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

The New Republic has an interesting story on the feud between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Grover Norquist, the Republican power broker and head of Americans for Tax Reform, who has extremely close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

McCain, who has spearheaded an investigation into Abramoff's misdeeds, appears to be letting Norquist off the hook, despite the fact that Norquist's fingerprints are all over Jack's dealings.

Norquist and McCain have hated each other for about a decade, since McCain started pushing for campaign finance reform, TNR's Ryan Lizza tells us. Norquist, whose livelihood depends on the sizeable GOP power base he maintains in part by directing donations to various candidates and organizations, doesn't take kindly to McCain trying to swipe his lunch money. Hence, feud.

When McCain, head of the Indian Affairs Committee, heard of Abramoff's misdeeds, he jumped at the chance to investigate them, knowing of Jack's ties to Norquist.

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It's all about the perks. Corporate jets, junkets...and you can add publicly funded luxury cars.

House members are provided the opportunity to lease cars on the taxpayers' dime, and Knight Ridder reports that many have taken full advantage of it. "Lexuses, Lincolns, Cadillacs, an Infiniti, even a BMW 530i" are among the spoils - the leases ran to over $1 million total last year. Curious as to who has the most expensive wheels? Here's a list. We were cheered to see Muckraker favorites Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and John Doolittle (R-CA) make the top ten with a Lincoln and Toyota Highlander, respectively. No word on who bagged the BMW.* (KR)

Justice Department Leaves Some Clues

The Justice Department pulled the financial disclosure records of several lawmakers and staffers involved in the Abramoff scandal last year, providing some confirmation of who interests them....

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Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) says she will make a "major announcement" regarding her campaign for Senate in Florida. Harris, who struggled for support throughout the race, has been dogged by questions regarding her involvement with a key figure in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

She begged off an appearance at a GOP conference this weekend:

"While there has been much speculation in recent days concerning my campaign, and our party faces challenges in this mid-term election, I am confident with your dedication and commitment, we shall be victorious in November," Harris said.

"Unfortunately, I am unable to join you this weekend, as I prayerfully prepare with my family, friends and advisers to finalize the strategy for a major announcement next week concerning my candidacy for the U.S. Senate."


No time or place has been set for the announcement.

Thanks to all those who wrote in regarding the sale of Katherine Harris' home. The general consensus -- and I'm inclined to agree -- is that while she did well for herself, her profits weren't far outside the norm for her neighborhood in that time period. The fact that the home could be used as a B&B may have also contributed to the high sale price.

My math is a little shaky -- after all, I'm a journalist -- but the sale price seem to reflects an appreciation of around 20 percent a year, and looking at the information readers sent in, that seems to be on the high side for her neighborhood, but within the boundaries of expectation. (Although it makes me wish I'd bought a house six years ago.)

Former White House domestic policy adviser Claude A. Allen was picked up today for falsely claiming refunds for $5,000 worth of retail goods, mostly from Target and Hecht's. It was a somewhat clever, if petty, one-man crime ring. ABC reports:

Police believe Allen would buy items, take them to his car, then return to the store with his receipt. He would select the same items, then take them to the store return desk and show the receipt from the first purchase. Using that method, he would receive credit for the second items on his credit cards, Burnett said.


Appointed to his White House post in early 2005, Allen resigned from the $161,000-a-year job last month "[to] focus on my family, my wife and my children."

Funny, the things you come across on a Friday afternoon. Here's an article we stumbled across from the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, dated May 8, 2005:

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris made a bit of a killing in the local real estate market recently.

Her Myers Park home, a stately 1936 mansion that Harris lived in when she was secretary of state, was sold last month to a retired British educator and his wife for nearly $500,000 more than she paid for it in 1999. Public records at the Leon County Courthouse indicate Harris bought the former bed-and-breakfast, known as the Riedel House, for $269,000 when she joined the Cabinet six years ago.

Buyer Michael Reiser, who is moving from West Palm Beach, said the home at 1412 Fairway Drive needs some interior and grounds work but that he hopes to have it reopened as a B&B next spring. Reiser said he wasn't surprised by the near tripling of the price.

"Most people who have had property in Florida for five years have made a bundle off of it," he said. "It's a very good appreciation, I agree, but I'd imagine it's par for the course."

