Paul Jacob
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Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Meet Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the powerful Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. You might find him zipping in and out of Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. For the last 35 years, Stevens has been in the United States Senate fleecing the taxpayers of this fair land for his own benefit--oh, and for the benefit of some folks in Alaska, too.

But the Ted Stevens story is less about Ted Stevens than it is about the cesspool our Congress has become. Incumbents are entrenched like never before--over 98 percent reelection rates cycle after cycle. Rarely are incumbents even seriously challenged. No term limits. No process to recall them.

And the system pays awesome rewards. It is not hard to see how it works, what it takes to stay in office and to make yourself a bundle of dough in the process.

A recent Los Angeles Times article details how Senator Stevens has invested in sweetheart deals, which made him a millionaire, while he in turn steered hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to these same partners. One partner told the Times, "Clearly, a phone call from Senator Stevens does not hurt. But there was no quid pro quo, plain and simple."

Welcome to Washington folks.

In several investments, Stevens was not required to take the same risk all the other investors faced. "I am a passive investor," Stevens argues in his defense. "I am not now nor have I been involved in buying and selling properties, negotiating leases or making management decisions." In other words, the Senator doesn?t even have to do any work to become a millionaire!

Yet, what Stevens brings to the table is the ability to bestow enormous favors on his business partners. Favors paid for by you and me--the American taxpayers. As powerful head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stevens sits on top of $800 billion in federal discretionary spending.

"If I want to invest at home, with the things I've done in 35 years, I would have a conflict with anything..." the Senator recently explained. "Now whether that conflict is sufficient to become a violation of ethics rules is another matter."

The Los Angeles Times also reported on the involvement of the Senator?s wife and brother-in-law in various business relationships with a number of Alaska companies showered by the Senator with our tax dollars. And Stevens?s son, Ben, is a lobbyist. "It seems every major interest in Alaska has found a reason to hire the son of the powerful senator who misses few opportunities to help them," the Times reported last June.

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Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.