"The Most Ethical Congress In History"

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 21, 2009

We’ve gone well beyond the point of joking about Congressional ethics. It’s safe to say that things are getting rather worrisome on the ethical front:

On the day the new Congress convened this year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to route $25 billion in taxpayer money to a government agency that had just awarded her husband’s real estate firm a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.

Mrs. Feinstein’s intervention on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was unusual: the California Democrat isn’t a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with jurisdiction over FDIC; and the agency is supposed to operate from money it raises from bank-paid insurance payments – not direct federal dollars.

Documents reviewed by The Washington Times show Mrs. Feinstein first offered Oct. 30 to help the FDIC secure money for its effort to stem the rise of home foreclosures. Her letter was sent just days before the agency determined that CB Richard Ellis Group (CBRE) – the commercial real estate firm that her husband Richard Blum heads as board chairman – had won the competitive bidding for a contract to sell foreclosed properties that FDIC had inherited from failed banks.

About the same time of the contract award, Mr. Blum’s private investment firm reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it and related affiliates had purchased more than 10 million new shares in CBRE. The shares were purchased for the going price of $3.77; CBRE’s stock closed Monday at $5.14.

These are serious allegations. They require investigation and until that investigation is completed, Senator Feinstein should step down as the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, given that she may be vulnerable to blackmail threats concerning other ethics charges. No one should prejudge her case, but no one should dismiss it out of hand either.

And then, there is our old friend–and one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staunchest friends–John Murtha. His hand, to say the least, has not been outside the cookie jar:

CBS News has learned that this month, Murtha is steering new earmarks toward 10 companies that recently donated to his campaign.
Murtha wants $8 million for Argon ST, a defense contractor whose CEO gave Murtha the maximum allowed by law – $2,400 by an individual. He’s directing a $5 million earmark toward Advanced Acoustic Concepts, which also gave the max – $5,000 for a political action committee – to his campaign. In all, 10 recent Murtha donors are slated to receive $31 million in Murtha earmarks for 2010.

Taxpayer watchdogs may not like how it looks, but it’s not against the law unless donations were required in order to receive the earmarks. Looking for evidence of wrongdoing, the FBI has recently raided offices of two other companies linked to Murtha.

“The sooner it gets to a bright line that’s a direct connection of ‘you give me money, you’re going to get taxpayer dollars,’ that’s when you really cross the line,” said Steve Ellis, with Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That line was crossed in one case, according to a defense contractor who spoke to us on condition of anonymity for fear of losing government contracts.

The contractor was set to receive $1 million tax dollars. He said the military told him the money would come through a company called Commonwealth Research Institute, whose parent company, Concurrent Technologies, ranked among the largest earmark recipients. Both were set up with Murtha’s help in his own hometown. The defense contractor said Commonwealth officials told him to get the money, he should “consider opening an office” in Johnstown, Murtha’s hometown, and chided his company for not giving “enough campaign contributions to Murtha,” and not making “a showing at Murtha’s annual defense contractor fair.”

The contractor told CBS News: “I wouldn’t do it. We’re just not going to play.” He didn’t get the funds.

On a regular basis, Republicans have sought to investigate Murtha’s attempts to blur ethical lines. On an equally consistent basis, Democrats have put a stop to those investigations. Isn’t it time to quit stonewalling? Or will people like Murtha and, potentially, Feinstein continue to be given the green light to cash in on their political power and connections?

During the 2006 midterms, Nancy Pelosi promised that if Democrats took over, the American people would get “the most ethical Congress in history.” This qualifies as one of the more notorious broken promises of all time.

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