The Campaign Spot

Your Democratic Scandal Scorecard

If you’re reading NRO, you’re probably already used to revelations of Democratic lawmakers saying one thing and doing another, and in some cases, violating the law with impunity. But for a congressional majority, and later, a president and administration that ran against a “culture of corruption,” the breadth, depth, and variety of recent and ongoing Democratic scandals is pretty eye-opening.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D., CONN.): Dodd is most notably and recently in trouble for the provision of the stimulus bill that ensured that already-existing contracts for bonuses at companies receiving federal bailout money would be honored. In an interview with CNN, he initially denied any role in the provision.

As chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd tried to put together federal aid for the then-troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. Dodd’s homes in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., were refinanced to below-market rates under the “Friends of Angelo” program (meaning he was a friend of then-CEO Angelo Mozilo). He did not disclose the refinance in the six financial-disclosure statements he’s filed since then and has failed to keep promises to release more information about them. He later said he knew he was part of the company’s “VIP” program, but he didn’t know being a part of the VIP program meant he would receive favorable mortgage terms. (Really.) Those noted anti-Democrat partisans on the New York Times editorial board have declared “his excuses are wearing ridiculously thin.”

NRO and the Los Angeles Times have reported that Dodd’s financial bailout legislation was “exactly what Bank of America and Countrywide wanted.”

In Dodd’s Senate ethics filings, he has repeatedly listed the value of his “cottage” in Ireland as between $100,001 and $250,000. Others have assessed the value of the property at $1 million or more. He bought it with a Missouri businessman who was friends with a felon convicted of insider trading. Dodd helped secure the felon a pardon from President Clinton, and later bought his partner’s two-thirds share of the property for $127,000.

In summer of 2008, when he was responsible for oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Dodd argued that to “suggest they are in major trouble is not accurate.” Fannie and Freddie employees donated $133,900 to Dodd since 1989, more to him than to any other lawmaker.

REP. JACK MURTHA (D., PA.): Federal agents are examining how nearly $250 million in defense appropriations were steered to clients of KSA Consulting, which employed Murtha’s brother Robert, and the PMA Group, founded by a former Murtha aide. The clients then contributed $775,000 to Murtha in the last election cycle.  The lawmaker is also under scrutiny for steering federal earmarks to John Murtha Airport.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D., N.Y.):  He is being “investigated by the House Ethics Committee in at least four areas, including his reported failure to properly report income taxes on a Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic; use of four, rent-controlled apartments in Harlem; questions about an offshore firm asking Rangel for special tax exemptions; and whether Rangel improperly used House stationery to solicit donations for a school of public affairs named after him at City College of New York,” Fox News summarizes.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D., N.M.): His nomination as commerce secretary was “derailed by a federal grand jury investigating whether one of his campaign donors won state contracts because of pressure from the governor’s office. The probe is moving along aggressively, sources close to the investigation said, and it is unclear whether Richardson could be indicted or what may become of his top aides, some of whom have been questioned,” the Washington Post reported.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D., CALIF.): Introduced legislation to steer $25 billion to the FDIC, days after before CB Richard Ellis Group, a commercial real-estate firm headed by her husband, Richard Blum, won the competitive bidding for a contract to sell foreclosed properties that the FDIC had inherited from failed banks. As the Washington Times noted, Feinstein is not a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over the FDIC; and the agency is supposed to operate from money it raises from bank-paid insurance payments — not direct federal dollars. (UPDATE: The legislation was introduced before the contract was awarded to CB Richard Ellis Group. See Feinstein office response below.)

REP. JIM MORAN (D., VA.) and REP. PETER VISCLOSKY (D., IND.): Along with Murtha, these two congressmen are under scrutiny for their ties to PMA Group, a lobbying firm that steered millions of dollars in donations to their political committees from its lobbyists and earmark-seeking clients.

REP. JESSE JACKSON (D., ILL.): The Chicago Sun-Times reports that two allies of Jackson told former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s camp that the congressman would raise up to $5 million in campaign cash for the ex-governor if he was appointed to President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. Jackson is under investigation by the House Office of Congressional Ethics.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D., CALIF.): This lawmaker can allegedly be heard on an NSA wiretap offering to help seek reduced charges for two pro-Israel lobbyists suspected of espionage in exchange for help from a suspected Israeli agent in lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give Harman a key chairmanship.

STEVE RATTNER: President Obama’s “Car Czar” was one of the executives involved with payments under scrutiny in a probe of an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund, according to a person familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In addition, since the beginning of the year, the House Office of Congressional Ethics has opened 10 preliminary investigations and six of them have moved to the “second phase review” stage. The identities of the lawmakers or staff under investigation are not known, other than Jesse Jackson Jr.

