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

A sleeper of a story came out a week or so ago that nonetheless caught our eye: The Government Accountability Office found the Department of Education was bending its own rules in awarding certain grants. There were three cases they singled out; two of those benefited folks with ties to the Bush administration.

The third case was largely ignored, even though it was the worst example of political manipulation the GAO found. In essence, a top appointed official turned a grant review process upside down on behalf of one company, America's Charter School Finance Corporation - literally reached in and made ACSFC a grantee even though experts agreed it wasn't deserved. Here's a taste:

[T]he deputy secretary asked his staff -- a senior political appointee -- to re-review the fifth and sixth ranked competitors. . . Program officials said that they had never before experienced a case where a senior political appointee selectively re-reviewed and rescored particular applicants[.]


Strong stuff, particularly from the normally snoozy GAO.

The report doesn't mention how much money was given to ACSFC, but a few calls around yielded the figure of $5 million.

What gives? Who were the political appointees involved? And why was it so important to them that ACSFC get so much money? Does anybody know anything more about this?

Barbara Bonfiglio, who was once treasurer to political action committees and other organizations for ethically challenged lawmakers Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and others, just quit D.C. superfirm Williams & Jensen. She also stepped down from her post as treasurer of Rep. Richard Pombo's (R-CA) RichPAC.

Bonfiglio's got a colorful past: She was subpoenaed in 2004 by Texas DA Ronnie Earle as part of his investigation into Tom DeLay. She may have been involved in the effort by DeLay crony Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) in sic'ing the IRS on the Texas watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. And she was listed as treasurer for Santorum's Operation Good Neighbor "charity," which used less than half of its money to do actual good deeds.

Or, as her bio -- still posted on the Williams & Jensen Web site -- puts it:

Her clients include the Leadership PACs and campaign committees of several prominent Members of Congress. She also advises the firm's clients on matters involving House and Senate ethics rules, as well as compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act.


Needless to say, we will probably hear more about her sooner rather than later. (Thanks to reader LR.)

The Florida press are having trouble believing Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL), recipient of admitted felon Mitchell Wade's dirty money, is actually going to stay in her Florida Senate race. For good reason, I think.

She stated emphatically yesterday she was staying in -- although, reading her statement closely, she doesn't commit much further than the present: "I am out there. We are running hard. We think we have great momentum." (Her press secretary, however, said she was staying in until November.)

The Boca Raton News says this morning that "reliable sources" say Harris will be out in a week.

Read More →

Sen. Santorum's (R-PA) Operation Good Neighbor has been the subject of unwelcome publicity lately, and rather than stand and fight, he's decided to cut and run. Says he: "I do not have a personal charity." He just founded the thing - but he's had nothing to do with it since. Will Bunch, the reporter who's been the force behind Santorum's recent woes, has some pictures to counter Santorum's claim. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Attytood)

Read More →

Jeez, if Travis County DA Ronnie Earle insists on dredging up every bit of muck on Tom DeLay, his investigation will never end.

His investigation has just issued a new subpoena to Carolyn Malenick. Who's Carolyn Malenick? A "close friend of the Falwell family," for one. But this excerpt from "The Hammer" by Lou Dubose and Jan Reid explains why she's coming up now.

Hold on, we're going ten years back, to 1996, when a man named Brian Babin was running for East Texas' 2nd Congressional District's seat. The other key player here is Peter Cloeren, a Texas businessman who was supporting Babin's campaign. As Cloeren told it to investigators on the House Committee on Government Reform in 1998, he found himself next to Tom DeLay at a private lunch after a Babin campaign event, and DeLay turned to him and...

Read More →

David Margolick's forthcoming Vanity Fair piece has a number of choice nuggets in addition to those quoted below. Pull up a chair.

It's true that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) gets a drubbing. But Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) comes out looking even worse.

Margolick writes: "In their heydey, he and Abramoff played golf together, traveled together, philosophized together. Ney was one of the few elected officials Abramoff invited to the Bar Mitzvah of one of his three sons." Like Burns, Ney frequented Signatures - "Ney was a 'sushiholic,' one eyewitness recalls."

And here's where it gets sad. Monty Warner, a Republican media strategist says, "I can remember Ney coming up and groveling [at Abramoff's table at Signatures], saying how much he enjoyed a golf outing or skybox or ball game, and really appreciated Jack's support."

Read More →

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) is sticking with her Senate race, despite rumors -- and polls, and troubling news -- to the contrary. "'We've had some negative hits but we've had an overwhelming response from grass roots and leadership around the state that are saying 'Go for it' and that's what we're doing," she tells AP. I guess that Democratic call-in campaign worked.

"That is definitely a DeLay Foundation Golf Tournament picture," notes sharp-eyed TPMmuckraker.com reader BK of the hug-and-mug photo serving as Vanity Fair's April celebrity centerfold.

Why is he so sure? "The early tournaments benefited CASA [the Court Appointed Special Advocates program], the same program whose logo appears on DeLay and Abramoff's golf shirts."

If he's right, it's a subtle dollop of irony atop VF's delicious sundae of scandalous details.

You see, CASA was an offshoot of the DeLay Foundation for Kids, a charity set up nearly 20 years ago by Tom and Christine DeLay.

Depending on whom you ask, the foundation is a) one more example of DeLay's benevolent nature, particularly towards America's youth, or b) a "rotten" charity that's just "another way for the donors to get their hooks into politicians." DeLay supporters say (a); Fred Lewis of Texas watchdog Campaigns for People says (b). Most good-government groups side with Lewis.

Abramoff pushed his clients to give big checks to the organization, because it was a good way to get in tight with DeLay, the National Journal reported last year. "[He] knew that if they kept Christine happy, and, by extension, Tom happy, they could continue to have unfettered access to DeLay's office," a source told NJ. "The charity was a key avenue for their clients to put financial resources into DeLay Inc."

"[Abramoff] is a pathological liar who has no credibility and belongs in jail," a Burns spokesman tells AP. Burns' statement comes in response to Abramoff's comments to Vanity Fair, mentioned earlier today, that his clients got "every appropriation we wanted" from Burns' committee, and that Burns' staffers used Abramoff's restaurant, Signatures, "as their cafeteria."

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has managed to steer clear of any Abramoff taint so far, and as far as we can tell he never received a dollar from Abramoff or his tribal clients. But his staff at least, was tied in to the Abramoff favor machine.

Longtime TPM readers know that we have a stack of unpublished Abramoff emails, many of which show various staffers angling for coveted seats in Abramoff's MCI Center skybox.

One staffer who came up again and again was one Anthony Miccolis of Lincoln Chafee's office.

On February 29th, 2000, Team Abramoff member Jennifer Calvert wrote Abramoff's assistant Susan Ralston to reserve two tickets for Miccolis for the "WWF Backlash" event.

And then May 2nd, 2000, she wrote to reserve seats for "WWF Attitude."

He signed up twice more for tickets for "WWF Raw is War" and "WCW Starcade."

You can see the emails here. Calls to Chafee's office and Miccolis, who's now a Councilman in North Kingston, RI, were not returned.

Anyone up in Rhode Island want to get Miccolis on the record on this? Maybe he'll have a savvier PR strategy than Mark Graul.

TPMLivewire