As Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) noted during the limited debate, “Many of the sections of this bill are unable to stand on their own and have subsequently been bundled into a $300 million brew to avoid individual scrutiny… this omnibus was created with enough prizes that inevitably the bad will be overlooked and everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, will be able to cross the finish line.”
Approval of the JTHG Heritage Area is a case study in what is wrong with American politics.
The JTHG Heritage Area wasn’t approved by Congress due to overwhelming public demand for it. Borrowing from the Beatles, perhaps it got by with a little help from Wolf’s friends -- a lot of Ben Franklins, Alexander Hamiltons, Abe Lincolns and George Washingtons.
You see, Congressman Wolf slipped a $1 million dollar earmark in the 2005 federal transportation bill -- buried among 6,372 other earmarks -- for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Foundation. This is the very group that has led the lobbying effort for Wolf’s bill. More unusual still is that at the time of the earmark, the foundation had yet to even be incorporated and was operating out of the personal post office box of its executive director, Cate Magennis Wyatt.
It appears as though Congressman Wolf used taxpayer money to fund the lobbying campaign for his own bill.
Then there’s the unseemly Wolf-“K Street” lobbyist connection. Wolf’s land grab bill was written by Don Pongrace, who runs the Indian practice (yes, a lobbyist for Indian gaming interests) for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a large law firm with offices in D.C., London, New York and Moscow.
Not only that, but Pongrace apparently was authorized to speak for Congressman Wolf in meetings about the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area.
It turns out that Pongrace serves on the board of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground foundation -- the group receiving Wolf’s earmark largesse -- and Pongrace’s wife has served the group as vice president.
Apparently, the concept of a conflict of interest is lost on the mega law firm of Akin Gump.
Interestingly, at the very time Frank Wolf was collaborating with Akin Gump on his bill, he criticized the firm for working for the Chinese government in its bid to acquire Unocal.
Wolf wrote to Akin Gump, “I question the appropriateness of an American firm… being on the payroll of the Chinese government… I immediately thought, ‘Is there no bright line to separate who lobbyists in Washington will and will not represent?’”
Is there no bright line, indeed.
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