Article

Ethics: The Frontier Of Corruption

Alaska may be the second youngest state in the country, but it's also one of the most corrupt. The state's entire congressional delegation -- Sens. Ted Stevens (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Don Young (R) -- is now embroiled in a series of scandals and criminal investigations that threaten to topple Alaska's oil industry-friendly political leadership.

July 26, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ETHICS

The Frontier Of Corruption

Alaska may be the second youngest state in the country, but it’s also one of the most corrupt. The state’s entire congressional delegation — Sens. Ted Stevens (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Don Young (R) — is now embroiled in a series of scandals and criminal investigations that threaten to topple Alaska’s oil industry-friendly political leadership. Much of the corruption involves Alaska’s “largest oil-field engineering firm,” Veco Corp., which is “entwined in a broad federal investigation that has led to the indictment of four current and former Alaska politicians and ensnared former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens, son of Ted Stevens.”

STEVENS’S CORRUPT HOME MAKEOVER: Ted Stevens is “the most senior Republican in the U.S. Senate and Alaska’s most famous political figure.” He’s also the subject of investigations by the FBI and a federal grand jury over an “extensive remodeling project” done to his home in 2000. The contractors for this major project, which added a new floor to Stevens’s house, happened to be hired by longtime Veco Corp. CEO Bill Allen. Allen and another company executive pleaded guilty in May to federal conspiracy, bribery and tax charges, and they are now cooperating with authorities. “The company has been awarded a series of federal contracts since 2000, including contracts to provide logistics support for arctic research, among other projects.” FBI officials “recently questioned former Stevens aides about Bill Allen,” and the investigation appears to be expanding to include the commercial fishing industry, “including Ben Stevens’ consulting clients and associates. Federal subpoenas served on fishing companies in Seattle last year sought records concerning both Ben and Ted Stevens.” Now Stevens’s popularity is near an “all-time low” — plans to erect a nine-foot-tall “statuary tribute” to Stevens at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport were even scrapped — and the senator isn’t taking any legal chances. Last month, he “quietly hired Washington’s most powerful and expensive lawyer, Brendan Sullivan Jr., to deal with the feds.”

YOUNG’S DIRTY PIG ROAST:
The Wall Street Journal revealed this week that 18-term Alaska congressman Don Young is also under criminal investigation in the widening probe into “alleged influence-peddling and self-dealing in Congress,” and Allen again plays a prominent role. For a decade, “Allen has held fund-raisers for Mr. Young in Anchorage every August, known as ‘The Pig Roast.’” Veco employees and its PAC have contributed at least $157,000 to Young between 1996 and 2006, the last year the event was held. Young has often skated ethics rules closely. The self-proclaimed “little oinker” has arranged several highly-suspect pork projects, including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” and his former staffer was convicted as part of the Jack Abramoff corruption probe. Young has now “hired a criminal-defense team and has said his campaign committee has paid $262,000 in legal fees in the past three months.”

MURKOWSKI’S FISHY LAND DEAL: Alaska’s other senator, Lisa Murkowski, has come under fire in recent weeks for buying a prime riverfront lot on Alaska’s Kenai River lot “at a cut-rate price from a major campaign contributor.” Wealthy Alaskan real estate developer and political supporter Bob Penney sold a 1.27-acre waterfront lot for $179,000 to Murkowski’s husband, Verne Martell. “Three days after the borough recorded the Murkowskis’ purchase, the assessed value went up to $214,900. So right off the bat, it looks like she got a discount of 20 percent.” But the discount was “probably far bigger. The online real estate listing service for Alaska has one Kenai riverfront lot. The parcel is only one acre — a quarter of an acre less than Sen. Murkowski’s — but the asking price is $399,000. Per acre, that’s almost three times what the senator paid for hers.” Last month, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a 25-page ethics complaint against Murkowski with the Senate committee. Murkowski’s deal factors into the other scandals — Bob Penney, who sold her husband the lot, also testified last year before a grand jury “about his cozy relationship” with Stevens.

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — MURTHA ANNOUNCES NEW IRAQ REDEPLOYMENT AMENDMENT: Yesterday, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) announced that he will offer a new “amendment to the annual defense spending bill demanding that troop withdrawals begin this fall.” In an attempt to garner support for the measure from conservative members of Congress, Murtha’s amendment will “not set a final date for the withdrawal of troops,” but “he envisions troop withdrawals to start in November and take about a year to complete.” Asked by a reporter “if any troops would stay behind to engage in counterterrorism operations,” Murtha replied, “None, zero.” He argued that leaving a “smaller force” in Iraq would leave those troops “more vulnerable to enemy attacks because of the modern military’s considerable logistical needs.” In contrast, “Murtha said some Republicans on Capitol Hill, backed by the White House, have advocated reducing U.S. troops in Iraq to 70,000 from the current level of nearly 160,000.” Murtha also announced plans to introduce two other amendments to the defense spending bill next week “that would require troops to meet certain standards before being deployed and cut in half the $225 million budget for the Guantanamo Bay military prison.” He argued that the “requirement for better training and better equipment for U.S. troops heading overseas would hasten the withdrawal, because the over-extended military can’t meet those standards.” “The Army is broken. … The Army is hurting,” he said. Separately, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated her support of such measures, saying, “Congress will go on record — every day if necessary — to fight for redeployment of our forces as the central element of a new direction strategy for Iraq.”

