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Official Washington is in high dudgeon. Once in a while, one of the pawns in our national game of chess decides to cross the line and does something a bit too egregious even for the grandees of our nation’s capital. This week’s offender is former congressman from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, William Delahunt. His main sin: doing openly what far too many are doing quietly.
When most congressmen take the trip through the revolving door to cash in on their public service, they have the good manners to pretend that their time in office was not merely business development. They prefer endless rhetoric lauding their selfless service to the people, rather than having to face the uncomfortable reality that they just sold for profit any vestige of dignity they may have once possessed. Making the trip through the revolving door is at once terrifying and exhilarating for these former doyens of Capitol Hill. They know that, once they land on the other side, they will have their pot of gold – yet they feel dirtied by the process.
The American people disdain their Congress in large part because of this post-service voyage to prosperity. We have to hope that most Americans have not yet surrendered to the despicable anti-capitalist envy that pervades the European continent, yet there are few among our citizens who celebrate when our former public servants use that service to get rich. Even more abhorrent to the typical American patriot is the specter of a congressman being hired by an industry he regulated or supported while in Congress. Howls of protest greeted the 2004 hiring of Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association soon after the committee Tauzin chaired passed the Medicare Modernization Act. Tauzin reaped millions of dollars as the new head of Pharma, further antagonizing millions of Americans tired of their representatives cashing in.
But Tauzin was a piker compared to Delahunt. The former Bay State congressman made his mark as a leftist ideologue while in Congress. His fealty to avowed enemies of the United States, such as dictator Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and his socialist economic leanings left him in good stead with the liberal elite and media, as well as his district.
Of course, the 10th Congressional district of Massachusetts has an interesting history. Delahunt’s predecessor, Gerry Studds, was a sexual predator whose tastes ran to young male pages in the House of Representatives. Notwithstanding an unprecedented 1983 congressional censure for this behavior, the intrepid voters of southeastern Massachusetts returned him to Congress six more times! Were he not a member of Congress, his dalliance with the 17-year-old boy would have landed him among hardened criminals in a severe federal prison and branded him a sexual offender for life. But, instead, his district voted him back to Congress, where the inmates are more genteel.
When Delahunt departed Congress to join the ranks of K Street’s lobbyists, he did not merit any particular notice. After all, many of the decamping congressmen were slithering over to the influence industry, either as lobbyists or strategic advisers. His subsequent efforts to bolster the image of Senor Hugo, as the Bolivarian thug extinguished freedom in Venezuela, still did not direct the spotlight on beneficent Bill. It wasn’t until recently that we came to appreciate his charm.
In the past week, it has come to light that helping Hugo, while horrible enough, was not the most offensive thing Lobbyist Bill was doing. While the rest of his fellow newly minted influence peddlers were busy lining up new clients, Bill was busy milking an old client.
When he was a congressman, Delahunt played the earmark game like the best of them. Among his dubious achievements was securing $1.7 million for an offshore energy project for the town of Hull, Mass. Many congressmen in the earmark business nabbed funds for constituents and donors to further their re-election prospects. Not Bill. He was doing business development. After pilfering the $1.7 million from the taxpayers’ purse, Bill set himself up an endowment. When he departed the Congress, he cashed in.
In what must rank as an Olympian achievement among congressional legerdemain, Delahunt glided from getting the earmark into the hands of the Hullsters to soaking it into his personal bank account via lobbying fees. In essence, he lined up his own lobbying fees while he was a member of Congress. Sometimes congressmen will make a list of prospective companies they would like to solicit when they make the jump. Sometimes they’ll even discuss with those companies their plans to be a lobbyist, hinting how great it would be for everyone if they would consider hiring them. But rarely is a congressman audacious enough to actually take our money, put it into a bag, throw it out the window of the Capitol and then come fetch it later!
L’affaire de la Hunt has editorial writers fulminating. Nothing points out the need to close the revolving door more than this brazen abuse. But Delahunt is not alone. He’s just the most obvious example of how our system enables this kind of behavior. Scores of congressman land at lobbying firms that previously benefitted from that congressman’s attention. Others wind up at companies they regulated and enriched. It is a national disgrace.
They say it takes a scandal to get real change. I’m not sure I agree with that. The scandal that rightfully brought me down was supposed to bring systemic change and an end to corruption and abuse. It didn’t.
Instead, America lost its focus and the status quo prevailed. The outrage at a congressman who earmarks funds for his own pocket will only be meaningful if Americans demand Congress prevent its recurrence. That will only happen when the revolving door between public service and cashing in through the influence industry is shut permanently. Will our representatives take that necessary step? If they don’t, expect more Delahunts.