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The War on Corruption--Still Code Red

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
Message Larry Toenjes

There were two overriding issues in the 2006 Congressional elections-the Iraq War and the Culture of Corruption. Both of these seem to be slipping from public consciousness as the faltering economy increases in importance, as the surge in U.S. troop levels takes credit for reduced levels of violence in Iraq (even though violence is rising in Afghanistan), and as Democratic earmarks overtake Republican earmarks. The National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year essentially pulled the rug out from under those calling for war with Iran, temporarily defusing that issue.

In the same way that a new terrorist incident could bring back the fears associated with September 11th, an unexpected revelation of corruption in high places could put that issue back on the front burner in this election year as well. Therefore, a brief reminder of what has happened, and what could happen, is helpful if not entertaining.

Some of the stars in the Republican version of the Culture of Corruption (RCC) were ex-Congressman Tom DeLay, ex-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and ex-super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Cunningham and Abramoff are both in prison now, while Tom DeLay awaits trial in Texas on conspiracy and campaign money laundering charges. These three conservative Republicans were centrally placed within overlapping networks of other congressmen, lobbyists and defense contractors that are still being untangled, investigated and litigated.

Reporter Dean Calbreath described many of the individuals and organizations that were at the center of the RCC in an important article which appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune February 5, 2006. Calbreath described how over 70 different individuals, businesses, and committees were intricately intertwined in unique and complicated ways, sort of a DNA string of politics fully capable of self-replication. A visual representation of most of that interlinked, tangled web is shown in the following diagram.

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The main focus of Calbreath was on businessmen Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade and their dealings with Congressman Cunningham.  Individuals and firms associated with Wilkes and Wade are shown in purple in the diagram.  These relationships intersected with Congressman DeLay and his associates, including Abramoff, which are shown in green.  Congressmen are coded red. George Nethercutt at that time was already an ex-Congressman and a member of a lobbying firm. Several governmental entities are painted black, and the final player, Barbara Bonfiglio, is colored yellow. Calbreath actually did not deal with Bonfiglio. However, she was the treasurer for campaign funds or leadership funds for 6 of the 8 congressmen discussed in his article. Therefore Bonfiglio was included in the diagram, it being clear she was a major player in the network.

Money, the strong force of politics, is what bound the network together.  Earmarked appropriations went to Wilkes' and Wade's companies, such as ADCS and Perfect Wave (there were others). These companies employed lobby firms that in turn employed family members of congressmen. Most of the partners and employees of the lobby firms made numerous campaign contributions not only to these congressmen but to others as well, strategically chosen and encompassing an even larger network. Large amounts of campaign cash went directly from Wilkes, Wade, and Abramoff to members of Congress, while staff members of some of these congressmen slid over into positions in the lobby firms or PACs. Then a new round of earmarks, contributions, and, in some cases, warm social experiences would occur. The expectation was that the arrangements would last forever. If an emergency should arise, special assistance was available at Tom DeLay's  K-Street pharmacy, a dispenser of over-the-counter political Viagra (r) without the 4-hour warning.

The party did not last forever, of course, due in large part to the excesses of Jack Abramoff and his associates, many of whom were ex-staff members of DeLay, and to the unbridled greed of Wilkes, Wade, and Rep. Cunningham.  The next diagram indicates what has happened to many of those individuals and organizations two years, several investigations, one election, and many hours of introspection later.