Reiser said he and his wife, Nafiseh, have been in the country about six months. He said they're not political people but he knew who Florida's most famous member of Congress was.

"Obviously, her fame had spread to England," he said.


Clearing half a million dollars in six years isn't unusual for some markets. But a 200 percent appreciation in six years is quite a killing. And the tone of the article implies it was steep for the area.

Perhaps Rep. Harris (R-FL), now running for Senate in Florida (we think), simply did well with a wise investment in real estate. It does have a subtle rhyme, though, with the shady real estate deal that eventually brought down former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). Anybody know what comps for her neighborhood have been?

EPA chief Stephen L. Johnson speaks at $300-a-plate GOP fundraiser in Colorado (hosted by former Abramoff employer Greenberg Traurig, natch). Flees out back door before reporter, photographer can catch him.

Federal laws prohibit officials' names from appearing in invitations for political events. But an emailed invite for the event read "Subject: Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA Stephen L. Johnson for Rick O'Donnell this Thursday."

Gumshoes in the EPA ethics office said to be investigating. . .

As Josh noted over at TPM, Gale Norton has resigned her post as head up the Department of the Interior. Before he fell from grace, Jack Abramoff worked to influence Norton by funneling half a million dollars from his clients into a group Norton co-founded called Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Abramoff called CREA "our access to Norton."

Norton has said she cannot recall "any particular influence" Abramoff had on decisionmaking at Interior.

As we noted, a woman who's central figure in most of the current GOP fundraising scandals disappeared from her D.C. lobby firm earlier this week.

High-powered campaign finance specialist Barbara Bonfiglio was treasurer or adviser to a broad range of Republican money operations, from campaign funds to political action committees. An unfortunate number of them seem to be turning up in headlines.

Here's a partial list of groups she's worked for: Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) ARMPAC; Sen. Conrad Burns' (R-MT) leadership PAC; Rep. Richard Pombo's (R-CA) RichPAC; Santorum's senate re-election campaign and leadership PAC; Rep. Jerry Lewis' (R-CA) Future Leaders PAC; and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R-CA)American Prosperity PAC. DeLay, Burns, Pombo and Lewis all had ties to Abramoff, mainly by taking his and his clients' money. Cunningham, he's his own kettle of rotting fish.

A managing partner at Williams & Jensen now tells Will Bunch she's got a new job - as senior compliance officer with a Fortune 500 company. (Thanks to reader BK for the tip.)

Bonfiglio was recently nicked by stories coming out of the Pennsylvania media about Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) so-called charity, Operation Good Neighbor, for which she was treasurer. The group raised hundreds of thousands of dollars promising to "break the cycle of poverty," but spent most of it on things unrelated to its mission, particularly travel and meetings.

In an old Public Citizen report, she's listed as working for 31 PACs from 1998 to 2001, more than anyone else. She's put her expertise, writing a book on the topic: How to Cross the Potomac Without Falling In, a guide on how politicians can take money and gifts and get away with it -- er, not run afoul of the law.

She's been subpoenaed at least once, in 2004, in connection with DeLay. What does she know? Who is she telling?

Has anyone read her book? Is it any good? It doesn't seem to show up on Amazon.

The Bush administration continues its fight for the rights of the inexperienced by appointing them to important positions in DHS. The most recent example is Douglas Hoelscher, a 29-year-old former White House staffer with no management experience who was recently tapped to run the Homeland Security Advisory Council. AT HSAC, he'll be managing 20 different panels, comprised of senior industry officials and other mucky-mucks, which advise the administration on homeland security issues.

Shane Harris, who broke the story for National Journal magazine, noted that Hoelscher had a Friendster profile. Readers tell us it has since been taken down. But someone slipped us a hard copy, and -- surprise -- despite being a White House appointee, Hoelscher's surprisingly with-it!

He likes "reading in coffeeshops," "wine tasting," "watching college football" and "sleeping in on Saturdays," among other things. His favorite movies are Moulin Rouge and Best in Show (a TPMmuckraker favorite). He likes the Simpsons, along with Law & Order, Sex in the City and Will and Grace. Strangely, he doesn't mention 24.

He listens to Eminem and Offspring, but also Dolly Parton. (She was great at the Oscars.) And as Harris noted in his article, Doug says "I'm usually fairly quiet in a group setting -- I am not a talker but a pretty good listener."

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