As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Coconut Road

In 2005 Don Young (R-AK) inserted an earmark into a highway bill that added money for a highway interchange on Interstate 75 near Naples, FL. That happens all the time. The problem is that he inserted it after the bill was passed by both houses of Congress, which is, what's the word, completely unconstitutional, that's it.

The Senate moved yesterday toward asking the Justice Department for a criminal investigation of a $10 million legislative earmark whose provisions were mysteriously altered after Congress gave final approval to a huge 2005 highway funding bill.

In what may become the first formal request from Congress for a criminal inquiry into one of its own special projects, top Senate Democrats and Republicans have endorsed taking action in connection with the earmark that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, inserted into the legislation.

"It's very possible people ought to go to jail," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees highway funding.

In facy, Boxer led passage of a resolution calling on the Justice Department to investigate Young.

We've seen some egregious abuses of power over the last 8 years, but this one is pretty beyond the pale. And now there's an effort to seek justice (though I don't know which Justice Department they think will do this investigating... none in the next year, that's for sure).

Young's alibi is good for a laugh.

Young's staff acknowledged yesterday that aides "corrected" the earmark just before it went to the White House for President Bush's signature, specifying that the money would go to a proposed highway interchange project on Interstate 75 near Naples, Fla. Young says the project was entirely worthy of an earmark and he welcomes any inquiry, a spokeswoman said.

"Congressman Young has always supported and welcomed an open earmark process. If Congress decides to take up the matter of this particular project, there will be no objection from Mr. Young," said Meredith Kenny, his spokeswoman. Young also sponsored a $223 million measure to build the fabled "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, a project that was killed in 2005 after it sparked widespread outrage.

Young's critics suggest that the motive for the I-75 provision was campaign contributions from real estate developers who own 4,000 acres of land near the proposed interchange. In February 2005, developer Daniel Aronoff hosted Young and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) at a highway safety event at Florida Gulf Coast University, followed by a fundraiser that brought in about $40,000 for Young's campaign [...]

Young's office accepted responsibility yesterday for the change, insisting that campaign contributions were not the motive. Rather, presentations made by Florida Gulf Coast University officials and the developers proved the case for the project, aides said.

That's right, Gulf Coast University gives the best Power Point presentations ever! They can convince even the stingiest of Alaska Republicans to break the law to get the funding!

I don't think earmarks are the sin that so many who want to ignore the military budget believe, but clearly Young needs to go down for this. And given his poll numbers, he will.

UPDATE: I was kind of getting at this, but this investigation is kind of a blind alley:

"Clearly, something went seriously awry before the 2005 highway funding bill was sent to the president. The question now is the best way to find out how and why this occurred. It certainly appears as if Don Young (R-AK) snuck in the earmark in exchange for campaign contributions from Florida developer Daniel Aronoff. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is to be commended for insisting that the Senate address this matter. Nevertheless, in sending the matter over to the Department of Justice, the Senate has ignored the Speech or Debate clause, which prevents law enforcement from introducing legislative material (such as an earmark in a bill) as evidence against a lawmaker. In addition, while the Senate has called for an investigation, the House undoubtedly will do everything possible to stymie such an inquiry. The House takes an expansive view of the breadth of the Speech or Debate clause. Recently, for example, the House counsel's office sought to quash a Justice Department subpoena issued to a former Appropriations committee staff member in connection with the criminal investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis's (R-CA) earmarks. The House likely will assert the same arguments here.

Given this impediment to a criminal probe, Senator Coburn's suggestion that a bicameral committee investigate the matter might have been more likely to reveal the facts, but sadly neither the House nor the Senate have a strong track record of policing and punishing the illegal or unethical conduct of their members. This situation perfectly illustrates why Congress needs an indepent ethics office -- with subpoena power -- to investigate members. The American public needs to have confidence that members of Congress are held accountable for their illegal and unethical conduct. Today's vote is nothing more than Kabuki theater given the likely constitutional impediment to a Justice Department investigation."

Labels: , , ,