Return to the swamp

Debra J. Saunders

11/17/2006 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

Nancy Pelosi isn't even speaker of the House yet, and already she is acting like the GOP leaders whom she so handily toppled in last week's election.

When Pelosi, D-Calif., was working for a Democratic takeover of the House, she promised to "drain the swamp" -- swamp being an apt term for the too-cozy relationship between GOP biggies and big donors, which too often led to the shoveling of taxpayer dollars into the maws of corporate contributors.

So who does Pelosi back to be her top lieutenant when her party wins? Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., the prince of "earmarks."

Remember GOP biggies who were too tight with lobbyists? Voters got sick of reading about convicted grease-meister Jack Abramoff and his ties with big-spending deficit-happy Republicans. There were too many sordid stories -- such as the nonprofit group linked to Abramoff that paid the wives of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., and former GOP Rep. Tom DeLay, and bankrolled first-class travel for House members. Or Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who lost his seat after the FBI investigated whether he steered lucrative contracts to benefit his lobbyist daughter.

Turns out Murtha has a brother who is a lobbyist, who joined a consulting firm in 2002. Two years later, The Washington Post reported, Murtha's appropriations subcommittee "earmarked" $4.2 million for a wireless networking company that was a client of Kit Murtha's firm.

Murtha also had a special relationship with a lobbying firm, the PMA Group, that along with its clients steered $274,649 Murtha's way in 2006. Defense Appropriations passed more than $95 million in earmarks for PMA clients, the Post reported.

Taxpayers for Common Sense credits Murtha with requesting more than $103 million in special provisions for his district in 2006, and winning nearly $80 million.

And don't get me started on Murtha's cameo role in Abscam. Murtha said on MSNBC's "Hardball" this week that in 1980 he met with a phony sheikh (who turned out to be an FBI agent) because "I wanted them to invest in my district. They put $50,000 on the table, and I said, 'I'm not interested.'"

Actually, Murtha said: "I'm not interested ... at this point. You know, we do business a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't."

Is that what Pelosi means when she boasts that her party speaks "truth to power"? The justification for Pelosi's pick of Murtha? Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who beat Murtha Thursday when Democrats voted to make him majority leader, explained that Pelosi is "loyal." Murtha backed Pelosi. Pelosi backed Murtha.

Ah, loyalty -- just two weeks ago that was a reason to vote against Republicans, because President Bush over-rewards loyalty.

Then there are stories that suggest Pelosi will pass over the competent Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., to head the House Intelligence Committee in favor of Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida -- whom the House stripped of his position as a judge and impeached in 1988 for his role in a bribery scandal. This is draining the swamp?

Pelosi is acting as if she wants a short honeymoon. After this week, this much seems clear. When Pelosi railed about the GOP "culture of corruption," it was just a sound bite.