Thursday, September 06, 2007

Can We Stop Focusing on Larry Craig a Minute?

Larry Craig is a gift for late night comedians, and he's a gift for Democrats. While press attention is focused on every excruciating detail of the Craig saga -- even though it's clear his Senate career is over -- they ignore stories like this one:

Sen. Ted Stevens has quietly steered millions of federal dollars to a sportfishing industry group founded by Bob Penney, a longtime friend who helped the Alaska Republican profit from a lucrative land deal, according to public records and officials from the state.

Critics say those earmarked federal dollars could be the first example of how Stevens rewarded Penney for a land deal in Utah that reportedly earned the senator more than $125,000. Penney’s group, for its part, rewarded Stevens with several expensive gifts at the time it was receiving the earmarked dollars.

Stevens and his aides would not comment this week, but supporters of the earmarks strongly defend the nature of the funding and dispute accusations that the money was used to reward Penney’s group. Supporters say the funding is desperately needed to help preserve and protect the salmon population along the pristine and popular Kenai River...

Penney told the Anchorage Daily News in 2004 that he invited Stevens in on the Utah land deal in “appreciation for all he’s done for Alaska and the country.” Stevens invested $15,000 initially in 1998, but sold his share of the property for $150,000 in 2004, according to press reports and his financial disclosure records.

That occurred around the same time that Stevens, as a senior member on the powerful Appropriations Committee, helped the Kenai River Sportfishing Association through the federal treasury. The group, which was founded by Penney, who now sits on the board of directors, secured more than $4.5 million between fiscal 2004 and 2006 to conduct and oversee research efforts on salmon populations in the Kenai River and a major tributary.

One can't help but notice once again how much Senator Stevens has been hurt by his power to earmark. If Congress was prevented by rule from earmarking money -- or if there was a more elaborate system to shine light on every earmark and subject them to scrutiny and debate -- Stevens would not be answering charges of an appearance of impropriety.

But if there were no Larry Craig story, people might be paying more attention to reports like this one about Ted Stevens, and insisting that he explain his actions or step aside. As I've written before, the GOP will get beaten badly in 2008 if Members like Ted Stevens are seeking re-election while under ethical clouds.

Larry Craig's political career is over; the only question is whether he is a dead man, or a dead man walking. Can we move on to others whose questionable activities might actually affect the party's electoral prospects in 2008?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There seems to be more to the Craig story than Larry Craig.

Making the rounds in the media this week was a a photo from June of this year in which we see Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reacting to Senator Larry Craig holding forth at the podium in front of the flag, apparently delivering something redolent to the media (see the first NYTimes link below). Whatever he presented must have smelled bad, really bad, even to Mitch, who, as Senate minority leader, has surely grown accustomed to accumulating stench and wafting, fetid aromas.

Perhaps Mitch didn't approve of what Larry was spewing, but these days he's been one of Larry's strongest supporters (along with, as usual, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who brought us the magic bullet of the Warren Report, character assassination of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and character witness testimonials for the confirmations of Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts). That's why I was curious mid-week when McConnell publicly called Craig's conduct "unforgivable" and said that his resignation was the right decision ( Curiouser, on CNN, McConnell also announced that Craig may not resign if he manages to get the charges against him dropped (

Why would McConnell hold both positions? Remember that McConnell is the feckless Senate minority leader, and he wants to reserve that Kentucky Senate seat for a Republican come hell or high water. Also recall that McConnell rode to high office on a fund-raising horse. In October 2006, the Lexington Herald Leader published a series on McConnell's fundraising (see It reported that McConnell had raised nearly $220 million in his twenty-two year Senate career, with most of that money going to the campaigns of GOP colleagues. In return, the paper said, those colleagues "rewarded him with power," hence his position as minority leader.

An average investment of ten million a year could buy appreciable influence. In the wrong hands, power can lead to corruption, as we often witness when the powerful are tempted to choose fiat over principle. Consider how, for instance, a decade ago, Senator McConnell demanded that Bill Clinton direct White House aides to testify under oath. This spring, McConnell found it convenient to reverse this position when it came to Bush aides Rove and Miers who, he held, should not be compelled to testify under oath on the dismissal of US attorneys. Clearly principle guides Mitch McConnell less than politics.

Government protects and serves, politicians tend to help contributors, and the lord helps those who help themselves. One of Senator McConnell's top staffers recently left his employ to become an industry lobbyist ( As lobbyist, this former staffer in short order bundled a $120 thousand contribution back to the McConnell campaign fund from his new clients (Lexington Herald-Leader, 10-22-06, p. A1). Thereafter, his clients received an $8.3M government contract for the purchase of Chinese-manufactured music players as propaganda devices intended for distribution to Afghanis ( From 2003 to 2005, McConnell worked to secure the budget for these music players: the budget came primarily from USAID and, at that time, McConnell chaired the subcommittee that allocates money to USAID. Nevertheless, Mitch McConnell claims for himself and his campaign conservative principles, like reducing taxes and spending, so he voted against budgeting body armor for the troops in Iraq ( Tax dollars for cronies in a campaign kick-back scheme, knock-off iPods for Afghanis, and no armor for our boys? Who knew?

These are just a few facts that an interested citizen might connect together on a Saturday morning. The image that emerges is not flattering to McConnell, the RNC, nor our democratic institutions. In spite of all this, the curious might ask why Mitch McConnell remains an (ambivalent) advocate of Larry Craig. The best answer could be: maybe Larry has pictures.

--Gary in Seattle