Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
In the past Barack Obama has been accused of many things -- having ties to a crooked political fundraiser, for one -- but this, I dare say, is a first. In a recent column in the Henry Daily Herald of McDonough, Georgia, reporter Nicklaus Lovelady lambasts Obama for ruining his chances with a love interest working for a rival paper. Best to let Lovelady take it from here:
I had the looks, I had the charm and I had my eye on this pretty young thing who was doing an internship for a competing paper.
It took me nearly two months of running into each other at various news events before I worked up the nerve to begin talking to her.
And then Obama shows up.
The senator made his way to SIUE one day to introduce some legislation that would increase grants for students. Prior to that, me and the girl became really cool as I let her in on a few tricks of the trade.
The day Obama came, there was a huge press conference at the university's student center with about 100 people inside the conference room and hundreds more viewing the conference on a big screen in the lobby.
Obama did his thing, and at the end there was segment for questions by the media.
After about five questions from different television and newspaper reporters, I stood up to ask mine.
"Wait a minute son, this is for professional media only," Obama said to me.
"What do you mean? I work for the local paper," I said with a crackling nervous voice.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were a college student. You have such a baby face," he said with an unremorseful grin.
At that point everyone in the room turned to look at me and laugh. The 800 people in the lobby laughed as my face was projected on the big screen.
Alas, the "pretty young thing" was laughing, too. And, after that humiliating episode, she was no longer interested in Lovelady's "tricks of the trade." "Obama owes me a public apology for making me look like a court jester and for blocking my shot," Lovelady's column concludes. "Until that time, Hillary or Giuliani will get my vote."
Not about to lose Lovelady's vote, Obama, who has yet to declare whether or not he'll seek the presidency in 2008, phoned the reporter "to publicly apologize for messing up your game. I read that; I felt terrible. I didn't know there were any ladies around. I just wanted to let you know that I'm deeply sorry."
Yesterday we, among other news outlets, pointed out that Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi's pick for Majority Leader, has a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to his ties to lobbying outfits, including one that once employed his brother, Kit. All told, some have suggested, Murtha may not be the best pick for a party looking to place an emphasis on ethics reform and distance itself from the cavalcade of scandals that led, in part, to the GOP's fall from grace. Not helping Murtha's case in the slightest is the fact that, according to Roll Call, he "told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was 'total crap.'" Three sources told the paper that Murtha said: "Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants." (Perhaps Pelosi is taking a page from the "Hammer," since this is the second time in as many days that I've heard Dems remark that they'll do as she commands. Here's what Rep. Jim Moran, the Virginia Democrat, toldThe Hill yesterday. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it.")
Murtha's alleged ethical lapses don't end with securing earmarks for the clients of favored lobbying firms that he has personal and professional ties to -- unfortunately, that is considered a fairly run-of-the-mill offense in the District these days -- but extend to more serious forms of malfeasance. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the FBI ran an undercover sting operation, which came to be known as ABSCAM, targeting congressional corruption. TPMmuckraker sums it up nicely:
Around 1980, agents and an informant met with several lawmakers posing as representatives of a fictional "sheik Abdul" to offer them $50,000 in cash for legislative favors. Murtha was one of the lawmakers who met with them.
Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated.
Though a 13-second video of Murtha's meeting has circulated in the past, The American Spectator, the conservative magazine, recently obtained the tape in its entirety, all 53 minutes and 40 second of it. TPMmuckraker pulls out some of the money quotes:
"I'm gonna be blunt," an FBI man says to Murtha after laying out what favors he was looking to buy. "Are you telling me now. . . you don't want any money on this thing?"
"There's some places I'd like you to invest some money, in the banks, in my district," Murtha responds. "I'd say some substantial deposits." He explains later how he does so many favors for people that, if they weren't all for individuals in his district, "people would say, that son of a bitch. . . is on the take."
"Once they say that, what happens?" Murtha asks the FBI men rhetorically, ignorant of the fact that he was explaining his own M.O. to agents trying to bust him for corruption. "Then they start going around looking for the goddamn money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."
Lemme tell you something. You came to the right guys in order to get it done. And I think the way I'd handle it, you know, Murphy, and the other guy, they got, all three [Murtha, John Murphy, and Frank Thompson] of us got things we can each do. Each of us got different responsibility in a different area. But I want to do business with you. I mean I want to get the goddamn jobs in the area, you know, a few bank deposits in my area. Nothing I'd like better. Later on, after we've dealt a while, we might change our mind -- we might want to do more business. But right now, I think I can do more this way than any other way. I think I can do more by being completely independent, if you understand what I mean. And listen, it's hard for me, shit it's hard for me to say, just the hell with it. But I think this is the way I can do the best, the most good.
