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02.01.2009 0

National Parks and Nepotism

  • On: 02/16/2009 09:43:59
  • In: Corruption
  • By Isaac MacMillen

    As the Democrats began their nascent rise to power in 2006, one of the central planks of their platform was to end the undue influence lobbyists had held over many legislators. And with good cause—the Jack Abramoff scandal revealed that many lawmakers had very deep ties with unethical lobbyists.

    But in the rush to clean up the halls of Congress, the Democrats largely ignored the role played by family members—who, due to their name-recognition and easy-access, were being hired in droves by corporations looking for lobbyists.

    Not that they didn’t notice the Republican family members who lobbied, at times under questionable circumstances. Joshua Hastert, son of the former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), was hired by Google as a lobbyist. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) passed legislation helping the corporations his son lobbied for. Randy DeLay, brother to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), also spent some time lobbying in Washington.

    But despite their “outrage” at how lobbyists had become too powerful, Democrats were content to continue allowing themselves to be lobbied—even by those closest to them. As it turns out, they are just as comfortable with family lobbying as the Republicans were when they were in the majority.

    In 2003, it was revealed that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), then Minority Leader, had pushed legislation, claiming it was “bipartisan” and for the “environment,” but was in fact the goal for which his son-in-law had been paid $300,000 to secure. Reid’s own sons were also involved in massive lobbying drives, for which they were ultimately successful. All told, the Reid lobbying clan was paid upwards of $2 million for their lobbying between 1999 and 2003. Senator Reid served as ranking Democrat on the Senate Ethics Committee during that time.

    But the current Senate Majority Leader is not the only one with such a history. High-ranking House member Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) was caught having funneled millions of dollars to organizations which employed friends or close family members.

    But the sins of these two members of Congress are far inferior—in scope, if not in style—to one that has occurred under the radar, in the very midst of the touted “emergency” stimulus package passed by Congress.

    Democrats have repeatedly emphasized the job-growth importance of their so-called “stimulus” package, with White House Press Secretary Joe Gibbs stating it will save or create 3.5 million new jobs. But the jobs of lobbyists were certainly not meant to be saved—or were they?

    Most recently, Congressman David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the prestigious House Appropriations Committee, wrote into the initial House version approximately $2.05 billion towards National Parks. The Senate, meanwhile, could find only $900 million to put into that same category. And the final version of the bill leaves them a “mere” $158 million.

    Why is this significant? Aside from the fact that it is questionable how many jobs can be created through the National Park system, the chief government lobbyist for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), is none other than Craig Obey, the Congressman’s son. And no doubt as such he carries influence.

    As news of the relationship hit the media, the Obeys attempted to deny any attempts at lobbying, but they were too late. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-NY), ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a paper revealing that, contrary to the claims being made, Craig Obey had in fact lobbied and a conflict of interest was thereby created for his father. Mr. Issa also wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House about the incident.

    But don’t hold your breath waiting for a confession. Mr. Obey will likely attempt to weather the storm, waiting till the public focuses on the next “emergency” event in Washington, and then business will continue as usual.

    For despite the Democrats’ vows to finally come clean on lobbyists, they are politicians too. And as those who have been there the longest will attest: the more time one spends in Washington, the more Washington gets into them.

    Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.

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