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By LARRY MARGASAK
February 19, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration and the new Congress are quickly handing over to Republicans the same "culture of corruption" issue that Democrats used so effectively against the GOP before coming to power.
Freshman Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., is only the latest embarrassment.
Senate Democrats accepted Burris because they believed what he told them: He was clean. Burris now admits he tried to raise money for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who authorities say sought to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
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"The story seems to be changing day by day," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday.
The political mess for the Democratic Party, however, isn't Burris' conduct alone; it's the pattern that has developed so quickly over the past few months.
The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, expressed his anger about the Burris case Wednesday while he was on an official visit to Greece.
- The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is the subject of a House ethics investigation. It's partly focused on his fundraising practices for a college center in his name, his ownership financing of a resort property in the Dominican Republic and his financial disclosure reports.
- Federal agents raided two Pennsylvania defense contractors that were provided millions of dollars in federal funding by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
- Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges, including allegations he schemed to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder.
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- Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, abandoned his bid to become health and human services secretary and the administration's point man on reforming health care; and Nancy Killefer stepped down from a newly created position charged with eliminating inefficient government programs.
Both Daschle and Killefer had tax problems, and Daschle also faced potential conflicts of interest related to working with health care interests.
- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed after revealing he had tax troubles.
- Obama's initial choice for commerce secretary, Bill Richardson, stepped aside due to a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors.
- While the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm William Lynn as deputy defense secretary, Obama had to waive his ethics regulations to place the former defense lobbyist in charge of day-to-day operations at the Pentagon.
"I do believe that the public statements made by Mr. Burris to this point have raised questions ... as to the nature of his relationship with the former governor and the circumstances surrounding his appointment," Durbin said.
Reid said in Nevada, "Now there's some question as to whether or not he told the truth."
Where to go next? Reid had no answer.
"What I think we have to do is just wait and see," the Senate leader said.
Senate Democrats now may be trapped in their own ethics system. Disciplinary action against a senator usually requires a long investigation by the Senate's ethics committee. While a preliminary inquiry on Burris is under way, that's only the first early step. And, with ongoing criminal investigations in Illinois, the committee probably would have to postpone any action - as it usually does - to avoid interference.
In 2006, Republicans lost control of the House after Democrats effectively used a "culture of corruption" theme against them.
The final scandal broke shortly before the election, when it was revealed that then-Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, sent sexually suggestive e-mails and explicit instant messages to teenage boys who had served as House pages.
Republicans were further harmed when it was disclosed that several of their members were aware of the problem and failed to take action.
Democrats, who've been in control of both Congress and the White House less than two months now, are lucky on one point. The next congressional election is nearly two years away.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Larry Margasak has covered Congress, including major ethics investigations, since 1983.
Democrats By The Numbers:
$34,000: the amount of federal taxes that Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner (D) failed to pay during his employment at the International Monetary Fund despite receiving extra compensation and explanatory brochures that described his tax liabilities.
$75,000: the amount of money that the head of the powerful tax-writing committee, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), was forced to report on his taxes after the discovery that he had not reported income from a Costa Rican rental property. His excuses for the failure started with blaming his wife, then his accountant and finally the fact that he didn't speak Spanish.
$93,000: the amount of petty cash each Congressional representative voted to give themselves in January 2009 during the height of an economic meltdown.
$133,900: the amount Fannie Mae "invested" in Chris Dodd (D-CT), head of the powerful Senate Banking Committee, presumably to repel oversight of the GSE prior to its meltdown. Said meltdown helped touch off the current economic crisis. In only a few years time, Fannie also "invested" over $105,000 in then-Senator Barack Obama.
$140,000: the amount of back taxes and interest that Cabinet nominee Tom Daschle (D) was forced to cough up after the vetting process revealed significant, unexplained tax liabilities.
$356,000: the approximate amount of income and deductions that Daschle (D) was forced to report on his amended 2005 and 2007 tax returns after being caught cheating on his taxes. This includes $255,256 for the use of a car service, $83,333 in unreported income, and $14,963 in charitable contributions.
$800,000: the amount of "sweetheart" mortgages Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) received from Countrywide Financial, the details for which he has refused to release details despite months of promises to do so. Countrywide was once the nation's largest mortgage lender and linked to Government-Sponsored Entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their meltdown precipitated the current financial crisis. Just days ago in Pennsylvania, Countrywide was forced to pay $150,000,000 in mortgage assistance following "a state investigation that concluded that Countrywide relaxed its underwriting standards to sell risky loans to consumers who did not understand them and could not afford them."
$1,000,000: the estimated amount of donations by Denise Rich, wife of fugitive Marc Rich, to Democrat interests and the William J. Clinton Foundation in an apparent quid pro quo deal that resulted in a pardon for Mr. Rich. The pardon was reviewed and blessed by Obama Attorney General and then Deputy AG Eric Holder, despite numerous requests by government officials to turn it down.
$12,000,000: the amount of TARP money provided to community bank OneUnited despite the fact that it did not qualify for funds, and was "under attack from its regulators for allegations of poor lending practices and executive-pay abuses." It turns out that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), a key contributor to the Fannie Mae meltdown, just happens to be married to one of the bank's ex-directors.
$23,500,000: The upper range of net worth Rep. Allan Mollohan (D-WV) accumulated in four years time according to The Washington Post through earmarks of "tens of millions of dollars to groups associated with his own business partners."
$2,000,000,000: ($2 billion) the approximate amount of money that House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) is earmarking related to his son's lobbying efforts. Craig Obey is "a top lobbyist for the nonprofit group" that would receive a roughly $2 billion component of the "Stimulus" package.
$3,700,000,000: ($3.7 billion) not to be outdone, this is the estimated value of various defense contracts awarded to a company controlled by the husband of Rep. Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Despite an obvious conflict-of-interest as "a member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Feinstein voted for appropriations worth billions to her husband's firms ."
$4,190,000,000: ($4.19 billion) the amount of money in the so-called "Stimulus" package devoted to fraudulent voter registration ACORN group under the auspices of "Community Stabilization Activities". ACORN is currently the subject of a RICO suit in Ohio.
$1,646,000,000,000 ($1.646 trillion): the approximate amount of United States exports endangered by the "Stimulus" package, which provides a "Buy American" stricture. According to international trade experts, a "US-EU trade war looms", which could result in a worldwide economic depression reminiscent of that touched off by the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act.
It's not just a culture of corruption. It's a culture of corruption and stupidity. And, unlike Republicans, Democrats appear to be above the law. All of the aforementioned clowns are still in office, ruling like the royalty they've become.