And The Winner Is….

The CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) released its Annual List of the 22 most corrupt members of Congress along with the 2 Most Likely To’s on its watchlist. It was a near-clean sweep for the Republicans, who captured 20 of the 24 slots, proving once again that when it comes to cheating, scamming, stealing, and general law-breaking and mayhem, the GOP has no equal.

At the top of the list is New Mexico Sen Pete Domenici, who was honored for his featured role in the US Atty firing scandal when he put pressure on former USA David Iglesias to investigate Democrats before the ’06 elections.

By pressuring Mr. Iglesias to act quickly on a pending corruption investigation, Sen. Domenici attempted to intervene in a pending legal action before the matter reached a resolution in the courts. Sen. Domenici violated the Senate rule that states that communication with an agency with respect to a matter in litigation is allowed as long as the agency is not engaged in an on-going investigative proceeding and engaged in improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate.

It was engaged in an on-going investigation, and it wasn’t, of course, doing anything improper, but the point is – and here is where I think the judges must have seen his greatness – Sen Pete was violating the first and urging Iglesias to violate the second. It was an effortless two-fer for a combined score of 5.8 (it would have been higher, I think, but PD bungled the dismount).

Congratulations on a spectacular performance, Sen Pete! You’re A-Number 1 with us!

It is really the next spot, though, that shows the strength of the GOP’s dedication to its craft because our 2nd Place finisher is a GOP powerhouse, Sen Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A classic Republican combination of hypocrite and sneak-thief, Sen Mitch has distinguished himself this year by pulling a DeLay – using his position to funnel money to a lobbyist friend who then kicked back a good deal of it to his campaign chest while at the same time he was setting up a non-profit organization (named after him; isn’t that cute?) as a front for money-laundering and bribery.

Gordon Hunter Bates served as Sen. McConnell’s chief legal counsel and then chief of staff from 1997 to 2002. After a 2003 lawsuit ended his bid for Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, he opened a lobbying firm, Bates Capitol Group LLC (Bates Capitol). Bates Capitol clients include: E-Cavern, Voice for Humanity, Appriss Inc. and Boardpoint LLC, all of which have received earmarks thanks to Sen. McConnell. In addition, the senator rewrote legislation to help another Bates Group client, UPS Inc. All of these companies have made substantial contributions to Sen. McConnell’s campaigns.

***

In November 2004, a Kentucky court ordered the foundation to release the names of corporate donors, including donations made to the McConnell Center. Two of the largest donors to the McConnell Center are Ashland Inc. and UPS, which have donated $500,000 and $400,000 respectively. Some donations to the McConnell Center have been delivered to Sen. McConnells Capitol Hill office.

If Sen. McConnell accepted donations to his campaign and political action committees in direct exchange for earmarking federal funds to clients of Bates Capitol, he may have violated the bribery statute. Similarly, if he provided legislative assistance in return for contributions to the McConnell Center he may have violated the bribery statute.

This was a very slick operation, indeed, that managed to use virtually all the points of the GOP’s twisted compass at one and the same time while muddying the ethical waters so completely that campaign contributors could walk bundles of cash into his office in broad daylight and nobody could be sure it wasn’t all somehow legal.

Brilliant. Sen McConnell’s originality score may not have been high – after all, the Bugkiller did it first – but his ceaseless struggle to improve an old game to the point of near-perfection without actually being charged for anything (yet) garnered a combined score of 5.6 from the impressed CREW judges.

Way to go, Mitch! Keep plugging, baby!

In 3rd Place – the highest rank ever achieved by a woman in this category – is Alaska Sen Lisa Murkowski who, with a little help from her friends, turned a simple land purchase into a first-rate scam laden with plundered gold.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is a first-term senator representing Alaska. Sen. Murkowski’s ethics violations stem from her purchase of land in Alaska for a price below market value, her acceptance of a mortgage on terms not available to the general public and her failure to accurately disclose the transaction in her 2006 financial disclosure report.

Kenai River Property Purchase

In December 2006, Sen. Murkowski and her husband paid $179,400 for a 1.2 acre vacant lot on the banks of the Kenai River in Alaska from long-time friend and campaign contributor Bob Penney. Three days after the purchase, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assessing Department valued the land at $214,900, 20% over what Sen. Murkowski paid for the land. According to numerous real estate sources in the area, the Kenai lots actually sell for significantly higher than the Borough assessed price because they are located on a world-famous fishing river.

