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

Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) wife, acting as his fundraiser, was getting a 15% cut of contributions coming into his campaign. That sounds sketchy to us, but you never know in D.C., so we asked around to people who do know. The verdict: it sounds as bad to experts as it does to you. And a strong case can be made that Doolittle broke the law.

Neither Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 nor Naomi Seligman of CREW could think of another example of a lawmaker's wife or other family member getting a cut of contributions, and it's not hard to figure why: because it sets off all sorts of warning bells. It is against the law for lawmakers to convert campaign money to personal use. And that's just what was going on here.

Now, as with all matters legal, it's more complicated than that. The FEC ruled on a matter very similar to this one back in 2001, when Jesse Jackson, Jr. was seeking to use his wife for consulting work. And what the FEC said back then was that it was OK as long as his wife was paid the "fair market value" for her services.

In that case, Jackson's wife had plenty of experience. In this case, Doolittle's wife had no experience. And she was being paid a 15% commission, which sounded high to Naomi Seligman.

So: no experience and she was being paid top dollar. Is that "fair market value?" Sounds like a pretty clear violation of the law to me.

The Houston Chronicle runs a piece today on the dueling investigations into Tom DeLay and how they're likely to last at least through the election in November.

The Jack Abramoff investigation is likely to start with lower-level casualties, like DeLay's former staffer Tony Rudy, who is reportedly expected to reach a plea deal with prosecutors. They'll work their way up the chain from there, and it may be months and months before they've finally got DeLay cornered.

And Ronnie Earle's prosecution of DeLay in Texas isn't likely to see a trial date until late July, according to DeLay's attorney. So those charges will continue to hang over his head as well.

It seems like DeLay is in for a slow roasting until November.

There have been a number of signs lately that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), eyeing 2008, is cozying up to the Republican establishment, but this just might be the surest one yet.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that McCain had hired Terry Nelson to be a senior advisor to his political committee, the Straight Talk America PAC. Who is Terry Nelson? George W. Bush's national political director in 2004, for one. It's just the latest example of McCain's strategy of taking what he can of Bush's money infrastructure - as the Post reports, he's been busily recruiting Pioneers, Rangers and Super Rangers from '04.

But there's one crucial, telling detail about Terry Nelson that the Post leaves out. And that's his role in the money laundering scheme for which Tom DeLay is being prosecuted down in Texas.

Nelson was the deputy chief of staff of the Republican National Committee in 2002 when the alleged crime occurred. His role was crucial, although he hasn't been charged. He's named right there in the indictment.

DeLay and his money men, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, are accused of trying to get around a Texas law against using corporate money to fund candidates. To do that, they wrote a check to the RNC and had the RNC bounce the money back to the Texas candidates they wanted to fund. According to the indictment, the scheme was laid out to Terry Nelson, and he made sure the RNC carried it out.

So what gives? Sen. McCain, Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, has just hired a man who (allegedly) played a key role in breaking a campaign finance law to advise him on how to spend his PAC's money. Anything to win in '08?

Without Challengers, Incumbent Candidates Spend, Spend, Spend

Many incumbent Congressional candidates raise money aggressively and spend lavishly on their campaigns, despite running practically unopposed. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), who has has captured at least 70 percent of the vote in each of his last six elections, spent $415,000 last year in campaign money on "meals, travel, entertainment and other election-related operations," despite facing no serious challenger? The Washington Post reports:

He said he has no choice but to keep up the spending even without a serious challenger.

"Since the campaign registration season remains open in Alabama, I have no assurance at all I won't have serious competition again this year," he said in a statement. ""It is only prudent I be prepared."

(Washington Post)

Read More →

The Washington Post's Charles Babcock and Renae Merle break news tonight on how MZM Inc.'s Mitchell Wade spun a $40,000 Pentagon contract into over $170 million in work, using bribery, personal favors to lawmakers and Defense officials, lavish recruiting practices, strongarm practices and hiring big-name principals.

Wade has confessed to felony charges of bribery and corruption in connection to the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal.

Wade's tactics made him a power player within the Defense world, the Post team reports. Here's how he was perceived by Pentagon employees:

According to excerpts of e-mails collected by a Pentagon employee and provided to The Washington Post, one contract official inaccurately thought Wade was a former undersecretary of defense. Another wrote that "Mitch Wade is a force to be reckonned (sic) with . . . he has a lot of perceived power that can slow us down . . . maybe even grind us to a halt."

For a long time, details about just what Mitchell Wade's company was doing for their $170 million have been very difficult to come by. Now that ball of yarn is unraveling, and the more we learn, the more we want to know.

More soon.

So where are we with this lobbying reform thing?

Lobbyists are openly gloating in the Post that they've fought off any meaningful reform - that's where.

Earlier, we noted today's San Diego Union-Tribune piece on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The basic charge underlying the piece is that Brent Wilkes, a crooked defense contractor, paid $14,400 to Doolittle. Doolittle then went to bat for Wilkes, ultimately delivering $37 million in earmarks for a technology the Pentagon didn't want.

In other words, you could make a case that this was old-fashioned bribery, the Duke Cunningham variety, in which a Congressman personally benefits from an interested party in return for an official favor.

