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

Santorum: When Is a Lobbyist Not a Lobbyist?

Answer: When he's running Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) charity. At least three lobbyists are involved in running Santorum's non-profit Operation Good Neighbor, a local Pittsburgh TV station reports. The charity has been dinged recently for spending as much as 60 percent of its money on non-charitable expenses, including over $200,000 in travel and meetings.

One Gucci Gulcher among the charity's top brass is Barbara Bonfiglio, the GOP campaign finance specialist connected to groups run by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). As we noted yesterday, it appears Bonfiglio abruptly resigned from her job at Williams & Jensen, and also left her post as treasurer of Rep. Richard Pombo's poorly named RichPAC.

Another is lobbyist Rob Bickhart, whose Philadelphia offices are also home to Santorum's PAC -- and his re-election campaign.

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The future of lobbying reform in doubt, thanks to continued brouhaha over ownership of U.S. port operations, Roll Call reports.

Senators from both parties were unsure Thursday afternoon how and when they could resume work on a lobbying overhaul package. . . .

"Frankly, we've got the other side talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). "They're all onto this lobbying reform, pointing fingers and blaming people, but they're now the obstructionists blocking it. Harry Reid and the boys can't have it both ways."

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.

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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)

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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...

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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."

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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."

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