A $35,000 profit in 72 hrs is close to the world record, and the judges acknowledged Lisa’s smooth operating with a very respectable 5.0. The fact that she got caught, of course, did hurt her score, although one judge was quoted as saying that it shouldn’t count against her since Republicans always get caught. He was voted down, though, when it was pointed out that Sen Mitch hasn’t yet been convicted of anything and they couldn’t very well lump her with him. There were standards to maintain, after all.

Never mind, Sen Lisa. We think you did great! And who knows, maybe you’ll find a way to slide by any legal ramifications for the hustle you enter in next year’s competition, and in ’08 we’ll see you joining the Pantheon of Pub Pirates, too. Good Luck!

Although we normally only honor the Top Three in the contest, this year we have to include our 4th position honoree for a very special reason:

Number 4 is Sen Ted Stevens of…Alaska! Yes, that’s right, for the first time ever both US Senators from a single state have been included in the Top Five!

Though Sen Stevens’ stealing has been somewhat clumsy and heavy-handed with none of the panache of Sen McConnell or the dash of Sen Lisa, what he lost in points for gaucherie he more than made up for in the sheer breadth of his activities.

Sen. Stevens’ ethics issues stem from his ties to the VECO Corporation; earmarks he has inserted for companies that paid his son, Ben Stevens; his relationship with his brother-in-law, lobbyist William Bittner; his relationship with Alaskan real estate developers Jonathan Rubini and Leonard Hyde; as well as the activities of his non-profit, The Ted Stevens Foundation.

There’s too much material here even to summarize it. Suffice it to say that when it comes to corruption, Sen Ted is the Energizer Bunny. He never stops. In fact, Sen Stevens’ cup runneth over a bit because in addition to snagging Fourth Place from CREW in a tough field, he has also just been honored by The Hill as Top Procurer of 2007 for his performance in the Earmarks-Snatching event.

Senate appropriators disclosed about 936 earmarks worth a combined $5.1 billion in the 2008 defense-spending bill, with top committee members in both parties securing the highest dollar amounts.

***

Stevens tops the list with $189 million in individual project requests. The veteran appropriator, who is under federal investigation, also shares $24.7 million in earmark requests with Alaska?s other senator, Lisa Murkowski (R).

Among Stevens’s requests are $44.2 million for access to the Joint Tanana training complex in his state; $10 million for so-called “utilidors” – an above-ground, insulated network of pipes and cables – at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska; and $2 million for hibernation genomics.

(emphasis added)

Whatever they might be. But just to show he’s not thinking only about himself, Sen Ted helped non-Alaskans in a total of two instances.

[H]e also requested $6 million for a preventive medicine pilot program, as well as another $5 million for prostate disease research, both programs at the Army?s Walter Reed hospital.

What a guy! Letting $$11Mil$$ go like that, out of the goodness of his heart. That may have been what pushed him over the top with the CREW judges, finally overcoming his severe deficit in awkwardness and sledgehammer tactics for a crowd-pleasing combined score of 4.8.

Finally, I would be truly remiss if I didn’t note the Honorable Mention that went to Alaska’s sole Representative, Don Young. Mr Young’s indiscretions may strike one as a bit, well, petty after the glories of his state-mates. Still, he’s in there trying.

Rep. Young?s ethics violations stem from the misuse of his position to benefit family and friends and to steer millions of dollars in earmarks to corporations in exchange for contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee, Midnight Sun PAC (MSPAC). Rep. Young is currently under four separate federal investigations including an investigation into his role in securing a $10 million earmark for a road in Florida, assistance he offered to recently convicted VECO executive Bill Allen, his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his financial relationship with recently indicted businessman Dennis Troha.

So, while there’s nothing flashy here, Rep Young has proven himself to be a solid performer who deserves a place in the sun. His combined score of 3.2 certainly could stand improvement, but this plucky Rep has shown he’s got the grit and the greed to make it to the top.

More significantly, though, Rep Young’s presence on the list means that Alaska’s entire Congressional delegation is crooked! Every single one of them! The first time that has ever happened.

That is truly an accomplishment to which Alaskans can point with pride, and it sets a standard that may never be reached again but to which all Republicans may aspire.

Alaska! You’re The One!

(H/T to John McKay of archy fame)

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