They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

We spent some time yesterday digging into Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) nifty little arrangement with his wife, where she was paid a 15 percent commission on contributions that came into Doolittle's campaign and leadership PAC. She's known to have bagged $180,000 since late 2001.

First, let us say that we valiantly tried to get a comment from Doolittle's office, but that our calls were not returned.

Now, a number of other members of Congress have family members doing fundraising for them, but they are all paid a flat fee; the Doolittles were getting a cut of every contribution that came in to his campaign. The ethics experts we spoke to said that sounded at least unethical and possibly illegal.

One question that stood out was just how unusual it was for a political fundraiser to charge a 15 percent commission. So we spent some time today calling around to fundraising consultants to find out just how remarkable that arrangement was.

Read More →

The Wall Street Journal has a good story today about how an Exxon-funded nonprofit appears to have goaded the IRS into auditing Greenpeace.

What does the IRS say?

Eric L. Smith, an IRS spokesman, said that under federal law, he can't discuss the Greenpeace case. He said a nonpartisan IRS panel of career professionals reviews allegations against nonprofit groups to determine whether an audit is warranted.


If that sounds familiar, that's because it is: it's what the IRS told us about the audit it was prompted to conduct of Texans for Public Justice, the group which hounded former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) about his questionable fundraising practices.

TPJ filed for -- and received -- all the IRS documents pertaining to its audit. Guess what? There was no evidence their case had been considered by this "panel of career professionals," even though all of the panel's decisions are supposed to be recorded on paper.

So we called Greenpeace and spoke with their legal department. It turns out that they too requested and received all IRS documents pertaining to their audit. And, you guessed it -- there's not a scrap that shows their case was considered by a panel before the audit was begun. Curious, no? Where are these records?

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) has been dogged by nasty rumors for years just because he entered into job negotiations to become the head of the pharmaceutical lobby around the same time that he was shepherding through the Medicare drug bill.

Some members of Congress, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have even suggested that he was in negotiations for the job while he was working on the bill. He ultimately took the job at a salary reported to be between $1.5 to 2 million.

But according to Tauzin, those are just vicious rumors. He sent a letter to every member of Congress to explain that, in fact, the drug bill was signed into law on December 8, 2003, and that his lawyer didn't enter into negotiations with PhRMA until January 15, 2004. That's more than a month, people. Give the guy a break.

The NY Times notes today that National RNC Chair Ken Mehlman addressed the firefighters' union yesterday, making his pitch for the union vote.

It's a slightly different approach than the Republicans tried in 2002 in New Hampshire, when they hired a company to jam the phone lines of the firefighters' union up there, along with several Democratic offices, in order to sabotage their get-out-the-vote efforts. RNC New England Regional Director James Tobin was convicted in December for his role in that scheme and will be sentenced May 17th.

It's just a process of trial and error, you might say.

Here's another strange tie between Mitchell Wade's MZM Inc. and the Bush White House.

At least three men who have been identified as MZM employees worked as professional staff for the Robb-Silberman Commission, the White House panel which investigated the shortcomings of U.S. pre-war intelligence.

Who were the men? First, retired Lt. Gen. James C. King, who joined MZM after leaving his post as chief of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 2001. The report by the panel -- officially known as The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction -- lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff.

Then there's John J. Quattrocki, a former high-ranking FBI officer, who was identified by the Washington Post on Monday as an MZM employee. He is listed on the panel's staff as an Intelligence Professional in the report, also.

Third, Kenneth M. Geide is identified on unclassified government documents we've obtained as an MZM "Senior National Security Advisor." The White House panel's report also lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff.

Wade, of course, has pleaded guilty to several felony counts of bribery and corruption in connection with the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal.

Among other recommendations, the Robb-Silberman Commission urged the adminstration to expand the powers of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activities office (CIFA), where MZM held multi-million dollar contracts. In fact, MZM's King consulted for the Pentagon in 2002 on the creation of CIFA.

