You might say there's an art, a finesse to earmarking. And Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) $2 million earmark in 2001 to the Voyager literacy program was bad art.The Washington Post laid it all out
in a big piece late last year: four days after getting a heap of campaign contributions from Voyager executives and relatives, Landrieu delivered the earmark, which provided the money to city school officials in Washington, D.C. on the condition that it be used on Voyager.
Now the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington says
the feds should investigate whether Landrieu was bribed. The group filed complaints today with the Justice Department, two U.S. attorneys offices, and the Senate Ethics Committee based on the earmark.
The basic facts aren't pretty. Voyager's founder Randy Best is a Texan and Bush supporter (he signed up to be a Bush Pioneer in 2000, but apparently didn't raise enough money to qualify). He only approached Landrieu in 2001 after striking out on the Republican side of the aisle; when he hired a second lobbyist for help, they approached Landrieu. After an apparently positive meeting between Best and Landrieu, someone from her office approached Best to see if he would host a fundraiser for her. Voyager executives and relatives delivered $30,000 in contributions for Landrieu, and "most had never before given to a Democrat running for Congress." Four days later, Landrieu followed through for Voyager. Over the years, Voyager execs and relatives gave her almost $80,000
As far as the quality of the literacy program itself goes, the Post calls the reviews "mixed." Suffice it to say like most curricula, some educators like it more than others. It's neither a smash hit nor a lemon.
Landrieu refused to speak to the Post for its story. It was only in the course of an interview with a local news station two weeks later that she addressed it. And besides dismissing the odor of the timing of that fundraiser ("But people come into my office all the time. We sometimes help them, sometimes don't. They sometimes help us raise money. Sometimes they don't. I have to raise money."), she contradicted two important facts from the Post's story. The first is that the city didn't ask for the money. She said that she'd conferred with the mayor before adding the earmark. The other is that officials weren't required to spend it on Voyager. Why she didn't offer those corrections earlier -- and why city school officials seem not to have been aware of all that -- is unclear.