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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hastert Real Estate Dealing Exposed by Sunlight Foundation

The increased transparency being forced on government by the Blogosphere and other forms of Internet-based media is already making life more difficult for politicos taking advantage of their positions, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert is discovering:

"House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has used an Illinois trust to invest in real estate near the proposed route of the Prairie Parkway, a highway project for which he's secured $207 million in earmarked appropriations.

"The trust has already transferred 138 acres of land to a real estate development firm that has plans to build a 1,600-home community, located just a few miles from the north-south connector Hastert has championed in the House."

This story comes via the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison on the foundation's Under the Influence blog. For the complete details, go here.

UPDATE: Hastert threatens libel suit

Captain's Quarters Ed Morrissey is in the hospital dealing with a very painful ruptured disk, but that hasn't prevented him from doing the research to advance the Hastert story on virtually every major point.

First, though, Hastert released a statement through his counsel, which Morrissey quoted in its entirety:

"Sent: Wednesday, June 14, 2006 4:10 PM To: Eric Schmeltzer; Bill Allison Cc: Passantino, Stefan Subject: Legal Demand for Immediate Action

"Dear Mr. Schmeltzer and Mr. Allison:

"The statements in your release below are untrue. Rather than simply disclose participation in a trust (without disclosing what the trust owns), Speaker Hastert disclosed the amount of his interest and the location of the property on the Financial Disclosure for the year in which the closing of the transaction occurred.

"This is confirmed by the entries on the Financial Disclosure forms themselves confirming the interest (including amount), the property, and the type of transaction (sale, purchase, or exchange). The statements and innuendo in your release are thus false and misleading.

"In addition, the property purchased is adjacent to his home and is more than 5.5 miles from the Pairie Parkway Corridor. This would be like complaining about a purchase in Alexandria, Virgina based on rennovations at the Capitol.

"Demand is hereby made that the false, libelous and defamatory matter be immediately withdrawn and corrected. The failure to do so will confirm intentional and wilful conduct by you designed to injure the reputation of Speaker Hastert after becoming actually aware that the published statements were false. All available remedies will be pursued for such conduct.


"Randy Evans
"Counsel to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert"

So, Hastert appears to have disclosed his ownership interest in the property but, as Morrissey notes, that doesn't change the fact that the Speaker earmarked millions of tax dollars to build an arguably unneeded new highway that nevertheless greatly increased the value of the property:

"That answers some of the disclosure questions, although as SF states, it also appears to confirm that he never disclosed his interest in the trust to which he transferred the property. It still leaves open the question as to why he pushed for federal money for a major connector less than six miles from his own property.

"Looking at the proposed corridor, it runs within a few miles of an already-extant county road 47, which runs parallel to most of the new road. It looks at least as long of a connector between I-88 and I-80 as the 47 does. Further west, Interstate 39 connects the two interstates, and State Route 59 connects them in the most direct manner. It would make a lot more sense (and probably cost a lot less) to upgrade 59 to an interstate connector road rather than have this meandering route that just happens to go past Little Rock."

Go here for the rest of Ed's post.

UPDATE: Then there is Jerry Lewis

And I don't mean Deano's former sidekick! The California congressman is Appropriator-in-Chief in the House by virtue of his being Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But The Wall Street Journal's John Fund says he ought to be known as the "Earmarker-in-Chief," thanks to earmarks he pushed such as the $500,000 for a swimming pool in his home district that has previously received $250,000 earmarks in the two previous years.

Notes Fund:

"Another aspect of the probe is said to be whether Mr. Lewis steered hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked projects to the clients of his friend, campaign contributor and former House colleague Bill Lowery. One of Mr. Lowery's clients is an unindicted co-conspirator in the bribery scandal that sent former Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham to jail for approving earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for personal gifts.

"The lobbying firm's defense clients receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts from Appropriations. Two of the top rainmakers at Mr. Lowery's firm have been former Appropriations staffers who worked for Mr. Lewis.

"This week, The Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Lowery's firm paid one of those staffers, Jeffrey Shockey, nearly $2 million when he left the firm and returned to Appropriations when Mr. Lewis became Chairman in 2005.

"Roll Call newspaper also reported this week that Mr. Shockey's former lobbying firm received more than $1 million in higher fees from government contractors shortly after he returned to Capitol Hill."

All of which highlights another argument for term limits - they can't do nearly as much damage when they are limited to only six years, or three terms, as they can when, like Lewis, they are re-elected year after year after ...