Chances are you've heard about the bacchanal known as the Minerals Management Service. The arm of the Interior Department charged with collecting some $10 billion a year in royalties from oil and gas companies, it has been caught up in scandal after scandal, including this week's revelations that top employees were in bed (and not just figuratively) with the oil officials they were supposed to regulate. In between glacially slow-to-arrive FOIA requests, I've been looking into MMS and its weird party culture off and on for more than a year. Here's a few juicy details that you won't read in the Inspector General's report.
The IG tells us about two MMS oil marketers, Stacy Leyshon and Crystel Edler, who became known among oil executives as the "MMS Chicks." Between 2002 and 2006, each received more than $2,700 in gifts on more than 60 occasions from oil companies, including meals, booze, lodging, and golf outings. Leyshon, who slept with two oil company employees, operated a sex toys side business known as "Passion Parties" (think Tupperware parties, but with dildos) and bragged that it paid more than her day job at MMS. She told the IG that nobody in the oil industry had purchased sex products from her (though three subordinates at MMS had). However, that account is contradicted by former MMS Deputy Junius Walker, a high-ranking employee who worked in Leyshon's Denver office before retiring. "She's selling that stuff to oil and gas companies," he told me last year. "I mean, that's what she was doing. She was going around, going down to the oil and gas companies, putting on presentations. . .They were having a really, really good time."
In Alaska, it's against the law for a governor to advocate for or against a ballot measure. But that didn't matter much to Sarah Palin. At an August 20th press conference a reporter asked Palin her opinion of Measure 4, known as the Clean Water Initiative, which would have imposed new restrictions on mining companies. Fishermen worried that a proposal to build one of the world's largest open-pit gold mines at the headwaters of one of the Alaska's most productive salmon streams could wreck the famed Bristol Bay (which is also the namesake of Palin's pregnant daughter). With the measure to restrict the mine coming down to a squeaker at the polls, this is what Palin said: "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 -- I vote no on that."
Her nod-and-wink endorsement was immediately seized by mining companies to create this ad, which ran in papers around the state as part of an $8 million media campaign--one of the most expensive ballot measure ad blitzes in Alaska history. Six days later, the Clean Water Initiative was voted down.
Clearly, Palin's comments violated the spirit of Alaska's law. And this wasn't the only way she pushed legal boundaries to support her friends in the mining industry. Palin's Department of Natural Resources had published a primer on Measure 4 on its website that environmentalists complained was entirely negative and improperly echoed the mining industry's concerns. On August 24th, just three days before voters weighed in on the initiative, the state's Public Offices Commission finally ruled that the enviros were right and ordered the website to undergo changes.
There are weird echoes of the Bush/Cheney war over executive power here.
The Seattle Times has unearthed three boxes of archived documents on Palin's first year as the mayor of Wasilla. The year is 1996, and Palin can't seem to decide whether she wants to be Karl Rove or the Queen of Hearts. Elections in this town of 5,000 are officially nonpartisan, but Palin and her supporters turn the race into a senseless proxy war for national issues: they tar her opponent as "pro-abortion" and question his marital status, trumpet her endorsement by the NRA, and roll out the slogan, "Conservative, More Efficient Government." Her backers include an only-in-Alaska coalition of the religious right and bar owners who want to make sure they can keep serving until 5 a.m.
After she's elected, she gets drunk on power and goes on a firing binge. We already knew she pink slipped the anti-book-banning librarian, but here we learn more: she fires the police chief, who'd recently been named Wasilla's employee of the year, and, in a sort of Lord of the Flies scenario, asks the three employees of the town museum to decide among themselves who will get the ax (all three decide to quit). The same year, she's stopped by the city attorney after she tries to stack the city council. The local paper, the Frontiersman, condemns her in blistering editorials and citizens talk of a recall.
Despite all of this, of course, she's reelected in 1999. She's a smoother politician by then. But given the way she later wields the axe as governor (see Troopergate), maybe the editors of the Frontiersman were onto something when they wrote that Palin's philosophy was "that either we are with her or against her." Sounds a lot like king what's-his-name
Oct 2001: Best hosts a fundraiser in his high-rise Dallas condo for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). After receiving $26,000 in donations, Landrieu earmarks $2 million to use Voyager in Washington, DC, schools.
Oct 2001: Georgia schools superintendent Linda Schrenko sets aside $1.1 million to use Voyager in one district. Afterward, company execs, staff, and investors give more than $68,000 to Schrenko's failed gubernatorial bid. (She will go to prison in 2006 for embezzling federal education money.)
As a boy growing up in a small town in southeast Texas in the 1950s, Randy Best couldn't read. The hours his mother, a high school teacher, spent tutoring him barely made a difference. At the time, he didn't realize he was dyslexic, and he got through school by dint of hard work. "Either I was going to give up or I was going to find some way to compensate," Best, now 65, recalls. He eventually discovered that he had a talent for reading the market. By the time he was 27, he'd sold off the class-ring company he'd founded for $12 million, launching a career as one of the Lone Star State's most prolific and politically connected entrepreneurs.