CIVIL RIGHTS — BUSH NOMINEE FOR EEOC HAS A RECORD OF UNDERMINING EMPLOYMEE RIGHTS: In Sept. 2006, President Bush nominated David Palmer, then-Chief of the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, to serve a five-year term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with ending employment discrimination in America. Palmer, who was renominated in January, is facing stiff opposition to Senate confirmation of his appointment. In a letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the respective chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Heath, Education, Labor, and Pensions, eight former members of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division “strongly” urged the senators “to oppose Senate confirmation of Mr. Palmer.” The former employees, including three ex-deputy chiefs of the section, noted that “at least one internal complaint of discrimination or other improper activity has been filed against Mr. Palmer since he became Section Chief,” a first for the division. “Marian Thompson, who worked in the section for 18 years as a statistician, said that after becoming section chief in 2002, Palmer fired a veteran attorney with whom he had had a romantic relationship and that the woman filed a complaint against him.” In an effort to push his confirmation through, “Republicans have turned up the pressure by threatening to pair Palmer’s nomination with the nomination of Democrat Stuart Ishimaru for a second five-year term.”

VETERANS — PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION URGES ‘OVERHAUL’ OF VETERANS HEALTH CARE SYSTEM:
Following up in the wake of the damaging revelations of the Walter Reed scandal, a “presidential commission examining the care given to wounded U.S. service members yesterday recommended “fundamental changes” aimed at streamlining the military’s health care bureaucracy and overhauling the veterans disability system. The proposals include creating “recovery coordinators” to help injured service members navigate through the system, giving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsibility for determining payments to wounded veterans, and preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. Only recently has the VA added mental health counselors and 24-hour suicide prevention services to all facilities, “after high-profile incidents of veterans committing suicide,” despite 20 percent of Iraq war veterans reporting symptoms of PTSD. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America responded to the commission’s findings: “Last week the Secretary of the VA resigned. This week disabled Iraq veterans are suing the VA. Our veterans’ health care system is facing tremendous challenges at every level and the Department of Defense and the VA are not ready to respond.” “We don’t recommend merely patching the system, as has been done in the past,” said former senator Bob Dole, who chaired the commission.

THINK FAST

In a letter to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responds to the paper’s opposition to the Senate’s recent all-night debate on Iraq. “On reading the July 21 editorial ‘The Phony Debate,’ it became clear why The Post’s editorial writers have been such eager cheerleaders for the Bush administration’s flawed Iraq policies — the two share the same disregard for the facts en route to drawing dubious conclusions,” Reid writes.

“In a little-noticed addition to legislation requiring the July and September assessments on Iraq from the White House, Congress mandated a third report” from the Government Accountability Office, which has “quietly done the most work to track the missteps, miscalculations, misspent funds and shortfalls of both the United States and Iraq since the 2003 invasion.”

As part of the debate over the farm bill, “House Democrats proposed legislation that would make it harder for overseas companies to use tax havens to avoid taxes on U.S. profits, drawing immediate opposition from the Bush administration.”

“The commanding general at Fort Lewis, Wash., the third-largest Army base in the nation, on Wednesday rescinded a plan calling for a once-a-month collective memorial service rather than individual ones for soldiers killed in action.”

“One of the largest American contractors working in Iraq, Bechtel National, met its original objectives on fewer than half of the projects it received as part of a $1.8 billion reconstruction contract, while most of the rest were canceled, reduced in scope or never completed as designed, federal investigators have found in a report released yesterday.”

And finally: The new “CQ’s Politics in America 2008: The 110th Congress” is “an intriguing compilation of trivia.” One tidbit is that three congressmen — Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — are all lottery winners. Gregg “donated a portion of his $853,492 in winnings to a charity,” Sensenbrenner “put his $250,000 toward charities and investments,” and McCarthy used his $5,000 to “open Kevin O’s Deli.”

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STATE WATCH

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DAILY GRILL

“I’m going to remind the people in the audience today that troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C.”
— President Bush, 7/10/07

VERSUS

“When it comes to the troop surge in Iraq, a bunch of arm chair generals in Washington are influencing the Bush Administration as much as the Joint Chiefs or theater commanders. A group of military experts at the American Enterprise Institute, concerned that the U.S. was on the verge of a calamitous failure in Iraq, almost single handedly convinced the White House to change its strategy.”
— D.C. Examiner, 7/25/07