Submitted by NLPC Staff on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:59
According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that was leaked to the Washington Post, ten House members broke House Rules when they took an all-expenses paid trip in 2013 to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, courtesy of an oil company known as SOCAR. Also enjoying free trips were 32 staff members.
Azerbaijan is a country in Central Asia ruled by strongman Ilham Aliyev. In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Project named him its “Person of the Year” for doing “the most to promote organized criminal activity or advance corruption.”
Commentators on both the Left and the Right are suggesting that the impending indictment of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is retribution against Menendez for his recent criticisms of Obama administration foreign policy. While we concur that almost everything that Attorney General Eric Holder does is tainted by politics, a few points about the Menendez case are in order:
1) The reported charges against Menendez, that he tried to interfere with a Medicare fraud investigation of his largest donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, and that he went to bat for Melgen in the Dominican Republic port security deal, were not cooked up by the political operation at the White House.
CNN is reporting that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will be indicted on charges related to favors he provided to his largest campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Miami-area eye doctor.
The probe was reportedly initiated after media reports that Menendez intervened on Melgen's behalf with government officials regarding a Medicare billing dispute and a port security deal in the Dominican Republic. Based on information provided by NLPC, the New York Times first reported on February 1, 2013 that Menendez went to bat for the Dominican port security deal that would have resulted in a "highly lucrative windfall" for Melgen.
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were found guilty yesterday of charges related to their acceptance of gifts from a businessman named Jonnie Williams, Sr. They are most likely going to prison where meals, soap and everything else will be free. Unfortunately, Virginia taxpayers will be paying the price for their misrule long after they are released.
McDonnell's transportation plan, signed in 2013, puts a huge tax burden on ordinary citizens and helped corrupt Virginia politics. It obligates taxpayers to funding projects like the recently opened Metro Silver Line, which will never come close to breaking even. Made possible by the issuance of bonds (debt), these capital-intensive projects cannot simply repealed by the Legislature and another Governor. We are stuck with them, and the costs, forever.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) faces a primary election tomorrow against State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who came within 1,100 votes of upsetting him two years ago, and Harlem preacher Rev. Michael Wolrund. If elected, Espaillat would be the first Dominican elected to Congress. In a June 6 televised debate, Rangel invoked Espaillat's ethnicity:
Just what the heck has he done besides saying he's a Dominican?...He wants to be the Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans in the Congress, which is ambitious, but the fact is, Jackie Robinson was a star before he reached the major leagues. And he's not a Jackie Robinson.
The axiom that "all that rises must converge" is upside down in New York State where all that falls is now converging. According to the New York Post, Rep. Charles Rangel's campaign manager helped incorporate a nonprofit group that was plundered by New York City Councilman Ruben Wills, who was arrested last week. From the article:
Rasheida Smith, a longtime southeast Queens Democratic operative, is listed on the incorporation papers of New York 4 Life, the group that state authorities say Wills looted for more than $30,000 to buy such luxuries as a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.
State taxpayers were stiffed out of at least $87,000 when Rep. Charles Rangel stopped paying for the district office he rents in Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, records obtained by The Post show.
His staffers' excuse? They lost the lease, according to state Office of General Services correspondence.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) disclosed on Friday that he accepted a third flight on a jet owned by Dr. Salomon Melgen, his largest donor, who is apparently under investigation for Medicare fraud. Last year, when Menendez was forced to admit to that he accepted two flights from Melgen, his office asserted that there were no more flights. Menendez' failure to reimburse Melgen was characterized as an "oversight," the same term his office used in reference to the first two flights.
Amanda Becker reports in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call today that outside groups spent $3.6 million to sponsor foreign trips for members of Congress and their staffs in 2012. The article includes my comments:
"Congressmen are frequently accused of living inside a bubble. So you can make a good case that members should be traveling and getting to see certain things overseas," Boehm said.
"But all too often they have been arranged by groups that have very pronounced legislative interests," he added. "And what's more enticing than having the possibility of talking [to lawmakers] in a relaxed, vacation resort-type setting?"
On Wednesday, I took part in a press conference with leaders of other ethics groups to show support for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which should not be confused with the House Ethics Committee.
OCE was established in 2008 and is slightly more independent that the Ethics Committee because its board is comprised of former members of Congress and private citizens, rather than sitting members. OCE cannot sanction members but can only make referrals to the Ethics Committee.