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General News    H3'ed 7/30/10

Richard Shelby's Pork Parade Helps Fund Discrimination on Alabama Campuses

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Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has steered more than $250 million in earmarks over the past two years to organizations whose lobbyists used to work in Shelby's office, according to a new report at Politico.

A huge chunk of that pork has gone to the University of Alabama System, which we have shown at Legal Schnauzer has rampant problems with discrimination in employment. We also have shown that the UA System is a terrible steward of federal funds, with widespread financial and scientific fraud on its Birmingham campus (UAB) alone.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. 2000d, prohibits the use of federal funds for organizations that discriminate. That means Richard Shelby has sent millions of federal dollars to a university system that does not qualify, under the law, to receive them.

It's not just our opinion, by the way, that the UA System discriminates. A federal jury found that UA discriminated against former medical resident Seema Gupta based on her Hindu religion. Numerous other lawsuits have been settled or are currently in litigation.

Politico's report is based on a study, "Senator Shelby's Pork Parade," by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Eight staffers have left Shelby's office to create or join lobbying firms, CREW reports, and Shelby has earmarked $266,524,500 for their clients. In a case of classic political back-scratching, those clients clearly return the favor. The lobbying firms have earned $10,075,000 in fees. And the firms and clients have sent $999,471 to Shelby's campaign committee and leadership PAC since 1999. Reports Politico:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that compiled the data on Shelby's earmarks and campaign contributions, believes that Shelby's actions are similar to the favor trading that clouded the tenure of late Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha.

"Sen. Shelby, like Rep. Murtha before him, takes trading earmarks for campaign dollars to a level most members of Congress can only dream about," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the organization. "Also like Murtha, Shelby earmarks for the benefit of his former-staffers-turned-lobbyists."

Even some of Shelby's Republican colleagues have raised questions about such tactics. Reports Politico:

Shelby's earmarking doesn't appear to run afoul of Senate rules or federal ethics laws. But critics said his tactics are part of a Washington culture in which lawmakers direct money back home to narrow interests, which, in turn, hire well-connected lobbyists -- often former congressional aides -- who enjoy special access on Capitol Hill.

"It is a system that is in direct conflict of interest with our oath of office because it's parochial," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), an earmark critic who declined to comment on Shelby directly.

While lobbyists, their clients, and Shelby himself clearly are winners in this charade, taxpayers appear to be the big losers. Consider the dollars that former Shelby staffer Ray Cole has raked in for the University of Alabama System:

A former Shelby state director and campaign manager, Cole is registered to lobby for The University of Alabama System, which has received $175 million in Shelby earmarks since 2008, the first year lawmakers had to publicly declare their sponsorship of pet projects. The earmarks have included $30 million for a state-of-the-art science center, $10.5 million for Gulf of Mexico weather research and $10.2 million for facilities and equipment at the Tuscaloosa campus.

Alabama universities love to tout their ties to Shelby--and they are happy to return the favors. Reports Politico:

Shelby's influence is hard to miss at Alabama campuses. There's Shelby Hall at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. In 2008, the Huntsville campus opened the Shelby Center for Science and Technology at a cost of $60 million -- two-thirds of it built with federal dollars. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is home to the Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building.

Employees of The University of Alabama System contributed more than $153,000 to Shelby's campaigns since 1999. And since that time, Cole's firm has received $3.5 million from the University of Alabama System in lobbying fees.

Does this produce good government? Not exactly. Here is how we recently described the situation at the UA campus in Birmingham:

Under the the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison, with an assist from Provost Eli Capilouto, UAB has a longstanding pattern of mistreating faculty and staff--and mishandling federal funds. In fact, UAB has seen so many scandals and lawsuits that we summed them up in a post titled "Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption."

In short, UAB rakes in millions of dollars from Sen. Shelby while blatantly violating federal laws. Here is a recent summary from a post titled "UAB Dysfunction Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum":

It's difficult to keep up with all the UAB sleaze under Garrison, but here is our best effort at an updated and comprehensive list. . . .

* Nine papers written by scientist H.M. Krishna Murthy are retracted because of concerns about academic fraud;

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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