Rehberg and the Carter county lobbyist scandal

extortion:

1. The act or an instance of extorting.
2. Illegal use of one’s official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage.
3. An excessive or exorbitant charge.
4. Something extorted.

Carter country lies at the very extreme southeast corner of Montana, wedged between South Dakota and Wyoming, a remote area once connected to the county seat of Ekalaka by a 23-mile gravel road.

In 2003, they hired a Washington DC lobbyist to pry from the federal government appropriations to pay to have the road paved. It worked. Carter county received $8 million in 2003 and another $9.6 million last year.

That’s how the system works. Lobbyists get the work done, “reaping far more in federal dollars than local governments spend on lobbying.” Simple, right? Lobbyists do good work. Right? Not so fast…

…Alex Knott, political editor at the Center for Public Integrity, a D.C.-based nonprofit group…characteriz[es] the industry as a network of money, influence and power. Often, Knott said, lobbyists donate money to the lawmakers they’re lobbying. Their corporate clients do the same, and in many cases the lobbyists are former lawmakers or staffers of former lawmakers making profitable use of their experience in public service.

And, as a recent Roll Call story on lobbyists reports (subscription req’d), trading campaign donations for earmarks is illegal. And not necessary. Billings mayor Ron Tussing:

If you ask Ron Tussing, who became mayor of Billings, Mont., six months ago, he’ll tell you that paying for a Washington, D.C., appropriations lobbyist is a waste of taxpayer cash. City officials have plenty of contacts in the state’s Congressional delegation, he said, to guide them through the federal budget process.

“I disagree with the way the city’s handled their appropriation requests, which is one of the things I talked about during my campaign,” Tussing said. “I’m on a first-name basis with our three Congressional delegates, so there’s no reason we can’t do that stuff ourselves.”

Do you think Montana’s Congressional delegation is involved in pay-for-earmarks? Hm. Again, the Gazette:

The money flows both ways. Lobbyists give tens of millions of dollars nationwide each year to the campaign coffers of lawmakers, Knott said. In Montana, lobbyists hired by government entities have given more than $120,000 to the campaign funds of Montana’s three-man congressional delegation, with most going to Republicans. The D.C. lobbyist for the city of Billings, Van Scoyoc and Associates, which also represents Montana State University, is ranked by the Center for Responsive Politics as the 13th-biggest donor to Republican Sen. Conrad Burns between 1999 and 2004.

Back to Carter county. The lobbyist hired by the Carter county commissioners was Bill Kevin Ring, a lobbyist who has taken money from Montana state government in the past. Ring, according to the Gazette piece, has some shady history:

The Montanans who have hired Ring all praised his work, saying the lobbyist was influential in helping them secure the first major federal funding they ever received. But Ring’s lobbying has come under scrutiny in the past. As a onetime associate of Abramoff, Ring is in the middle of an expanding lobbying scandal. Ring and former Burns staffer Shawn Vassell, another Abramoff associate, invoked their right not to incriminate themselves when questioned this summer about what they did and what they got paid when working for Abramoff.

At a hearing in June of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Ring refused to tell Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., what, if anything, he did to earn $125,000 paid by the Sandia Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. The tribe gave the money to Abramoff’s lobbying partner, Michael Scanlon. Scanlon, in turn, gave the money to a consulting firm registered to Ring’s Maryland home address.

“In fact, you didn’t provide any services (to the tribe) according to the information that we have,” McCain said at the hearing. Ring did not respond.

And the Washington Post on Bill Kevin Ring.

(And you wonder why McCain isn’t stumping in Montana for either of the state’s Republican candidates for federal seats?)

And just how did Carter county come to hire Ring? The Gazette:

Records show that Ring, Carter County’s lobbyist, donated $2,000 to Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., in 2002 and 2003 and $1,000 to Burns. He gave no money to Baucus.It was Rehberg who advised the Carter County Commission to hire Ring.

And more d*mning info:

Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg received a $1,000 campaign donation from Jack Abramoff’s lobbying associate in 2003 on the same day the lobbying firm inked a deal with Carter County at Rehberg’s recommendation.

[snip]

The same day, the campaign reported cashing a second $1,000 check from Greenberg Traurig’s political action committee. Records show the lobbying firm wrote the check in early February, but Rehberg didn’t cash it until the end of March.

To add injury to insult, it would appear that Ring’s involvement in the federal appropriations for Carter county was unnecessary and nonexistent. Gazette:

It’s unclear exactly what role Ring played in the Carter County road project, especially in the latest go-round of highway spending when Montana’s delegation was in a particularly good spot to secure federal highway dollars.Rehberg set aside about $12 million for the project in the version of the bill that left the House, [chief of staff Erik] Iverson said, but he would have done that with or without a lobbyist’s involvement.