The dates of the commission make an interesting addition to the MZM-White House timeline:

February 2004: Bush announces Robb-Silberman commission to investigate WMD intelligence, including what is known about Iran and North Korea. Presumeably, staff are hired in the following months. April 2004: Mitchell Wade incorporates the Iranian Democratization Foundation. June-Sept. 2004: Wade's MZM gets three contracts through the Executive Office of the President for "intelligence services." March 2005: Robb-Silberman commission releases report and recommendations.

Were the three White House contracts with MZM to pay for the work of those three men? Was MZM doing other intelligence work for President Bush while its associates worked with the commission? Or is this all mere coincidence?

The Helena Independent Record reports that "rumors are swirling are swirling around Montana political circles" that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) might drop out of the race before Thursday's filing deadline. A recent poll showed Burns trailing the leading Democratic challenger 48-43.

Burns' spokesman says that he's in it to win it.

Looks like we're in for a round of the Katherine Harris will-he-or-won't-he Do-Si-Do up there in Montana.

Here's our rundown of Burns' Abramoff troubles.

Katrina Contractors: Reaping the Whirlwind

A House panel is preparing to look at fraud in Katrina contracting. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), chair of the Government Reform Committee, has said he will hold "at least one hearing" on the topic. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the panel's ranking member, has pushed for an independent commission to investigate fraud in Katrina contract.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, tiers of subcontractors drive up the costs of reubilding New Orleans. While guys on the ground get less than $6 per cubic yard of debris they remove, the prime contractor charges betwee $25 and $30 iIn between, as many as three other contractors take cuts before hiring someone else to do the work. The Post quoted local hauler Troy Hebert:

"Every time it passes through another layer, $4 or $5 is taken off the top," Hebert said. "These others are taking out money, and some of them aren't doing anything."


The Post says federal officials assured them that the system is "a normal and even necessary part of doing business in the aftermath of a major disaster." (WPost, AP)

Read More →

Mitchell Wade and his MZM, Inc. have been grabbing headlines recently. Knight-Ridder detailed MZM's work for the Pentagon's domestic "counterintelligence" operation, CIFA, and the WPost recounted Wade's rise to crooked prominence.

We had a story on the guy too, about a funny little contract his company held with the Department of Energy's counterintelligence office. The work was performed by an MZM staffer named Douglas Evalenko; we knew little beyond that.

Since the story ran we've learned a little more. According to DoE spokeswoman Chris Kielich, Evalenko had developed a "classified data system" for the department's CI office when he was employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In 2002 Evalenko left LANL to work for MZM. But DoE still needed him to work on its "classified data system," so it contracted with MZM to use him -- at $180 an hour.

Evalenko's contract with Energy went from March 2002 to Sept. 2005, and cost $67,000, according to Kielich. She declined to give details on what his secret system did, saying only, "It's classified."

That's the second counterintelligence data system we know MZM was helping run; the first is at CIFA. What were these databases meant for? Are there others?

Paul has been raking muck at a furious pace on these Doolittles -- how Julie Doolittle, wife of Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), took campaign cash from, among others, accused bribers, and how he cut her in on the action. One palm greases the other!

Funny thing, though: no one knows how much grease there was.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported the story, couldn't nail down exactly what Julie's cut was. Off of roughly $118,000 Doolittle collected from associates of Brent Wilkes, a crooked contractor accused of felony bribery charges in the Cunningham case, they ballparked her cut at around $14,400.

The UT further estimated that Julie Doolittle's total take from her husband's fundraising was $180,000. But given the evidence we've seen and the other Abramoff-related clients she allegedly had, we're curious, what was Julie Doolittle's total income?

I trotted down to Congress, thinking Doolittle's financial disclosure forms would show the number. Lawmakers are required to disclose their spouse's income, don't you know. But lo and behold -- in his paperwork, John Doolittle (R-CA) declined to state his wife's income!

I checked the law, and it turns out he's not required to: if a lawmaker's spouse is self-employed -- and it appears Julie was an independent contractor -- the lawmaker doesn't have to say how much she's making. Even if he's the one paying her.

If it's all above board, of course, what is there to hide? Perhaps we'll give him a call tomorrow and ask.

TPMLivewire