Saturday, February 25, 2006

Harris and Goode Need to Accept Responsibility

At some point a public official is responsible for the legality of the campaign contributions they receive. Virgil Goode, (R-Va) and Katherine Harris, (R-Fla) have recently been named as recipients of illegal contributions from defense contractor, Mitchell Wade. Wade says that he did not inform them the contributions were illegal.

The actions taken by these two legislators come very close to looking like they were taken in exchange for the large sum of contributions given by employees of Wade's company, MZM, Inc. Just how much money does the reasonable person receive from one source before they start looking at these contributions with some skepticism when the source is asking for political favors?

Katherine Harris received $28,000 in checks from MZM employees. They were all in $2000 increments and all were dated 6/23/04. Two other checks for $2000 each were sent to Harris dated 4/1/04. These were from Wade's wife. Harris also received $10,000 in March from the MZM, Inc PAC which is included in the business services category and not the defense category of the report. Two checks for $5000 each were given to the Harris campaign on 3/3/04. The PAC donations while legal were made with funds that Wade forced employees to donate.

In less than a month's time the Harris campaign received $42,000 from basically one source and was aware of this because Wade made sure she was. Shortly after delivering the contributions to Harris, Wade took her to dinner where they discussed the possibility of MZM hosting a fundraiser for her campaign. They also discussed the possible funding of and approval for a Navy counterintelligence program to be located in the district Harris represents. According to the plea(via
TPM's Paul Kiel), "Wade later prepared a proposal for the Navy counterintelligence program and submitted it to Harris's staff." Several media sources have reported that Harris submitted the request, but the funding was not approved.

The Washington Post has this from the Harris campaign:
Harris spokeswoman Kara Borie said yesterday that the congresswoman acknowledges being "Representative B" in the court papers. Harris said in a statement that Wade had "discussed opening a defense plant in Sarasota that would create numerous high-skilled, high-wage jobs in my district." She said Harris had donated all her MZM donations to charity. "This case demonstrates the perils of a process in which candidates are sometimes asked to determine the intent of a contributor."
When that much money comes in from one company on the SAME DAY and a short time later the recipient is asked for favors ANY, ANY, ANY honest person would be able to connect those dots. Any person looking to do the right thing, the honest thing would know exactly what to do. Harris doesn't seem to have very good judgment in these situations. That conclusion isn't based on this one incident.

This isn't the first time that Harris has found herself in trouble after receiving bundled campaign contributions. While she was not charged with any wrongdoing in the first incident involving Riscorp insurance company, it doesn't appear that Harris learned much from the experience. Brian Gleason from the
Charlotte Sun-Herald wrote more back in June of last year.

CNN has this to
say in a current story. For more background see this Tampa Tribune piece. Josh Marshall initially broke the story at Talking Points Memo.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mitchell Wade Admits to Bribery

In his plea, defense contractor Mitchell Wade, admitted to paying his employees to make campaign contributions to two Republicans, though he says these two did not know the contributions were illegal. In the 2004 cycle Katherine Harris(R - Fla) received $32,000 from employees of MZM, Inc and Virgil Goode(R - Va) received $23,551. Goode also received $34,625 in the 2006 cycle. The above information is from Open Secrets.

According to Paul Kiel of
TPM's Daily Muck:

After Wade made the campaign contributions, Wade asked that one of the Representatives and his staff request appropriations funding for an MZM facility. The Representative's staff later confirmed to Wade that an appropriations bill would include $9 million for the facility.

After making the illegal campaign contributions to the other Representative, Wade had a personal dinner with the Representative, in which the two discussed the possibility of MZM's hosting a fundraiser for the Representative later in the year, and the possibility of obtaining funding and approval for a Navy counterintelligence program. That program was never funded.

Both of these transactions appear to run a very fine line between a quid pro quo transaction and just doing a favor for an important donor.(Really BIG favors)

In this June 2005 article in the San Diego
Union-Tribune, Marcus Stern writes that Wade forced employees to contribute to the MZM PAC. According to an MZM employee:
"By the spring of '02, Mitch was twisting employees' arms to donate to his MZM PAC," said one former employee. "We were called in and told basically either donate to the MZM PAC or we would be fired."
During the 2002 cycle Open Secrets shows MZM employees contributed a little over $14,000 to the PAC and that grew to a little over 84,000 in the 2004 cycle. I haven't yet followed the contributions made to members of Congress from the MZM PAC. The arm-twisting technique is clearly illegal, but I did not see that charges have been brought on this particular transgression.

Harris and Goode were targeted intentionally by Wade. According to Keith Ashdown, an analyst with Taxpayers for Common Sense (via the Union-Tribune):

"A lot of people will throw a lot of money at a lot of different people," Ashdown said. Wade's "strategy was, 'I need to make friends with a few very influential lawmakers and really, really schmooze and coddle them and that's how I'm going to make my money.' And that's what he did.

"The first person is Cunningham, a senior guy on the (defense appropriations) committee, and he helps them get business. Then they go to another guy on the (defense appropriations) committee, Goode, who's more junior but has the benefit of getting a facility in his district. And then they go to Katherine Harris, who isn't on the committee but needs lots of money for her Senate race and would be bringing business and new jobs to her area," Ashdown said.

