Watchdog alleges Louisiana Dem was bribed for earmark
Nick Juliano, Published: Tuesday January 8, 2008
An ethics watchdog has requested a criminal investigation in order to determine whether a Democratic senator was bribed when she received $30,000 in campaign contributions less that a week before delivering a $2 million federal earmark to the company whose employees and lobbyists donated the money.This report does nothing other than to cement the (NOT-mistaken) impression that--party, schmarty--they are ALL dirty, ALL on the take, ALL for sale, ALL corrupt. And it provides all the more evidence that there will never be anything like accountability in Govt til CorpoRat money is cleansed from the process.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today sent a complaint to the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District for Louisiana and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, asking for an investigation into whether Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) violated federal bribery law by including a $2 million earmark for Voyager Expanded Learning in a bill a mere four days after receiving $30,000 in campaign contributions from company executives and their relatives. CREW also asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the matter.
Landrieu's relationship with Voyager was exposed by the Washington Post in December. The Democratic senator has denied any connection between the donations and the earmark and says she did nothing wrong.
CREW notes that Voyager's founder, Randy Best, is a Bush pioneer, and he decided to hire lobbyists to secure federal earmarks for his untested reading program, rather than sell it on the open market. (Ain't it amazing how the acolytes of Capitalism avoid competition at ALL costs? Ed.) Landrieu has acknowledged meeting with Best and attending fundraisers he's organized for her, but she says she supported his program purely on its merits.
“(Best) is a very impressive person, somebody I believe in, somebody that is doing some great work around the country. This program is one of hundreds of other things that he does,” Landrieu told WWLV TV. “I don't know the time frame of when that happened, but people come into my office all the time. We either sometimes help them, sometimes don't. Sometimes they help us raise money, sometimes they don't.”
Regardless of how closely Landrieu was watching her calendar, CREW notes that the timing of the donation and earmark were very suspicious.
"After the fundraiser, she received $30,000 in campaign contributions from individuals associated with the company -- donors who had never before contributed to her," CREW says. "Four days after she received the money, she inserted an earmark into a D.C. appropriations bill, giving D.C. schools $2 million to buy Best’s reading program, which was unproven and had not been requested by the school system."
The Post outlined the mutually beneficial connection between Best and President Bush's education initiatives and Congressional earmarks.When George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1998, Best and his fellow Voyager investors contributed more than $45,000 to his campaign, and they gave more than $20,000 to his running mate. As Voyager grew, it hired several state education officials, including the Texas education commissioner under Bush. When Bush ran for president, Best signed up to join the Pioneers, an elite group of "bundlers" who pledged to bring in $100,000 for Bush. Best said he raised only about $10,000.CREW says Landrieu violated federal bribery law and may also have violated the rules of the Senate because of the seeming quid-pro-quo between her earmark and Best's donations. (DAT'S what I call connecting the dots. Ed.)
As president, Bush appointed former Houston schools superintendent Roderick Paige to be secretary of education, and Paige launched Reading First, a $1 billion-a-year reading program. To develop it, the Department of Education turned to some of the same researchers Best had hired to create Voyager's program.
By that time, Best had hired a Washington lobbyist and was looking for a way to get pilot programs in some schools without going through the process of selling curricula district by district. He signed up with the firm of former U.S. representative Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican and former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Livingston began seeking "federal funding support for Voyager educational programs," according to his lobbying disclosure form.
“Senator Landrieu appears to have traded a $2 million earmark for $30,000 in campaign contributions. It was a win-win situation for Best and Senator Landrieu, but a lose-lose for the taxpayers and D.C. school children.” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a press release. “The Department of Justice and the Senate Ethics Committee should look into this matter immediately. Members of Congress need to understand that trading earmarks for campaign funds is illegal -- no exceptions.”