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

As a professional muckraker, I wouldn't mind so much if this whole lobbying reform effort just passed on by without much more of a fuss. True reform would be bad for business.

But as a citizen, I must admit to some frustration.

Say it with me: There is a bipartisan reluctance to pass strong ethics reform. How does that sound to you? It's true.

Yesterday, Democrats had another chance to help set themselves apart from Republicans on this issue and to really push it. Without getting mired in the specifics, here's the thing: Sens. Collins (R-ME) and Lieberman (D-CT) put forward legislation that would establish an Office of Public Integrity, an external agency to investigate ethics complaints. Sen. Obama put forward something very similar last month and it didn't make much of a splash.

It didn't go over any better this time around. Three Senate Democrats on the committee helped vote it down 11-5.

Now, two of the three Dems - Sens. Akaka (D-HI) & Pryor (D-AR) - who voted against it sit or recently sat on the Senate ethics committee. Apparently they agree with Sen. Voinivich that "The ethics committee is already doing those things." Fine. How many voters think that? Do you?

The Republicans haven't had to stick their necks out on this one yet. Make them fight for their gifts and meals. And make them, again and again, get up in front of cameras and say that the ethics process is working.

If they don't, then nothing meaningful will come of any of this. And the muckraker in me would rejoice.

Something about Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) really brings out terribly snarky responses from TPM Readers.

Yesterday, Paul noted the Florida Recount Queen took $50,000 from the infamous Mitchell Wade of MZM, only to miss the deadline to get an earmark inserted for the company.

Reader LB : "This is the same Katherine Harris, if you remember. . . who was such a stickler for deadlines in November of 2000."

Harris was wined and dined by Wade at swanky Citronelle, reader ZK spots in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune report -- a real eyebrow-raiser, since the restaurant's prix-fixe menu starts at $85, well over the Congressional $50 gift limit.

Finally, reader MP warns us to mark our calendars. In two weeks, Harris will be speaking at the Reclaiming America for Christ conference in the holy city of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Topic: how to "reset the wildly spinning moral compass of our great land."

Perhaps her new lawyer will have some suggestions.

Today's Duke Cunningham Sentencing Day! (USA Today, AP)

And it seems the only appropriate way to celebrate would be with a widening investigation into Pentagon contracts.

Read More →

Ah, now the gang's all here.

Here's a rosy-cheeked (and for some reason, overall rosy) Warren RoBold, the latest mugshot from Tom DeLay's bad bunch of money launderers -- okay, okay, alleged money launderers -- down in Texas.

RoBold, a big fundraiser for DeLay, was indicted way back in '04 for his role in funneling corporate contributions to Texas Republicans. He joins John Colyandro and Jim Ellis - and of course the beaming Tom DeLay.

A while back, we posted an email exchange that shows Warren RoBold setting up a fundraiser for DeLay's ARMPAC in Abramoff's skybox.

Well, it's not exactly a bribe menu, but...

Brent Wilkes, whom we'll simply identify as the dirtier of the two defense contractors who bribed Duke Cunningham (see below), had more than one friend in Washington. As we've mentioned before, he was close ($37-million-in-earmarks close) to Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA).

On November 14, 2003, Wilkes hosted a fundraiser for Doolittle at his swanky corporate headquarters - possibly to thank him for the $18 million in earmarks Doolittle had "steered" toward Wilkes' company that year.

You can see the menu here. It comes to us courtesy of Wilkes' wife's catering company's website, which is as far as we can tell the only website left standing of the once-formidable Wilkes empire. It's one of their sample menus; they're understandably proud of their work. And no, pork was not on the menu.

One thing I can't quite figure out though: the ticket theme. Is it meant to symbolize that Doolittle was Wilkes' ticket to government contracts? Or that Wilkes, who along with his cohorts gave Doolittle $85,000 over 3 years, was Doolittle's ticket to a healthy campaign?

Oh, who cares. Mmmm... Applewood smoked bacon wrapped filet...

(Late Update: I stand corrected. TPM reader JB writes "'Actually, pork (bacon) was on the menu. No jokes about "bringing home the bacon?'")

It's getting a lot worse for Rep. Katharine Harris (R-FL).

Last Friday, Mitchell Wade, the former president of the defense contractor MZM and one of the two who so impressively and repeatedly bribed Duke Cunningham, pled guilty. He admitted, among other things, that he illegally contributed to two Congressional campaigns. They've since been identified as Harris' and Rep. Virgil Goode's (R-VA).

Now, Wade told the government that neither Harris nor Goode knew that the contributions were illegal, i.e. that Wade reimbursed his employees and their spouses for the $2K they laid out to the campaigns.

But in both cases, Wade approached the Member of Congress after having delivered the contributions and asked if they wouldn't be so kind as to throw an appropriation his way. In Goode's case, that resulted in a $9M MZM facility in Goode's district.

Now it's coming out that Harris followed through too. And she's been lying, breaking promises, and doing her best to cover up her involvement with Wade....

Read More →

Mark your calendars...

Duke Cunningham will be sentenced this Friday, and the U.S. Attorney's Office down in Florida tells us that the sentencing of Adam Kidan and Jack Abramoff for their SunCruz fraud is coming up March 16th.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is continuing to chase down Tom DeLay's ties to Jack Abramoff.

Today he subpoenaed Jack Abramoff's travel agent, the one who arranged the junket to Scotland in 2000. DeLay came along, and I think that it's fair to say from the $6,617.20 ticket price that he flew first class. The ticket was charged to Jack Abramoff's credit card. You can see his AmEx statement here.

Late Update: TPM Reader ME writes in to confirm that the "J3" code on the ticket refers to Continental's "Business First."

Oh, videotape is not the friend of George W. Bush today.

Remember this quote, right?

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will." - George W. Bush, Sept. 1, 2005

Only now the AP has unearthed videotape of the president being warned that just that could happen the day before Katrina hit.

Chris Matthews ran the tape just a few minutes ago on Hardball.

See the report on it here.

Late Update: video link here.

Even Later Update: Click here for the link to the White House photo of the August 28th briefing.