* Mitchell Wade-Pleaded guilty to bribing Rep. Cunningham.
* http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4856470.stm">Jack Abramoff-Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud, received 70 months in federal prison.
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Rudy">Tony Rudy-Pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
* Brent Wilkes-Convicted of bribery, awaiting sentencing (could get up to    60  years).
* Randy "Duke" Cunningham-Pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and conspiracy to commit bribes, ordered to pay $1.8 million in   restitution and to serve 100 months in prison.
* Tom Delay-Indicted on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money, resigned from Congress, awaiting trial.
* Duncan Hunter-Will not seek reelection.
* John Doolittle-Under FBI investigation, will not seek reelection.
* Jerry Lewis-Under FBI investigation.
* Ken Calvert-Calif. Grand Jury: "Land sale to Rep. Ken Calvert violated the law."
* Roy Blunt-Under FBI investigation.
* TRMPAC-Tom DeLay's Texas fund, "indicted (in Texas) for accepting $120,000 in allegedly illegal corporate campaign contributions."
* Doolittle PAC-Will become defunct upon Rep. Doolittle's retirement.
* Alexander Strategy Group-Lobby firm, shut down in January 2006.
* http://www.firedupamerica.com/bonfiglio_is_everywhere">Barbara Bonfiglio-Resigned from Williams & Jensen legal and lobby firm, and gave up her position as treasurer for several dozen   campaign funds. No public reason was ever offered for her departure. One article about Bonfiglio was titled "When She Catches A Cold,   The Entire GOP Leadership Gets Sick."

It remains to be seen if Congressmen Lewis, Blunt, and Calvert will in fact seek reelection. Rep. Lewis has already passed the $1 million mark in legal expenses and he hasn't even been indicted yet. Perhaps the only way some of these congressmen can raise enough money to pay their legal fees is by remaining eligible for campaign cash as long as possible.  In fact, the timing of Tom DeLay's resignation announcement in 2006, coming shortly after his easy victory in the primary election, strongly suggested such a strategy. At that time DeLay, too, was experiencing mounting legal expenses.

Several other highly visible names associated with the Culture of Corruption were not mentioned in the Calbreath article, and were therefore not included in the diagrams.  Among these are the now imprisoned Rep.Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who resigned from Congress amid charges of preying on teenage interns.  Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, a Democrat and therefore an aberration in the pattern described above, is still under investigation for possibly taking bribes and hiding them in his freezer.  A number of members of the Bush Administration were also found guilty of committing various illegal acts.  These included Scooter Libby, the ex-assistant to Cheney, David H. Safavian, ex- White House chief procurement officer, and Steven Griles, ex- Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Interior.

One relatively junior member of the Administration who assumed a major role in the corruption network is Lawrence A. Franklin , a Pentagon analyst who worked for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Both Feith and Wolfowitz were fierce advocates for the Iraq War. Franklin eventually was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison for passing classified information to two high-ranking employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. Rosen and Weissman have been charged with receiving classified information and passing it on to a foreign nation, namely the State of Israel. It is sometimes forgotten that Israel is indeed a foreign nation!

Lest anyone claim it is a stretch to include the Lawrence Franklin case within a discussion of the more traditional Culture of Corruption, it is pointed out that of the nine current or former congressmen included in the corruption diagrams above, all but one, Devin Nunes, received campaign fund contributions from various pro-Israel PACs.  For example: Tom DeLay--$101,450; Roy Blunt--$59,450; Jerry Lewis--$26,750; Duncan Hunter--$37,500. These figures are based on data downloaded from the Federal Elections Commission web site. They cover multi-year contributions from pro-Israel PACs identified by the Center for Public Policy on its website.

There are some who would also place President Bush and Vice President Cheney on the Culture of Corruption list as well. However, one of Speaker Pelosi's first decisions was that impeachment of them would not be pursued. Of course, another of her decisions was to remove language from an appropriation bill, at the behest of AIPAC and other members of the Israel Lobby, that would have required the President to get explicit approval from Congress prior to undertaking military action against Iran.

The Culture of Corruption may have receded somewhat from the public's attention, but its aftermath is still being felt. The underlying conditions that gave rise to it-special interests, lobbyists, money, and greed-are still in place. Like seeds scattered across a dry desert, they only need a gentle reign to bring forth Flowers and cover the sand once again with a lush, green carpet.
Note:  A link to a description of the methodology and software used to create the diagrams above from the original newspaper article can be found here. The file will be a zipped MS Word document appearing there with the highlighted phrase  "DL_NETVIEW\HOWTONETWORKS.ZIP"

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Laurence A.Toenjes is retired from the University of Houston ?s Department of Sociology where he was a researcher with The Sociology of Education Research Group. Toenjes received his doctorate in economics from Southern Illinois University.
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