Monday, January 02, 2012

Bad Timing ?

Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff to speak
at Kentucky legislative ethics session

For the price of a nice junket, Jack Abramoff will make his way to Frankfort and spend an hour or so chatting ethics with Kentucky lawmakers at the start of the 2012 General Assembly. Called "the most notorious and crooked lobbyist of our time,”Abramoff will spin tales of how he was able to get rich while influencing Washington politicians and their staff members through gifts, trips, campaign contributions and job offers.

Unpropitiously perhaps, this falls on the heels of three recent stories in the New York Times calling into question trips taken by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Jessamine County Superintendent Lu Young. The trips were sponsored by the Pearson company, which received Kentucky's major testing contract - valued at $57 million.

The shared modus operandi of Pearson and Abramoff is troubling.
  • Over the past few years the Pearson Foundation has financed free international trips for education commissioners whose states do business with the company. The Commissioners meet with top executives of the Pearson company.
  • Abramoff was accused of using trips and other illegal gifts in return for votes or support of legislation.
Convicted in 2006 of mail fraud and conspiracy, [Jack Abramoff] was at the heart of an extensive corruption investigation that led to the conviction of White House officials J. Steven Griles and David Safavian, U.S. Representative Bob Ney, and nine other lobbyists and Congressional aides. He served three years, six months of a six-year sentence...
The Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal is a United States political scandal relating to the work performed by political lobbyists Jack Abramoff, Ralph E. Reed, Jr., Grover Norquist and Michael Scanlon on Indian casino gambling interests for an estimated $85 million in fees. Abramoff and Scanlon grossly overbilled their clients, secretly splitting the multimillion-dollar profits. In one case, they were secretly orchestrating lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services. In the course of the scheme, the lobbyists were accused of illegally giving gifts and making campaign donations to legislators in return for votes or support of legislation. Representative Bob Ney (R-OH) and two aides to Tom DeLay (R-TX) have been directly implicated; other politicians have various ties.
As the New York Times reported:
“The Pearson conferences fit the same fact pattern as the influence-buying junkets that the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged for members of Congress,” said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer who was director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years and is a former board member of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. “Those junkets were paid for by private charities.”
The Times questioned whether Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday (and one assumes, since she actually voted on the Pearson contract, Lu Young) may also be violating state ethics laws. KDE spokeswoman Lisa Gross told KSN&C that she in not aware of any other people who voted on the testing contract who also went on a trip. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board began looking into whether Iowa's education commissioner's trip to Brazil violated state law following the Times article.

Is it possible that this could end up on some legislator's mind after three hours of training?

This from the Courier Journal:

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is paying Abramoff a $5,000 speaking fee, plus expenses, to tell legislators how his corrupt actions helped him rise to the top of Washington’s lobbying world...

George Troutman, the commission’s chairman, said of the decision to have Abramoff as the featured speaker, “If you look at what this training for legislators is supposed to accomplish, I don’t think there’s anybody better on the face of the earth.”

All 138 legislators are required each year to attend three hours of ethics training. This requirement was adopted as part of an overhaul of legislative ethics laws after the federal investigation known as Operation BOPTROT resulted in the convictions of 15 Kentucky legislators and six others on corruption charges in the early 1990s.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo expressed some concern to C-J that people might be "plotting ways to bring undue influence on legislators."


Anonymous said...

Do our legislators really need any assistance with this in light of recent Pike County rep. who didn't even get his hand slapped by ethics committee for being the benefactor of state contract as the chosen vendor for the service? I think the same guy got state funds for a historical or cultural center in Pike county which end up being spent on high school uniforms and football field. I don't imagine he is the only one of the take with our money.

Darn it, don't those guys read the commissioner's tips on dealing with second year of miscounting of students which is going to decrease funding again - we are suppose to be more efficient and frugal. Some of our legislators appear to give a new meaning to being more entrepenurial.

Regardless, why are they having this guy come speak to them, as though they don't already have enough to get done?

Anonymous said...

hmmm, 3 hours of ethics training required = $5,000 for a convicted felon to come talk about how he was so bad.... appears to me to be a serious breach of ethics on the part of whoever scheduled this. Really, $5,000 PLUS expenses? (I'm in the wrong @$%^&# business)