Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

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. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Another Weldon Conspiracy

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 11:18 AM EDT

For Curt Weldon, pushing conspiracy theories is something of a hobby. In the past, he's claimed that a secret intelligence program called Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta, among other 9/11 conspirators, over a year before the attacks. And his book, Countdown to Terror, is filled with all sorts of dubious allegations about Iran's ties to terrorism. (This information, it turns out, was funneled to him by a middleman for Manucher Ghorbanifar, an alleged intelligence fabricator and Iran-Contra figure.) Now, after the feds raided the homes of his lobbyist daughter and her business partner yesterday, investigating whether the Pennsylvania congressman used his position to steer business to their firm, Weldon is alerting the world to a new conspiracy. In a statement released yesterday, he questioned the timing of the investigation, which comes just three weeks before the election, suggesting that the probe is politically motivated. As is increasingly becoming the case when members of the GOP get caught up in scandals (see Hastert, Dennis), Weldon blamed the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for the supposed smear. "It is no coincidence that the vice president of CREW, Philadelphia trial lawyer Daniel Berger, and his law firm are among the single largest contributors to my opponent Joe Sestak's campaign," Weldon said. "This is a group that is closely tied to my opponent Joe Sestak and now, just weeks before my re-election word that the inquiry is occurring has mysteriously trickled out. That is dirty, partisan politics at its absolute worst."

Of course, politics is a dirty business and damaging allegations that arise in advance of an election should always be subject to the highest level of skepticism. But, in this case, there are a couple of major things wrong with Weldon's hypothesis. First, the allegations against Weldon have been circulating for some time. In fact, CREW's deputy director, Naomi Seligman Steiner, told me last night that her organization requested that the Justice Department investigate Weldon a full two-and-a-half years ago. Further, for Weldon's assertions to hold any water, one would also have to believe that the FBI is taking its direction from CREW. A conspiracy theory of that magnitude sounds like it might make an apt topic for Weldon's next book.

$15,000 Buys a Lifetime Membership to Mitch McConnell's Quid Pro Quo Club

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 10:59 AM EDT

If the Republicans manage to keep control of the Senate — and that's a big if — Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who currently serves as Majority Whip, is poised to ascend to Majority Leader, as Bill Frist retires at the end of his term. In anticipation of this possibility, the Lexington Herald-Leader, has been investigating the Senator for the past six months and published its findings in a lengthy article yesterday. What did the Herald-Leader discover? A "nexus between his actions and his donors' agendas. He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others."

McConnell is one of the GOP's more prolific fundraisers and has personally raised close to $220 million for his party over the course of his career. Marshall Whitman, a onetime aide to John McCain, told the paper: "He's completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else." Former Senator Alan Simpson said that "when he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds. He obviously loved it." Apparently McConnell was so intent on building up the GOP's warchest that he sold memberships to something called the "Senate Republican Inner Circle." A donation of $15,000 bought wealthy individuals a lifetime membership (members could also pay $2,000 a year), which carried with it access to "the men who are shaping the Senate agenda."

"Americans are big on rewards these days. Financial rewards in the stock market -- cash rewards on your credit cards -- luxurious rewards in the travel industry," McConnell wrote in one invitation. "But a special group of Americans is experiencing one of the greatest reward programs ever, because they took the initiative to become a Life Member of the Inner Circle."

Those rewards are greatly anticipated by corporate leaders who want a say in Senate decisions. After the Inner Circle welcomed Geoffrey Bible, chief executive at Philip Morris, he sent a copy of the announcement to his aides.

"So now I'm in," Bible wrote in the margin. "See if we can make the most of it."

When the paper questioned McConnell on his "inner circle," the senator downplayed its significance, telling the Herald-Leader that "they want their picture taken with you; that's all it amounts to." Hmmm. It's just a hunch, but something tells me that Bible and other members of McConnell's quid pro quo club were paying for more than just photo-ops.

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