Then there is the separate category for scandals that have come and gone, and not been considered sufficient to impede cabinet nominees from performing their duties — the unpaid taxes of Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who overcame questions about $6,400 in tax liens against her husband’s business. Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer withdrew their nominations after revelations of unpaid taxes.

And this list is just the folks currently in office. Among those who have left office are former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D., Ill.),  former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick; and former Rep. William “The Freezer” Jefferson (D., La.).

And also file away the news that the National Enquirer, the first to break the news of John Edwards’s affair with a former campaign staffer, reports that a federal grand jury is examining allegations he paid her hush money with campaign funds.

But other than that, they’re “draining the swamp” and beating back the “culture of corruption,” as promised . ..

UPDATE: Feinstein’s office strenuously objects to the linked Times article.

The Washington Times on Tuesday published a story by Chuck Neubauer that aimed inaccurate, untrue and unfair suggestions of impropriety at Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and her husband, Richard Blum (“Senate husband’s firm cashes in on crisis,” Page 1). This hit piece distorted the truth in an attempt to cast an ethical cloud over legislation that was designed to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Mr. Neubauer twisted some facts – and ignored others – to cast shadows of controversy. It is disappointing that The Times saw fit to print such innuendo, but it’s never too late for a fact check.

#more#

Mr. Neubauer framed his story by asserting that the senator’s foreclosure-prevention bill was unusual because she “isn’t a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with jurisdiction over the FDIC.” This is completely and indisputably false. A simple examination of the senator’s legislative record reveals that she often pursues legislation that falls outside the scope of her committee assignments.

In the last session of Congress alone, she introduced: a bill that established national licensing standards for the mortgage industry, although she is not on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; a bill that closed the Enron loophole, although she is not on the Agriculture Committee; a bill that banned harmful phthalates from children’s toys, although she is not a member of the Commerce Committee; a bill to raise fuel efficiency of America’s fleet of vehicles by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years, although she is not a member of the Commerce Committee; a bill to renew trade sanctions against the Burmese junta, although she is not a member of the Finance Committee; and a bill to reduce the tariff on imported ethanol, although she is not a member of the Finance Committee.

So, there is nothing unusual about her bill to provide $25 billion in foreclosure relief to struggling homeowners. Senators commonly pursue bills that are outside the jurisdiction of their committees, according to researchers at the Library of Congress.

The story also insinuates that there is a correlation between the date on which Mrs. Feinstein wrote a letter in support of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila C. Bair’s foreclosure-prevention efforts and the date on which a competitively bid contract was awarded by FDIC career staff to CB Richard Ellis Group, where Mr. Blum is non-executive chairman. But there is a more logical reason why she sent the letter Oct. 30.

That day, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page story about Mrs. Bair’s proposal, describing it as a plan that could “help millions of families stave off foreclosure.” I presented this article to the senator, who is very concerned with the issue because California has the highest number of foreclosures in the nation, with 837,665 filings in 2008 alone. After reading it, she sent the letter. Coincidentally, an L.A. Times editorial the next day endorsed Mrs. Bair’s plan, calling it a “promising” way to “stave off more foreclosures by offering federal guarantees to lenders that refinance defaulting mortgages.”

At the time, neither Mrs. Feinstein nor her husband had any awareness of CB Richard Ellis’ bid for an FDIC contract to advise the agency on the sales of foreclosed properties. Her support of the Bair proposal was based solely on the urgent need to stem foreclosures. I explained the correlation between the newspaper story and the legislation to Mr. Neubauer, but his story downplays the significance. The story also fails to mention that variations of this proposal passed the Senate by unanimous voice vote.

The truth is that Mrs. Feinstein was not aware of the CB Richard Ellis contract until Mr. Neubauer called me Jan. 21 and I brought it to her attention. There is no conflict of interest – and no connection – between the senator’s foreclosure-relief bill and CB Richard Ellis’ winning a competitively bid contract, which was awarded – unbeknownst to her – by nonpolitical career staff.

Additionally, a bill to prevent foreclosures would not be particularly helpful to a company that was bidding for a contract to sell foreclosed properties.

In any case, President Obama issued an executive order to allocate $75 billion in federal funds for a foreclosure-relief program similar to the Bair plan, rendering Mrs. Feinstein’s legislation unnecessary.

Mr. Neubauer’s story also uses a selective description of the FDIC contract terms in order to make it seem as if CB Richard Ellis received a unique and lucrative deal. But the terms of its contract are similar to those that any other firm could have won in the nine-month-long competitive bidding process.

There is no sweetheart deal, there is no conflict of interest, and there is no story.

Mrs. Feinstein has the highest ethical standards and complies with all requirements of the Ethics Committee. Her legislative agenda is dictated by what she believes is best for the people of the United States and the people of California. Period. Any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate, untrue and unfair.

GIL DURAN

Communications director

Office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Washington