03.01.2009 0

Third Time is the Charm?

  • On: 03/11/2009 10:14:49
  • In: Government Transparency
  • By Isaac MacMillen

    Poor President Obama. Already he has tried twice to fill the position of Commerce Secretary—and twice he has failed.

    Former New Mexico Governor Bill Ric hardson (D) had to withdraw his name after he came under investigation by the feds for allegations of pay-to-play. Then he reached across the aisle to appoint Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to the position—while stripping of it of its most important role, overseeing the 2010 census, which he turned over to his partisan staff. Naturally, it wasn’t too long until Senator Gregg withdrew his nomination in protest.

    Perhaps three times is the charm. Or perhaps not.

    Now the President has nominated Gary Locke, former governor of Washington. But a quick look at his record—based on fact-finding done by expert researcher Don Todd—raises some questions that should give the Senate pause when confirming him. And depending on the answers to those questions, Mr. Obama might end up having to nominate a fourth Commerce Secretary.

    Gary Locke served as governor of Washington from 1997-2005. During that time, he had to answer questions about a questionable fund raising event that took place at a Buddhist Temple—potentially violating IRS regulations in several areas.

    At the non-profit 501(c)(3) Buddhist Temple, the Grand Master effectively endorsed Locke, over $13,000 was raised for the candidate there. Unfortunately for Mr. Locke, some of the donors did not list ‘residence or occupation’ as required by law, and two of the individuals who ‘donated’ were unable to recall doing so. These are highly questionable actions for which Mr. Locke should have to answer.

    Mr. Locke also came under fire for his close relationship to John Huang, a key fund raiser for the Democratic party—and one of the key figures in the 1996 “Chinagate” campaign finance controversy. In that scandal, the Justice Department uncovered a plot by the communist Chinese government to influence U.S. politics through campaign contributions.

    When the controversy broke, Governor Locke refused to return funds given him by Mr. Huang, and declared he had “no interest” in the unfolding scandal—despite the fact that other high-ranking Democrats had immediately returned campaign funds in their haste to avoid any hint of impropriety. Huang was eventually convicted, and the funds were returned shortly thereafter.

    In 2002, controversy once again erupted, once again involving money—but this time, state and federal funds. Governor Locke, as part of his economic plan, was pushing for significant tax breaks for certain high-tech companies—one of which subsequently hired his brother-in-law to its top financial position. Despite working to secure federal funds for the company, personally settling a dispute, and visiting a company social event, the Governor claims that he gave his brother-in-law no special treatment—even though the brother-in-law spent weekend nights at the governor’s mansion.

    Apparently, the two agreed to not talk to each other about the company while sharing the same house.

    After two years, the Governor’s brother-in-law left the company’s top financial position—just as it came under investigation by the state auditor for its shady financial practices.

    Other concerns arising from Gary Locke’s tenure as governor involve his openness, which will no doubt be ‘essential’ in an administration that claims to have made transparency a key tenet of operation. But as governor, Mr. Locke’s administration was hesitant to release public information on public deals made with a large corporation, forcing the group requesting the documents to go through legal channels to obtain the public documents.

    Then-governor Locke also proposed sweeping ergonomics standards for his state, which threatened to burden businesses with up to $725 million per year in additional expenditures. Fortunately for businesses, a 2003 voter referendum repealed the measure.

    Upon leaving the governor’s mansion, Mr. Locke went to work for the legal group Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, where he specialized in “China Practice, Energy, Governmental Relations, and Corporate Diversity Counseling.” In his role as a “governmental relations” specialist, Mr. Locke may have engaged in the lobbying between business clients and state or federal government officials that the group’s website promises. This should be determined during the hearings, and, if true, should be evaluated in light of President Obama’s strict lobbying rules.

    With so many serious question in his background, the Senate must take its time to determine what Mr. Locke’s qualifications are for this post. Many hard questions must be asked to clear up the aforementioned issues—and clear, honest answers must be demanded. And, of course, the Senate should bring up the issue which made headlines during Gregg’s nomination—who oversees the census bureau. The representation of the states is too important to let White House partisans run it.

    President Obama may be no closer with Gary Locke to filling the position of commerce secretary. The serious questions raised during his time as Washington Governor and thereafter must be answered before he moves ahead. All eyes must now rest on the Senate to see whether or not they will do job that the American people have entrusted to them.

    Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.

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