The money we're talking about here was paid to Doolittle's wife's consulting company. And the more you look at that arrangement, the more it's clear that this $14,400 is just the tip of the iceberg. There was a lot more money coming into Julie Doolittle. We just don't know how much.

Let's break it down.

Julie Doolittle has a consulting firm called Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions. Two of her clients are her husband's leadership PAC and campaign, for which she does fundraising. She gets a 15% commission on contributions. Doolittle's hilarious justification for paying her on commission is that she has to work for her money, "because if you don't raise any money you don't get paid." So we're supposed to think of this little arrangement as a high-minded application of free market principles. Keep in mind that Doolittle is in a securely Republican district and that he sits on the Appropriations Committee. This is not a man who's been in danger of losing his seat; fundraising is not much of a task. According to the SDUT- and I find this hard to believe - he outraised his last opponent by $935,907 to $2,300.

So this was in effect free money. Doolittle was in a very strong position to raise funds. By his own admission, his wife even got a cut of contributions resulting from his fundraising calls - all she had to do was bring him the list.

And let's not forget here that Abramoff, his associates and clients gave Doolittle some $140,000 in contributions since 1999. How much did Julie Doolittle get of that?

But it gets fishier.

Doolittle has said that he is not his wife's major client. But the SDUT reports that she's gotten $180,000 in commissions since late 2001 - so she brings in around $60,000 a year from just his business, even though he's supposedly a minor client. Neither Doolittle nor his wife will say who those other clients are, and as Josh points out, of the only other three that we know about, two are Jack Abramoff's restaurant and charity, and the other is connected to Ed Buckham, another player in the Abramoff scandal.

So all of Julie Doolittle's other business we know about just points to a more direct means of paying the Doolittles.

Buckham, in addition to working closely with Abramoff, was Wilkes' lobbyist. And according to the SDUT, Julie Doolittle was working in Buckham's office when Doolittle met Wilkes. She was doing "bookkeeping" for one of Buckham's non-profits there. It's never been reported how much she was paid for this. Buckham's firm Alexander Strategy Group paid Tom DeLay's wife Christine $3,200/month for her work for them. How much was Julie Doolittle getting?

Also never reported is how much Abramoff paid Julie Doolittle. You might call it suspicious that one of her jobs for Abramoff was planning an event that never occurred.

It's pretty amazing to think of what a jack of all trades this Julie Doolittle is. She did fundraising for Doolittle, bookkeeping for Buckham, and "public relations and other event planning services" for Abramoff. It almost seems like the job description was an afterthought, wouldn't you say?

The more you look into this, the more it stinks, stinks, stinks. Just how much money was Julie Doolittle getting from Wilkes, Buckham, and Abramoff? And how much longer can Doolittle get away with not telling?

You knew that we'd gone a little too long without any new muck on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). Well, today's San Diego Union-Tribune delivers.

Through his wife, Doolittle pocketed nearly $15,000 from his campaign contributions from Brent Wilkes, a key figure in the Cunningham bribery scandal, the SDUT is reporting this morning.

From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Doolittle helped steer $37 million in contracts to one of Wilkes' companies for a technology the Pentagon never asked for -- in return, Doolittle got a hefty amount in contributions: $118,000 from Wilkes and his associates between 2002 and 2005. That's more than Wilkes steered toward any other member of Congress, including Cunningham.

Doolittle is also under investigation for his connections to the Abramoff scandal. And it's beginning to look like it's going to be a really close call on which scandal ends up worse for Doolittle - Abramoff or Cunningham. More soon.

Some days it's hard to catch a break.

Just ask former GOP operative James Tobin, recently convicted on charges stemming from a scheme to jam the NH Democratic party's phones in 2002. On Friday, Tobin's lawyers argued to have his harrassment conviction thrown out -- but the judge has so far declined to do so.

As you recall, on the eve of the 2002 election Tobin and other New Hampshire GOP campaign workers jammed the state Democratic party and the local firemen's union get-out-the-vote phones.

Three men, including Tobin, have already been convicted. A fourth has yet to be indicted -- federal prosecutors have said they know just the fellow who deserves it, but so far haven't named him.

This morning, the Washington Post reports conclusively that Secret Service personnel did not falsely portray themselves as journalists while doing advance work in a Mississippi town Bush was set to visit. An earlier article from a local paper suggested this was the case.

No, it was instead "two government employees" who first impersonated journalists from FOX News, and then impersonated the Secret Service.

Jerry Akins, the Mississippean who was the butt of the joke, had told the Biloxi Sun-Herald two days ago that he had "assumed" the two men were Secret Service, after they showed him "blue porcelain lapel pins" and a third man confirmed they were "with the Presidential entourage."

Akins' recollection seems to have improved since then. As he tells the Post now, the two men said they were Secret Service:

"[A]fter everything was over with, [the two "journalists"] approached us and they were laughing, and they said: 'You know, we really weren't with Fox. We're government, Secret Service men.'"

Now, impersonating a journalist is highly unethical and puts working journalists in jeopardy. But impersonating a federal officer -- a Secret Service agent -- is, I believe, a federal offense.

The Post quotes a White House spokesperson who assures us the administration "will discipline two government employees who masqueraded as journalists[.]" What will it do if they did in fact pose as Secret Service members?