Tom and His Lucky DeLay—House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is lucky a hurricane hit New Orleans. Otherwise his cavalier cronyism would once again be front-page news. A year ago a top political aide, Jim Ellis, and fundraiser John Colyandro were indicted by a Texas grand jury for illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate contributions to Texas candidates through the national Republican Party. Now they’ve been indicted again, this time for violating the Texas Election Code.
The donations in question benefited seven Republican candidates for Congress in 2002, as part of a controversial gerrymandering plan DeLay rammed down the throats of the Texas legislature, thereby boosting the Republican majority in the House. Three individuals, eight corporations and two political action committees have been indicted as a result. Virtually everyone but the main man himself.
Phantom Revolution—Republicans have done away with waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. At least so bragged DeLay at his weekly news conference: “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”
He surely wasn’t referring to the $114 million in pet projects for his home district slipped into the $286 billion transportation bill recently passed by Congress. Or the $1.5 billion sweetheart deal for Halliburton inserted at the last minute into the $14.5 billion energy bill. The highway bill contained over 6,000 earmarks of pork-barrel spending, including $250 million for a bridge in Alaska connecting a town of 8,000 residents with an island of 50. And the energy bill doled out $4 billion in corporate welfare to big oil companies at a time of soaring gas prices and record profits.
DeLay commandeered these pieces of legislation, which the New York Times‘ Frank Rich calls striking examples of “big government for special interests.” Even Republicans aren’t buying his agitprop this go-round. “This is hardly a well-oiled machine,” said Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a noted fiscal conservative. “There’s a lot of fat to trim. . . . I wonder if we’ve been serving in the same Congress.”
Disaster Profiteering—It took only a week before profiteers invaded New Orleans. TheWashington Post reported that Joe Allbaugh, former Bush-Cheney campaign manager turned FEMA director, turned Halliburton lobbyist, arrived there to coordinate the “private sector response.” Halliburton subsidiary KBR won a $29.8 million contract to repair damaged naval bases, under an existing $500 million deal with the Pentagon. Another Allbaugh client, the Shaw Group, inked $100 million contracts to build emergency housing for FEMA and pump water for the Army Corps of Engineers.
FEMA dished out a number of no-bid contracts in the hurricane’s wake; some went to firms whose baggage extends well beyond shoddy work in Iraq and close ties to the G.O.P. The Shaw Group is under investigation by the SEC and is a defendant in federal securities class-action law suits. Construction firm Fluor had to pay the federal government $11.7 million after overbilling for cleanup work on Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The FBI is investigating ambulance provider Goldstar for Medicare fraud. Bode Technology, under contract to find and identify Katrina victims, has been accused of mislabeling rape samples in Illinois.
Meanwhile, the government’s leading procurement official, David Safavian, was arrested on Tuesday for obstructing a criminal investigation into überlobbyist (and DeLay ally) Jack Abramoff. Until last week Safavian reviewed Katrina contracts.
One Crazy Congressman—Tom Tancredo (R-CO) may be the craziest member of the House of Representatives—quite a distinction considering the current cast of characters. He’s advocated for a moratorium on all immigration, the abolition of race-based Congressional caucuses and the bombing of Mecca in the event of another terrorist attack. Tancredo was one of eleven Republicans to vote against relief funding for the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Now he’s raising hell over a memorial dedicated to the victims of United Airlines Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Titled “Crescent of Embrace,” the memorial is intended as a symbolic circle broken by the path of the flight. Tancredo, however, views it as a crude appeasement of terrorists, “because of the crescent’s prominent symbol in Islam and the fact that the hijackers are radical Islamists,” he wrote in a letter to the National Park Service. Tancredo worries that the crescent sends the wrong message to Muslim extremists. Unlike, say, an air strike on Mecca.