The House and Senate is taking a couple of weeks off during which, one hopes, Republican and Democratic Members of the House and the Senate will look at themselves and decide the time has come for some leadership to emerge.
The decision of Tom DeLay to resign from the House in the wake of a guilty plea by one of his former top staffers, continues to echo through the Capital but the Democrats are having a difficult time playing Congressional Gotcha.
An example of how wide the corruption investigations are ranging comes a front pager by reporter John Wilke in the Wall Street Journal last week about a Democratic Congressman from West Virginia named Alan Mollohan.
It seems Mr. Mollohan’s personal net worth, as reported in his required disclosure forms, has grown from about $100,000 in 2000 to as much as $11.4 million in his most recent filings.
The jump in Mollohan’s personal wealth cannot be explained by being frugal with his Congressional pay. Members of the House and Senate who are not members of the top leadership make $165,200 per year.
It can be partially explained by the fact that a former staffer is the head of a non-profit foundation in West Virginia which is “financed almost exclusively by earmarks backed by Mr. Mollohan.”
In fact, according to the WSJ, “Mr. Mollohan has steered at least $178 million to nonprofit groups in his district over the past five years using earmarks.”
Let’ see: $178 million in earmarks? If $11 million has stuck to Mollohan’s fingers, that’s only about a six percent commission. Who can argue with that?
The Justice Department is taking seriously this business of trading official favors for personal wealth. In addition to West Virginia’s Mollohan, Ohio Republican Bob Ney has been referred to in a number of criminal actions, and “a criminal bribery investigation is under way into a Louisiana Democrat, Rep. William Jefferson.”
According Wilke’s reporting in the Journal:
The cases are part of a widening attack on public corruption, with some 200 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working on such cases nationwide, according to the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, Alice Fisher. "We are seeing a surge in these cases and we're adopting aggressive tactics, including undercover operations," she said.
The way this all works is: A Congressman on the Appropriations Committee, like Mollohan, steers your tax dollars to private and public works in his home district.
That part is fine. But the dollars have become so enormous that greed, not good works, has become the driving force.
Mollohan’s “tight-knit network” includes friends who run the foundations, get paid well for doing it, and then donate to Mollohan’s campaigns and family foundations in return.
Plus, they become Mollohan’s partners in investments apartments and houses. And they run the companies which contract with the foundations to make even more money, some of which is funneled back into Mollohan’s financial orbit allowing him to have “recently bought a $1.45 million oceanfront home” in Bald Head Island, NC which (a) is in addition to five other properties there in which Mollohan has an interest and (b) is not in West Virginia.
An editorial in yesterday’s Charleston (WV) Daily Mail pointed out that while Mollohan and his pals were inventing jobs and investment opportunities for themselves,
Ames True Temper closed its plant in Parkersburg last fall. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel posted net losses of $33.8 million in 2005. Employment has fallen from 14,000 workers in the 1970s to just to just 2,100 at Weirton Steel.
So, now you may understand why the Democrats are having a hard time getting any traction on a Republican corruption message.
And, think about this:
Alan Mollohan is the senior Democrat on the House Ethics Committee.
On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Wall Street Journal piece, the Charleston Daily Mail editorial, and to Mollohan’s official website. Plus an interesting Mullfoto from Istanbul, and a perfectly useless Catchy Caption of the Day.