands); Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) of Armed Services; Representative Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) of Education and the Workforce; Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) of Rules; and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) of Resources.
These guys are under scrutiny not only because of Abramoff, but also because of convicted ex-Rep Duke Cunningham and because they too have close connections with a number of the lobbyists that surrounded them like the relationship Cunningham had with Wilkes. The poster child for the new style of corruption is ex-Rep. Bill Lowery who started his own lobbying company that has proven to be so lucrative to himself, Rep. Jerry Lewis and Lewis' staff who found it easy to move from being a member of Lewis' staff to Copeland, Lowery and back again.
The key to making this corruption work is: powerful committee chairmanships, close connections with the lobbyists, the easy movement from working on the Hill to working on K-Street and the use of earmarks to entrench the power and the flow of money without oversight. As the NY Times article about Brent Wilkes said:
The culture of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee is one of great power and little scrutiny. Mr. Wilkes said every member appeared to have a personal allowance of millions of dollars to disburse without public disclosure. Lawmakers, though, sometimes boast about money being spent in their districts.
In the spending bill for this fiscal year, each member took credit for an average $27 million in earmarks, with the chairman, Representative C. W. Bill Young, Republican of Florida, claiming about $125 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that tracks earmarks.
Note that there's lots and lots of money to use in earmarks: the Times reported that in the 2006 spending bills there were some 12,000 earmarks that resulted in some $64 billion in spending.
As more of these stories come out, it makes a toxic brew for the Republicans to run in for the upcoming election, especially as more and more people indicate that they are upset with the way the country is being run. And if the House does switch hands, the powerful Republican contingent won't be quite so influential.