Today I wrote down everything you need to know about Harvey Whittemore — a lobbyist-turned-real-estate-developer-turned-convicted-campaign-finance-crook, and a close personal friend of Harry Reid and his family. The Senate majority leader has used the United States Senate to directly benefit Whittemore’s business interests on more than one occasion, and I detail some of the many ways Whittemore has paid him back:
Soon, the Whittemore-Reid partnership became a family affair, with Whittemore at one time or another employing all four of Reid’s sons. In 2001, Rory Reid even took a lobbying job at Whittemore’s firm while he was chairman of Nevada’s Democratic party. In an e-mail circulated by a political opponent, Reid the Younger was quoted as saying, “I don’t think (being a lobbyist) presents a problem.” The quote continued: “I believe in the clients I represent. I will do what I can to help the party, and I believe in the issues I am lobbying on. Lobbyists are part of the process.”
The relationship turned even sketchier when Whittemore largely stopped lobbying on behalf of clients and turned to lobbying on behalf of himself, in his new capacity as a real-estate tycoon. In the early 2000s, Whittemore led the development of Coyote Springs, Nevada’s largest master-planned community, where 50,000 homes and ten golf courses sprawled over 42,800 acres 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas. In 2003, Reid sponsored legislation that would have moved a federal utility right-of-way from Whittemore’s property onto a federally protected “wilderness study” area, freeing up 11,000 acres for development. The move was hidden in technical language within a larger bill and initially would have come at no charge to Whittemore or his partners. But when the Department of the Interior objected, and the Los Angeles Times reported on the scheme, Reid had two changes of heart, first agreeing that the developers should pay for the move themselves and then withdrawing the right-of-way provision altogether.
Reid’s long history of cronyism, nepotism, and rascalism is sadder than most politicians’, if only because, once upon a time, he might have been the only honest man in Las Vegas. As I wrote in a piece a few months ago:
Like disco and the Soviet Red Army, Harry Reid reached his apogee in 1979, when, as head of the Nevada Gaming Commission, he had Chicago Outfit enforcer Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro — who would later be portrayed by Joe Pesci in the Scorsese epic Casino – blacklisted and barred from entering any gambling facility in the state. This put a major dent in the Outfit’s reign of extortion and murder in Vegas. Around that time, Reid also tried to choke lawyer Jack Gordon, who had offered him a bribe, and had to be restrained by FBI agents with whom Reid was cooperating on a sting.
To my mind, Reid’s been plummeting back to Earth ever since.
To be fair, being elected a Democratic senator from Nevada is as close to an act of criminal entrapment as the democratic process gets.