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Well, not exactly. But something's rotten in the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), and if you bury your nose in it, you can detect at least a whiff of a sex scandal.

We've kept an eye on the debacles at MMS, which sells off the country's oil and gas resources to energy companies like Shell Oil and ExxonMobil. With revenues around the tune of some $60 billion annually, it generates the nation's largest source of income, behind taxes.

In recent months, reports have exposed fraudulent contracts, lax audits, and loopholes big enough to drive a tanker ship through, which are collectively thought to cost the United States billions annually.

At last count there are six active inquiries into the program being conducted by the Justice Department, the FBI, the Interior Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, or some combination of the four. Two other investigations have already been completed which have blasted the operation for losing the government billions in dollars and being about as dysfunctional as one can imagine.

We watched all this from a distance, not sure what it all added up to. But then, buried in the 16th paragraph of a Dec. 30 New York Times article, was this:

One person familiar with the [Justice Department] investigation [into MMS] said it originally had focused on potentially improper social ties between some of Mr. Smith's subordinates and executives at companies vying for contracts.


And we thought to ourselves, we gotta get in on this.

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Democrats are set to institute a raft of lobbying and ethics reforms in the new Congress. Now, as a lobbyist, you could just get depressed about the gift ban, or restrictions on lawmaker travel, or you could get... creative.

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

If certain social interactions become taboo, [a "prominent" Democratic] lobbyist said, she would focus more on cultivating relationships with Members or staff in the context of alumni groups and state societies, or through activities with their children — not to mention through fundraisers that benefit the Members’ coffers....

Two well-known lobbyists, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, said that on the cocktail and fundraising circuits, lobbyists already have been abuzz with new ideas about how to sidestep as-yet-unpassed rules.

One said that a few colleagues have raised the possibility of terminating their lobbying registrations and moving into roles within their firms that are officially classified as non-lobbying, to avoid travel or gift bans if they apply only to registered lobbyists.....

And how about getting around new limits on Members using corporate jets? The Democratic lobbyist said he’d heard about lobbyists trying to get state party committees to charter corporate flights for Members.

Another GOP lobbyist said he’s been preparing himself for months to deal with a gift ban, which is expected to keep in place the numerous exceptions for widely attended stand-up receptions and for pre-existing personal friendships.

If the exemption for widely attended events holds, this lobbyist said, he would consider holding quarterly parties instead of just one holiday party each year.


And then there's one rather unfortunate side effect of the reforms. Because they restrict social interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers unless it's a fundraiser, lobbyists will probably soon break the taboo of talking up their client's cause while forking over dollars:

Several lobbyists said that fundraising events, too, will be at a premium, especially if Congress does not enact any campaign finance reforms geared toward lobbyists.

“I am going to be embraced and hugged and kissed as long as I’m giving them a check” for their campaign, said one lobbyist.

From the AP:

Two signature gatherers charged with tricking Orange County voters into registering as Republicans were sentenced to three years’ probation....

According to prosecutors, the recruiters went to shopping malls and campuses and asked residents to sign petitions for lower taxes or stricter sex offender laws, then tricked them into signing voter registration cards for the Republican party. The registration drive paid up to $10 per registrant.

Ah, so the question finally gets answered. Isn't the Republican newfound concern for minority rights a tad hypocritical?

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

When asked why Republicans were now endorsing proposals they long ignored, incoming Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) conceded the GOP had erred last year.

“In hindsight, I think [Pelosi] was right,” Cantor told reporters, adding that Pelosi is now the one ignoring the resolution, which would require more specific minority rights to control the floor, including the 24-hour requirement to review bills and conference reports.


Cantor, of course, was a member of the Republican leadership in the last Congress.

White House Won't Condemn Saddam Taunts "The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the taunting and baiting that accompanied Saddam Hussein's execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department and U.S. military raising questions about it.

"'The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad,' deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. 'Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that.'

"Stanzel said the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had expressed concerns about the timing of Saddam's execution and later about 'the process and what took place.'" (AP)

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Today, the House ethics committee ordered Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) to repay the cost of a golf junket to Scotland with Jack Abramoff in 2003. Abramoff paid for the trip, for one, but the committee found that Feeney should have been paying for his own golf outing anyway.

Feeney's response?

“Tom felt, on balance, the trip was a waste of time,” [Feeney's chief of staff Jason Roe] said, adding, “It’s an expensive lesson, but we’re glad it’s behind us.”


Well, at least his Scotland junket didn't land him in jail.

The House returns tomorrow to begin a new session. Democrats have announced they'll push an ambitious legislative agenda in the first 100 hours, but some people -- us, of course, and many of our readers -- are eager to see congressional investigations kick off a new era of more involved oversight. Well, I hear we're all going to have to wait a while for those fireworks to begin. Just like the Fourth of July, the parade comes first.

"People shouldn't expect oversight hearings right out of the gate," one Democratic Hill insider told me today. While some, like incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), are planning immediate oversight hearings -- in Biden's case, on Iraq -- it will be several weeks or months before most panels will have significant new findings to release.

"It has surprised me how much of a dragged-out process this has been," said the insider, referring to the length of time it has taken many oversight operations to add staff and develop their agendas. He didn't believe disorganization was to blame. Rather, it has taken time for leadership in the House and Senate to determine budgets for the committees. "Until people knew what their budgets were, they wouldn't know what their staffing would be."

As a result, when the curtain rises on the 110th Congress, some committees are reportedly still interviewing for new investigations staff.

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Is there such a thing as irony-deafness?

Republican lawmakers held a press conference today to continue their push for a "Minority Bill of Rights" in the new Congress.

"The Minority Bill of Rights gives [Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-CA)] a chance to lead with integrity instead of rule by force," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said, ignoring the Republican-controlled 109th Congress' reputation for strong-arm tactics.

"Washington, D.C. has just enacted a smoking ban, yet somehow Nancy Pelosi and her liberal colleagues have found a way to lock themselves in a smoky backroom in the Capitol to make deals for the next two years," Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) added.

Even House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), who as one of the top Republican leaders in the past two congresses was as responsible as anyone for the Republican majority's penchant for backroom deals and hard-nosed legislating, got in on the act, issuing a separate statement on the Democrats' diabolical intent:

In their first one hundred hours of governance, House Democrats will renege on a pledge to fully debate policy alternatives, denying the citizens of this country an open, honest discussion of the issues.

TPMLivewire