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  Sierra Magazine
  September/October 2006
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Two-Time Losers
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Sierra Magazine
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Two-Time Losers
Turns out some of the most anti-environmental members of Congress are also ethically challenged. Sierra surveys the bottom of the barrel.
By Paul Rauber
September/October 2006

SIX YEARS INTO GEORGE W. BUSH'S PRESIDENCY, anti-environmental extremism has become Capitol Hill's standard operating procedure. Hardly a major bill goes by that someone doesn't saddle with a rider to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Neither war nor hurricanes nor $3-plus-a-gallon gas seems able to persuade the Republican majority in Congress to look beyond fossil fuel. Even proposals to sell off national parks and forests get serious consideration.

Temperature taker for this hothouse is the League of Conservation Voters, whose annual scorecard is the generally accepted measure of environmental bona fides. Every two years, representatives from 20 green groups determine the key votes by which members of Congress are graded; the LCV does the math and releases its reckoning. Its 2005 scorecard recorded 235 current members of both houses with ratings of 20 percent or less, with 10 zeros in the Senate and 87 in the House of Representatives.

In a crowd like that, it's tough to stand out. And yet many lawmakers do so by crowning their environmental callousness with good old-fashioned financial hanky-panky. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)--who called the EPA "the gestapo of government"--has been indicted and forced to resign. Ex-representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) has been convicted and is serving the longest jail term ever handed down to a member of Congress, and many others are under investigation. With midterm elections coming up and voters in a surly mood, it was a sweatier than usual summer in Washington, D.C.

What's the connection between a bad environmental voting record and corruption? Follow the money. Votes against clean air and water are not cast out of antipathy to summer zephyrs and babbling brooks but to help some favored campaign contributor make an extra buck. For legislators willing to sacrifice wildlands or public health to corporate profits, it's not that big a step to feel entitled to a cut of those profits--especially when they see their former colleagues and aides cashing in with lucrative K Street lobbying jobs. Not everyone with a poor LCV rating is on the take, of course, but of all those implicated in the current scandals swirling around Washington, D.C., none has a good environmental record. In fact, all but a handful fall among the worst of the worst.

The scandals these environmental slackers embroiled themselves in fall into two broad categories. One involves disgraced super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented sweatshop owners in the Northern Mariana Islands and bilked Native American tribes of millions of dollars while he advanced their gambling interests or undermined those of their competitors. A second set of scandals grew from the shenanigans of military contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes, who are alleged to have bribed Cunningham and possibly others in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in Pentagon contracts.

What's being called the "culture of corruption" took root in the rich manure of DeLay's K Street Project, which explicitly sought to turn Washington's bipartisan lobbying mecca into a one-party fiefdom. DeLay's tactics (he wasn't called "the Hammer" for nothing) involved blackballing firms employing Democrats and rewarding those filled with prominent Republicans--including, over the years, 29 of his own former aides. Favored lobbyists found inventive ways to raise large amounts of cash for DeLay's partisan projects, such as the mid-decade reapportionment and gerrymandering of Texas. That exercise resulted in five new GOP seats and the continued dominance of the House's anti-environmental leadership.

Another weed in the garden of scandal is the "earmark"--money slipped into spending bills for members' pet projects or favored companies. This practice has increased more than tenfold in the past decade and allows sleazy lawmakers to provide the quid for the quo. Representative Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calls earmarks "the currency of corruption."

Here we profile the two-time losers: members of Congress who have LCV scores under 15 percent and who are ethically challenged. All but Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Cunningham, and DeLay are up for reelection. The rest are running on their records--including Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who promises to run even if indicted.
See all the two-time losers

ON THE WEB
TPMmuckraker.com is a well-organized font of information on public corruption, to which this account is much indebted.


Illustrations by Victor Juhasz

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