With the heat on, Murtha's claiming that the newly resurrected questions about his ethics record are "swift boat-style" attacks, meaning that they are specious and politically motivated. Maybe he should first explain why was caught on tape saying things like this and to people whose interests he was not elected to represent: "I haven't been here a long time but I know the right people and I know the system and I went to the ballgame with the president -- in other words there were three of us -- me, Tip [O'Neill, speaker of the House], and that's it -- so I've got as much influence, and I know as much about the goddamn workings as any -- you're not going to have any trouble."
Last week I brought up the cozy relationship House Majority Leader hopeful Steny Hoyer has sought to cultivate with K Street, but Jack Murtha, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed for the number two job on Sunday, has lobbyist ties that are worth mentioning as well. The Pennsylvania congressman is often hailed by Democrats for taking a principled stand against the President's stay-the-course policy in Iraq, though some political observers consider him to be among the least scrupulous members of Congress serving today. Among Murtha's critics is the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which listed him in its report "Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch)." (Murtha, for his part, is designated as one to watch.) CREW's report notes that Murtha's "ethics violations stem from abuse of his position as Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and clients of his brother, Robert 'Kit' Murtha, a registered lobbyist."
According to CREW, which decried Pelosi's endorsement in a press release yesterday, some of the beneficiaries of Murtha's powerful position have been clients of PMA Group, which lobbies on behalf of defense contractors and was founded by longtime Defense Appropriations subcommittee staffer Paul Magliocchetti, who worked with Murtha. "In the 2006 Defense appropriations bill, PMA clients received at least 60 earmarks at a total of $95.1 million," according to CREW's report. In turn, PMA and its clients have made generous campaign contributions to Murtha. "In the current campaign cycle, the PMA Group and 11 of the firm's clients rank in the top 20 contributors to Rep. Murtha, having made campaign contributions totaling $274,649.2 In the 2004 and 2002 cycles, PMA and nine of the firm's clients ranked in the top 20 contributors having made $236,7993 in contributions and $279,074, respectively."
Then there's Murtha's brother, Kit, who joined the lobbying firm KSA Consulting in 2002, reportedly at the invitation of a former Murtha staffer, Carmen Scialabba, who is a senior partner at the firm. According to the Los Angeles Times, which reported on Jack Murtha's shady ties to his brother's firm in 2005, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill in 2004, one that Murtha helped to author, that benefited at least 10 of KSA's clients. The firms, according to the Times, received $20.8 million in earmarks in the bill.
One of the clients, a small Arkansas maker of military vehicles, received $1.7 million, triple its total sales for 2004. Several other clients received money that represented more than half of their annual sales from last year.
KSA directly lobbied the congressman's office on behalf of seven companies that received money from the bill, records and interviews show. Among those clients, a firm based in Maryland received one of the larger individual awards, $4.2 million.
Steny Hoyer, the Maryland congressman, was once thought to be the front-runner for Majority Leader. No longer. Pelosi's endorsement levels the playing field and then some. "She will ensure that they [the Murtha camp] win. This is hard-ball politics," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a Murtha supporter, toldThe Hill. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it." (We have a word for the new era that Rep. Moran is referring to. It's called a dictatorship.)
Since one of the issues that resounded with voters in Tuesday's election was congressional corruption, it seems unwise for the Dems to use their new mandate to go back to business as usual, installing a Majority Leader that has a questionable past of shilling for K Street and, in the case of both Murtha and Hoyer, a history of working against lobbying reform efforts. As the Democrats become the majority party in Congress after 12 years in the minority, they would do well to remember that, in 1994, when both houses of Congress fell to the GOP, it was rampant corruption that helped to end their long reign.
The mid-term elections were, in part, a referendum on congressional corruption. With Jack Murtha?s ties to lobbyists well documented, does Nancy Pelosi?s pick for Majority Leader signal a return to business as usual?
Last week I brought up the cozy relationship House Majority Leader hopeful Steny Hoyer has sought to cultivate with K Street, but Jack Murtha, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed for the number two job on Sunday, has lobbyist ties that are worth mentioning as well. The Pennsylvania congressman is often hailed by Democrats for taking a principled stand against the President's stay-the-course policy in Iraq, though some political observers consider him to be among the least scrupulous members of Congress serving today. Among Murthas critics is the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which listed him in its report Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch). (Murtha, for his part, is designated as one to watch.) CREWs report notes that Murthas ethics violations stem from abuse of his position as Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and clients of his brother, Robert Kit Murtha, a registered lobbyist.
IT'S WELL KNOWN that Israel is the world's top recipient of U.S. military assistance, but not so often noted that most of the annual $3 billion in aid can be spent only on U.S.-made weapons. Below, a guide to the top industry beneficiaries along with their ethics records.