An FBI probe of VECO led to several indictments and a raid last year of the offices of Ben Stevens, Mr. Stevens's son (who was at the time president of the Alaska state senate). Meanwhile, Don Young, Alaska's only member of the U.S. House of Representatives and former chairman of the Transportation Committee, is under federal investigation for his own ties to VECO.
Mr. Allen recently pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators and is cooperating with authorities. The raid on Mr. Stevens's house is linked to more than $100,000 of renovation work done on that dwelling that was overseen by Mr. Allen. Mr. Stevens insists "we paid every bill that was given to us with our own money."
Privately, many Republican senators believe Mr. Stevens may be forced to retire next year. "The suspicions are great," one GOP senator told me. "He's toast. You start out thinking you are representing your state and you take one step after another until suddenly you're primarily representing your friends in the state." That's a path many others in Congress have trod--which is why real earmark reform is necessary now.
Of course, it's not just the Senate. Over in the House several Republicans face investigations over earmarks, including former Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis of California.
But if pork remains part of the GOP governing model, it's one that voters are starting to reject. In exit polls last year, those who actually showed up to vote reported that political corruption was a more important issue than the war in Iraq. In Alaska, where they have seen incumbent Republican arrogance up close, voters last year sent GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski packing. Upstart Sarah Palin defeated him in a primary by a wide margin and then won in the fall. Her approval ratings now top 90%. Her secret is that she won over voters by campaigning against corruption within her own party--much as Nicolas Sarkozy was able to do in France.
Last week, Republican senators misread the Stevens scandal as a signal they had to back a symbolic--but in truth a sham--ethics bill. President Bush, who has the advantage of not facing voters again, has called its earmark provisions "worthless." He should veto the bill. He may be overridden, but he will do Republicans a favor by forcing them to rethink their attachment to an earmark culture that is both destructive of honest budgeting and politically dangerous because of the inherent corruption it creates.
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