Naughty Judd Gregg made money off earmarks

Thanks to New Hampshire blogger Dean Barker I learned something new today about Senator Judd Gregg. According to the Associated Press,

President Barack Obama’s former nominee to become commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg, steered taxpayer money to his home state’s redevelopment of a former Air Force base even as he and his brother engaged in real estate deals there, an Associated Press investigation found.

Gregg, R-N.H., personally has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg’s office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.

Sadly, this isn’t unprecedented or even the most egregious example of members of Congress profiting from earmarks. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert sold real estate for nearly $2 million in profits after he secured federal earmarks to construct the Prairie Parkway near land he owned.

What looks corrupt in politics turns out to be legal more often than not, and that seems to be the case here. The AP says Senate ethics rules do not permit senators to direct earmarks to projects “solely” in order to benefit themselves or their family members financially, but of course Gregg could point to all kinds of benefits from redeveloping the former base.

“I am absolutely sure that in every way I’ve complied with the ethics rules of the Senate both literally and in their spirit relative to any investment that I’ve made anywhere,” Gregg told the AP. “These earmarks do not benefit me in any way, shape, manner financially, personally or in any other manner other than the fact that I’m a citizen of New Hampshire.”

Still, one wonders whether this story prompted Gregg to withdraw his nomination for Commerce Secretary. Whatever his reasons, we’re better off without him.

Members of Congress should stick to the usual form of legalized corruption and only seek earmarks that would personally profit their large campaign contributors.

No one raises ethical concerns about that behavior. As a bonus, donors who stand to gain from the earmarks may go the extra mile during the incumbent’s next tough campaign.

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Solis (finally) confirmed as Labor Secretary

Senate Republicans finally gave up on obstructing Hilda Solis’ nomination as Secretary of Labor today, and the Senate easily confirmed her by an 80 to 17 vote. Chuck Grassley was among the 24 Republicans who voted to confirm Solis. Tom Harkin did not vote but clearly would have voted yes, along with all the other Democrats, had he been in the chamber.

Solis’ confirmation was tied up for weeks in committee after Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming put an anonymous hold on her nomination. Today even he voted yes, indicating that he had no solid grounds for blocking her from serving in the cabinet. I suspect Enzi was just trying to see whether he could trick Barack Obama into withdrawing her nomination as a gesture to Republicans.

Solis’s staunch longtime support for organized labor will make her a target for the right-wing noise machine, but who cares?

For more on why Solis is one of Obama’s best appointments so far, read this piece by Meteor Blades and this one by Paul Rosenberg, who notes,

People just loved talking about what a great political leader Hilda Solis is. I didn’t have nearly enough room to include all the good stuff that was said.

Calitics takes a first stab at handicapping the special election in California’s 32nd district, which Solis is vacating. It’s a safe Democratic seat but will have a competitive primary.

Obama has two cabinet positions left to fill. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius appears to be the leading candidate for Health and Human Services now, and former Washington Governor Gary Locke is reportedly Obama’s pick for Commerce.  

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Update on cabinet appointments and confirmations

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama’s better cabinet appointments.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:

So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.

It is worth noting what sort of ideas Judd Gregg has for the economy: a commission of center-right insiders operating in secret and circumventing Congress in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis’s confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?

Democrats won’t even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg’s term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that’s not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.

All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a dispatch from bizarro world, Politico’s David Rogers still isn’t convinced that Obama is serious about bipartisanship, even though Gregg will become the third Republican in his cabinet and will be replaced by a Republican in the Senate:

Obama, while talking a good game about bipartisanship, is draining the Senate of the very talent he needs to achieve this goal.

If only Obama were merely “talking a good game about bipartisanship.”

Speaking of Senate Republicans, Kagro X put up a good post on prospects for a filibuster of the economic stimulus bill, and Chris Bowers posted a “whip count” here, concluding that

Overall, it seems highly likely that the stimulus will pass without Republicans forcing major changes. However, given the narrow margins, this is not a guarantee.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill on Wednesday. Grassley has already spoken out against what he calls the “stimulus/porkulus bill.”

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Richardson out--Who should be the new Commerce Secretary?

I didn’t see this one coming. Bill Richardson has withdrawn from consideration for the Commerce Department job in Barack Obama’s cabinet because of a pending FBI investigation. He denies any wrongdoing and will continue to serve as governor of New Mexico. (It’s bad luck for Diane Denish, who was set to become that state’s first woman governor in a few weeks.)

The Commerce Department is big and oversees a lot of important agencies, like the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Whom will Obama pick for the Commerce job, and whom should he pick?

UPDATE: Jake Tapper says people on the Obama transition team feel Richardson “was not forthcoming with them about the federal investigation that is looking into whether the governor steered a state contract towards a major financial contributor.”

A CNN report suggests Richardson was forced to withdraw his name from consideration.

Reuters speculates about who might replace Richardson.

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New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation

Barack Obama named Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department today. Click the link to read Obama’s prepared remarks. It’s not a top-tier cabinet appointment, but Commerce still oversees a lot of significant government activities, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Click here to view all the bureaus within the Commerce Department.

The Hispanic Caucus in Congress has sent Obama a letter asking him to appoint more Latinos to the cabinet.

Obama has asked Congressman Xavier Becerra of California to accept the position of U.S. trade representative, but Becerra has yet not made a decision. He is the fifth highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, and some believe he could become the first Latino Speaker of the House someday if he stays in Congress.

Obama’s short list for secretary of labor apparently includes Mary Beth Maxwell, “the founding executive director of American Rights at Work.” According to the Wall Street Journal,

Maxwell already had the strong backing of former Rep. David Bonior, who despite repeated attempts to get his name removed from consideration continues to be on the short list of potential labor secretaries. Bonior, 63 years old, says it is time for his generation to turn over power to a new generation, and Maxwell, whose labor-backed organization pushes for expanded collective bargaining rights, is his pick.

Some labor leaders from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a splinter union group led by the Service Employees International Union, back her as a consensus choice, citing her efforts on behalf of legislation to allow unionization at workplaces with the signing of cards, not secret balloting.

The Wall Street Journal says Obama is also vetting Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of labor.

I haven’t heard much lately about a possible secretary of education or transportation.

Who would you like to see in the cabinet?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that if nominated and confirmed, Maxwell would become the first openly gay cabinet secretary in this country.

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