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

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), paid his wife on commission for campaign fundraising, a highly unusual arrangement that means that the Sweeneys benefitted personally from every contribution. Ethics experts we spoke to earlier this week about Doolittle's wife said that they'd never heard of a similar arrangement. Well, we found one. And it might explain why the Justice Department recently examined Sweeney's financial records.

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Noting Ralph Reed's poor showing in the polls down in Georgia, Josh wonders how many political careers are floundering because of Jack Abramoff. So let's count heads.

He counts Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, and Ralph Reed. But really it ought to be mentioned that Ney and Reed are still alive and kicking. Ney doesn't seem to have a serious challenger, either from the Republicans or Democrats. If it wasn't almost certain that he'll be indicted before November, I wouldn't be surprised if he won that race. And Reed still stands a good chance of taking the Republican primary for Lt. Governor. Burns is the only one who seems in immediate danger, but even he's in a dead heat.

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Just a reminder of what's at stake today down in Texas. DeLay and his co-defendants, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, are awaiting decisions from the Court of Appeals. If things go well for them, the decisions could lead to all charges being dropped against DeLay. If things go poorly, DeLay will find himself facing a conspiracy charge in addition to the money laundering charge. So it's a big day. We'll have word to you as soon as we hear what's happened.

At War and Piece, Laura Rozen finds more indicators that MZM's contracts with the White House were for three professional staffers on the Robb-Silberman WMD commission.

First, the MZM contracts list their "place of performance" as Arlington, VA -- where the commission's offices were -- not Washington, D.C., where the White House is known to be. Second, Rozen found similar arrangements between the White House and other intelligence contractors, including Booz-Allen Hamilton and SAIC. Laura and I have both confirmed various staffers worked for SAIC.

Those companies have increased their intelligence business in recent years, thanks to U.S. spy agencies struggling to spend even greater budgets on new hires and new technology.

If Laura's right, she makes me wonder: is that arrangement usual? I don't recall the 9/11 Commission contracting out for staff.

Further, is it appropriate? Should the nation's private intelligence contractors -- which stood to gain the most from the report's recommendations to expand powers and operations -- be working for the commission?

Duke's Haul, Like The Duke, to Be Sold to Highest Bidder

The ill-gotten gains of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) are going on the block today. The proceeds will go to the Treasury Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund, which will divide it amongst the various agencies which investigated the "big chinchilla." (MSNBC, AP, San Diego U-T)

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We spent some time yesterday digging into Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) nifty little arrangement with his wife, where she was paid a 15 percent commission on contributions that came into Doolittle's campaign and leadership PAC. She's known to have bagged $180,000 since late 2001.

First, let us say that we valiantly tried to get a comment from Doolittle's office, but that our calls were not returned.

Now, a number of other members of Congress have family members doing fundraising for them, but they are all paid a flat fee; the Doolittles were getting a cut of every contribution that came in to his campaign. The ethics experts we spoke to said that sounded at least unethical and possibly illegal.

One question that stood out was just how unusual it was for a political fundraiser to charge a 15 percent commission. So we spent some time today calling around to fundraising consultants to find out just how remarkable that arrangement was.

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The Wall Street Journal has a good story today about how an Exxon-funded nonprofit appears to have goaded the IRS into auditing Greenpeace.

What does the IRS say?

Eric L. Smith, an IRS spokesman, said that under federal law, he can't discuss the Greenpeace case. He said a nonpartisan IRS panel of career professionals reviews allegations against nonprofit groups to determine whether an audit is warranted.

If that sounds familiar, that's because it is: it's what the IRS told us about the audit it was prompted to conduct of Texans for Public Justice, the group which hounded former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) about his questionable fundraising practices.

TPJ filed for -- and received -- all the IRS documents pertaining to its audit. Guess what? There was no evidence their case had been considered by this "panel of career professionals," even though all of the panel's decisions are supposed to be recorded on paper.

So we called Greenpeace and spoke with their legal department. It turns out that they too requested and received all IRS documents pertaining to their audit. And, you guessed it -- there's not a scrap that shows their case was considered by a panel before the audit was begun. Curious, no? Where are these records?

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) has been dogged by nasty rumors for years just because he entered into job negotiations to become the head of the pharmaceutical lobby around the same time that he was shepherding through the Medicare drug bill.

Some members of Congress, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have even suggested that he was in negotiations for the job while he was working on the bill. He ultimately took the job at a salary reported to be between $1.5 to 2 million.

But according to Tauzin, those are just vicious rumors. He sent a letter to every member of Congress to explain that, in fact, the drug bill was signed into law on December 8, 2003, and that his lawyer didn't enter into negotiations with PhRMA until January 15, 2004. That's more than a month, people. Give the guy a break.

The NY Times notes today that National RNC Chair Ken Mehlman addressed the firefighters' union yesterday, making his pitch for the union vote.

It's a slightly different approach than the Republicans tried in 2002 in New Hampshire, when they hired a company to jam the phone lines of the firefighters' union up there, along with several Democratic offices, in order to sabotage their get-out-the-vote efforts. RNC New England Regional Director James Tobin was convicted in December for his role in that scheme and will be sentenced May 17th.

It's just a process of trial and error, you might say.

Here's another strange tie between Mitchell Wade's MZM Inc. and the Bush White House.

At least three men who have been identified as MZM employees worked as professional staff for the Robb-Silberman Commission, the White House panel which investigated the shortcomings of U.S. pre-war intelligence.

Who were the men? First, retired Lt. Gen. James C. King, who joined MZM after leaving his post as chief of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 2001. The report by the panel -- officially known as The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction -- lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff.

Then there's John J. Quattrocki, a former high-ranking FBI officer, who was identified by the Washington Post on Monday as an MZM employee. He is listed on the panel's staff as an Intelligence Professional in the report, also.

Third, Kenneth M. Geide is identified on unclassified government documents we've obtained as an MZM "Senior National Security Advisor." The White House panel's report also lists him as an "Intelligence Professional" on its staff.

Wade, of course, has pleaded guilty to several felony counts of bribery and corruption in connection with the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal.

Among other recommendations, the Robb-Silberman Commission urged the adminstration to expand the powers of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activities office (CIFA), where MZM held multi-million dollar contracts. In fact, MZM's King consulted for the Pentagon in 2002 on the creation of CIFA.

The dates of the commission make an interesting addition to the MZM-White House timeline:

February 2004: Bush announces Robb-Silberman commission to investigate WMD intelligence, including what is known about Iran and North Korea. Presumeably, staff are hired in the following months. April 2004: Mitchell Wade incorporates the Iranian Democratization Foundation. June-Sept. 2004: Wade's MZM gets three contracts through the Executive Office of the President for "intelligence services." March 2005: Robb-Silberman commission releases report and recommendations.

Were the three White House contracts with MZM to pay for the work of those three men? Was MZM doing other intelligence work for President Bush while its associates worked with the commission? Or is this all mere coincidence?