This is a developing story. Look for more soon. I will link to a plea agreement as soon as I find it online.

Note: The amount of contributions to Harris and Goode that I calculated differs from that shown in the Union-Tribune article. My numbers came from an employer search through the Open Secrets data. I have not verified them with an actual FEC search.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bush, The Puppet President

The Associated Press has a story out that confirms what many of us have suspected for some time now. President Bush is not in control of his White House and has divorced himself from the responsibility of running this country.
President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday. Defending the deal anew, the administration also said that it should have briefed Congress sooner about the transaction, which has triggered a major political backlash among both Republicans and Democrats.

According to the AP story, the President only recently found out about the sale of U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates. The deal was signed, sealed and delivered before he ever found out. Now he's asking us to trust him and trust his people who vetted the company and approved of the deal.
The first-ever sale involving U.S. port operations to a foreign, state-owned company is set to be completed in early March. It would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. "If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward," Bush said.

Of course, these are some of the same people who failed to secure our country in the first place. They helped lie us into a war, planned the exposure of a CIA operative, watched while New Orleans disappeared under water and helped spend our nation into a massive debt load. We're supposed to trust these people?

Dan Bartlett says Dubai Ports is a reputable firm. Well, Dan, Jack Abramoff was reputable....until we found out he wasn't. Tom DeLay was reputable....until we found out he wasn't. Duke Cunningham was reputable.....until we found out he wasn't. Bill Jefferson was reputable....until we found out he wasn't. Achmed Chalabi was never reputable and the entire administration fell for his lies. Hell, Dan, even Saddam Hussein was reputable back in the 80s. Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld just loved Saddam then.

Bartlett also said that we would send "a dangerous signal to people overseas that America plays favorites."'s not the time to decide you aren't a bigot. If there was ever a time to be against a middle east company owning US ports, NOW would be that time. I am all for being fair and doing what is right. Putting our ports into the hands of a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates isn't the right thing to do. Not now and probably not ever.

It's funny. Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove did their best to set the Democrats in Congress up to look weak on terrorists in the upcoming elections. Who looks weak on terrorists now?

Hat tip FireDogLake.

Update: The Washington Post article is here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

President Bush Opens U.S. Ports to Terrorists

There are already security risks associated with our ports since it is impossible to inspect ever container delivered to the United States. Does anyone with a functioning brain and an ounce of common sense believe this is going to make our ports safer? The Washington Post has this updated story. For more from the blogosphere read Reddhedd at Firedoglake.

Will You Have a First Class Seat on the Web?

Steven Levy of Newsweek does a good job of outlining what could be in the future of the web and he dumbs it down so even I can understand it. So, will you have a first class seat on the web or will you be in steerage with the rest of us?

Bush Finding New Ways to Rewrite History

According to this story in The New York Times, President Bush and the CIA have found a new way to rewrite history. They are reclassifying documents that have been part of the public domain for years. Historians who have already reviewed and copied many of the documents say that almost all are harmless and removing them from public view serves no purpose.

Well, of course it does if you want history to say things that make you (or your father) look good. Just ask President Bush...or for that matter, Sadam Hussein. They know just how to control what goes into the history books.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bush Fighting to Prevent Investigation into Illegal Spying

In an attempt to prevent a thorough investigation into illegal activities endorsed by President Bush, his administration has intervened repeatedly to stop a call for the truth. This call has been coming from both sides of the aisle. According to The Washington Post, Republican lawmakers are calling for the President to be more honest about the program President Bush uses to spy on American citizens.

President Bush claims that the program is used to spy only on people who are known terrorists or who have links to terrorism. As I've mentioned before, I find it difficult to believe that we have a listing of all their numbers. What most people don't understand is that the President doesn't need a warrant to spy on known terrorists who aren't on American soil. He doesn't need a warrant to spy on known terrorists who are on American soil, at least for 72 hours.(He wouldn't have a damned bit of trouble getting one, either!) What the President can't and won't explain adequately is how the NSA agents determine the difference between a terrorist and my middle-schooler who looks up web sites on Islam and Iraq for a project. Did they make note of my 12-yr-old's email to her Muslim friend in Malaysia? How long will they keep a file on her after they've determined that her only crime is being rude to her younger sister?

While I don't honestly believe the NSA has created a file on my young daughter's internet activities, it is a realistic scenario. Visit enough web sites, make enough phone calls, send enough emails to the wrong part of the world and a red flag is going to go up. The whole idea behind spying is to discover unknown information. Any agency that only listens to the known terrorists isn't doing their job. What most of us want to know as we push to protect our civil liberties is how long is information on innocent American citizens kept on file? Where is this information stored? What is done with it? Who keeps track of it? Will innocent Americans be forever linked to terrorists simply because the NSA listened in on their conversations?

These are just a few of the questions Americans have for our President about the illegal wiretap program he is conducting through the NSA, the FBI and our military. Bush may have bullied members of the intelligence committee into putting off an investigation, but it isn't enough and this won't go away.