Baucus was one of four lawmakers who wrote the final bill, where Carter County’s $12 million got whittled down to $9.6 million….Ring never spoke to Baucus.

During the recent House debate, Monica Lindeen brought up the Carter County “affair” in a direct question to Rehberg. The reply:

Rep. Rehberg said the government had promised to pave that highway “since asphalt was invented, practically,” and that he gave Carter County commissioners three names to choose from. “Would I do it again? No. Why? Because it was misinterpreted and used as political fodder,” he said, clearly irritated.

Rehberg also claimed that the Carter county commissioners already had the money set aside to help get the appropriations for their road project. He also said that suggesting a lobbyist to Carter county was “thinking outside the box.”

Roll Call:

After all, [an anonymous] lobbyist said, Abramoff’s scheme of charging clients millions of dollars to do grass-roots work and maintaining a secret partnership with Michael Scanlon is not something most lobbyists do. But raising money for Members and then asking them for appropriations is routine.

“If you have clients who want earmarks, get earmarks and then contribute to the Congressman — that’s everybody,” this lobbyist said.

(Apparently the only “out of the box” thinking Rehberg is doing is in coming up with answers to allegations of ethical wrong-doing in the Carter county affair.)

According to the Roll Call report, cash-for-earmarking is currently under investigation:

At the same time, the practice of earmarking specific pots of federal cash has come under investigation by the Justice Department, first in the scandal involving former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) and more recently a probe of the appropriations-focused firm Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White. That firm, which has close ties to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), recently split in two because of the ongoing scandal.

So the feds are going to crack down on the latest type of Republican lobbying scandal. (Maybe someone needs to tip them off to this story.)

Some may point to the Carter county officials who seem content with the Faustian bargain they made: they ponied up $100K to get a dozen million dollars in federal aid. Who cares if their Congressional Representative gets a little kick-back from the cash?

But that’s not how the system should work. In effect, Carter county officials gave Denny Rehberg $2K (the money given to Rehberg by lobbyist Bill Kevin Ring) to do his job. If you feel like that’s the way the world works, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and hey! At least pushing your cash around guarantees results! Then by all means, support Denny Rehberg.

But if you don’t have $100K at your disposal to effect change in the areas you care about, then you’re like me. Sh*t outta luck. Government shouldn’t be a paid commodity. Legislation shouldn’t be drafted by the highest bidder. That’s not how the system is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be about ideas — good ideas – it’s supposed to be about democracy.

And serving as a Congressional representative is supposed to be a service, and not the kind of service you pay for to get a little action in a back alley. A Congressional representative is supposed to work in the interests of his constituency, his state, and the voters, not the lobbyists with the biggest billfolds.

Let’s make a clean sweep of Montana’s carpetbaggers.

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  1. 1 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Send Rehberg home for pie

    […] So he voted to protect his corrupt brethren. Big deal! He’s not taking any money from questionable sources! I mean besides the $18K from Abramoff. Or the “business” he did in Carter County on behalf of Abramoff associate, Kevin Ring. And forget about the little “slush fund” he staffed with friends and family right here in Missoula… […]

  2. 2 Rehberg CoS Eric Iverson jumps to sinking Burns’ campaign « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] After all, he’s got his fingers in Iraq, torture, the national deficit…and some Abramoff pie, too… […]

  3. 3 Iverson preparing Rehberg to take over Senate nomination? No way « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] But a poor choice, for Rehberg as well. Check out McKenna’s quote in the Gazette article, for reasons why: In response, Tester spokesman Matt McKenna said, “Outside of Conrad Burns, few people in Montana are more entangled with the Jack Abramoff and INSA (Inland Northwest Space Alliance) than Erik Iverson, so this seems like par for the course with the Burns’ campaign.”He was referring to the fact that Rehberg recommended Carter County hire Kevin Ring, a former associate of Abramoff’s, to lobby to get a highway paved. Iverson’s wife worked on a clinical trial for INSA, although she was paid by other sources. […]

  4. 4 Links... « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] FBI raids Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-CA) home in what’s likely an Abramoff-related investigation. Doolittle blames his wife. (Does the name Kevin Ring sound familiar? It should.) […]

  5. 5 Rehberg’s Old Pal Kevin Ring Is In Trouble | Intelligent Discontent

    […] Ring’s connection to Representative Rehberg? Well, Kevin Ring was involved in some seriously shady dealings with Rehberg in the past, lobbying the federal government to pave a road in Carter County, at Rehberg’s request: It […]




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