S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Follow the Money

Do these stories have the makings of major scandals? During the Watergate scandal we learned to "follow the money." Is that still a good practice? Is it even possible? Today's post explores a few items from the current news that concern politics and money.

U.S. House of Representatives leader finances -- Read this from Tom Grieve at - "Where's the wealth gap? Try Congress" The (6/17/08) story includes details on all leaders in Congress. Earned income for each is listed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)= $212,100 (jointly with her husband); House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)= $183,500; House Miority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)= $183,500; House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S-S.C.)= $162,200; and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)= $165,200. The report also includes figures on Major assets, Major Sources of unearned income, Major liabilities, Gifts and Notes. To quote from the story:

If Democrats ever need evidence of a wealth gap in America, they can find it in their own House leadership.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi made $212,000 last year as House speaker. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer made $183,500 as House majority leader.

But while Pelosi and her husband own a many-million-dollar vineyard in St. Helena, Calif., and two other multimillion-dollar homes, Hoyer holds a portfolio more typical of a public servant — somewhere in the vicinity of a half-million dollars in IRAs and much smaller sums in a smattering of other accounts.

U.S. Senator finances -- Reading this from a fine new nonprofit news website, ProPublica, we might naturally want to know a bit more about the source, CREW. Wikipedia labels the organization as general liberal leaning and progressive, and that appears to the the case. Paul Kiel, late of TPM Muckraker, wrote the (6/16/08) piece, "Watchdog Files Ethics Complaint over Senators’ V.I.P. Mortgage Loans." It opens with this (discouraging for me, a Senator Dodd fan) info:

Two senior Democratic senators got special "V.I.P." loans from the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. Both say they had no idea they'd received rate and fee reductions. But a D.C. watchdog has filed an ethics complaint asking whether the senators should have noticed their V.I.P. treatment. Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington also asks that the Senate ethics committee establish a vetting process for lawmaker loans.

. . . Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) both received discounts through the "Friends of Angelo" program, Portfolio magazine reported last week, Angelo being Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.

. . . CREW's letter to the ethics committee asks that the panel not only probe the loans to Conrad and Dodd, but also find out whether other lawmakers received similar deals. "The public needs to have confidence that members of Congress are not taking advantage of their elected positions to get better deals on their mortgages," said CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan. The group also called for a "vetting process" for loans.

Federal campaign finances -- Senator Barack Obama's campaign finance figures, from OpenSecrets reveal that he has raised and over a million dollars a day in 2008, nearly $270 million as of the end of April. His top five contributors are Goldman Sachs, the U. of California, JP Morgan Chase, UBS AG, and Citigroup. Senator John McCain, according to Open Secrets, has raised just under $100 million through April. There is speculation that he wants to go for public campaign financing. His top five contributors were not named, but he does take PAC money, unlike Obama. In a recent WaPo story, also via ProPublica, this (6/14/08) Washington Post headlined article, "Court Deems Campaign Finance Rules Too Weak," discusses a recent court ruling pointing out how weak campaign finance rules have been. To quote:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled yesterday that the Federal Election Commission has failed to adequately enforce key aspects of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restructuring that Congress passed six years ago, and urged the FEC to write new rules that help prevent corporations, unions and special interest groups from influencing federal elections.

"Basically, we're now getting into our fourth election cycle under McCain-Feingold, and we still don't know what the rules are," said Richard L. Hasen, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

At issue in the case were regulations the FEC wrote in response to the 2002 campaign finance law -- named for Senate sponsors John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). Sponsors of the law sued the FEC arguing that the rules were too lax, and the court agreed.

Following the money through Congress and through the Federal Election Commission* could be, and is, a full time job for watchdogs and activists. Generally it is not my cup of tea. Today we added a bit of "bipartisan lemon" to the tea. We may try it again from time to time, in the spirit of even-handedness. Meanwhile, do not expect the Federal Election Commission to be watching over the 2008 elections. See the reference below.

*Reference: Wikipedia: Federal Election Commission. To quote:

The Chairmanship of the Commission rotates among the members each year, with no member serving as Chairman more than once during his or her term. As of January, 2008, four of the six Commission seats were vacant, as the Senate failed to vote on full terms for recess appointees and nominees Hans von Spakovsky (Republican), Robert Lenhard and Steven Walther (Democrats) to the Commission. This Senate failure was due to partisan fighting over the nomination of von Spakovsky, who had served on a recess appointment from January of 2006 through December of 2007. Additionally, no Republican has been nominated to replace Michael Toner, who resigned in March of 2007. Thus the current composition of the FEC includes Republican commissioner David Mason (Chairman) and Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub (Vice Chair). Both Commissioners Mason and Weintraub are serving past the end of their terms because successors has not yet been named, so that as of January 2008 none of the six Commission seats was filled by a duly nominated and Senate-confirmed Commissioner.

I will be traveling soon to visit my family of origin in Wyoming. Therefore blog posting may be much more sporadic. But I will be tuned in to the web as much as possible, given technology and circumstances.

Today in history -- Constitutional Convention, June 17, 1787: George Washington heard sermon of Rev. William White, Chaplain of Congress.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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