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June 22, 2006
The Post Picks Up Hastert's Real-Estate Deal

The Washington Post picks up on the profit taken by Dennis Hastert and his partners in the Little Rock Trust that came from $207 million in federal highway funding, a traffic corridor championed by Hastert himself and funded through pork-barrel earmarks. Now it turns out that federal highway earmarks may have enriched two more Congressmen in a similar manner:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land 5 1/2 miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds.

A Republican House member from California, meanwhile, received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. And another California GOP congressman obtained funding in last year's highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.

In all three cases, Hastert and Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller say that they were securing funds their home districts wanted badly, and that in no way did the earmarks have any impact on the land values of their investments. But for watchdog groups, the cases have opened a fresh avenue for investigation and a new wrinkle in the ongoing controversy over earmarks -- home-district projects funded through narrowly written legislative language.

I covered this eight days ago as part of an ongoing effort to highlight the corrosive effects that earmarks have on both our political system and the appropriations process. Several commenters scolded me for attacking Hastert, but this new development shows why we need to address earmarks and put aside the party considerations for the time being.

Elected officials enter into a de facto agency agreement with their constituents. That means we expect them to represent our interests above their own personal considerations when conducting their business on Capitol Hill, especially when it comes to spending our money. If you had a business agent, you would scream bloody murder if he diverted your funds as collateral on loans for his investments without your knowledge and permission, even if you never lost a dime in the transaction. His access to your money stems from the agency relationship that should create a barrier between his personal business interests and yours.

What Haster did was to direct our money, which the federal government takes by threat of force, into specific projects that apparently enhanced his own net worth substantially. Regardless of whether those projects had merit or not, his real-estate ventures in that same district should have prompted Hastert to recuse himself from the federal corridor project. He shouldn't have even cast a vote on the line item. Instead, he went out of his way to push this project and earmarked federal funds for it so that the Department of Transportation could not put the funds to better use. And it looks like Calvert and Miller did much the same thing.

Some commenters dispute whether the corridor really enhances the land value in Little Rock. Before the sale of the land to developers, Little Rock had 2,683 housing units for a population of 7,700. The developer who bought the land plans on creating 1600 more housing units and a retail and commercial center. Does anyone really believe that the developer would have spent the money necessary to buy this property if the nearest major highway to Little Rock remained over 25 miles away?

If we want to get serious about reforming government, we had better start holding our political leadership to task for their performance with our money. Regardless of the scale of profit, Hastert had no business earmarking federal funds for a project that had this much potential impact on his own business interests. At the minimum, it shows a remarkable level of disregard for the role of Representative.

UPDATE: NZ Bear tipped me off to this story, and it's the topic of at least one post at Porkbusters. Scroll around; it looks like Joshua Micah Marshall may have posted a couple of times on the same topic. Thanks to Instapundit for the link!

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 22, 2006 3:43 PM

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» Is Hastert A Embezzling Fraud? from The Strata-Sphere
I don’t have time to do the story justice right now, but it seems Captain Ed and others have found Speaker Hastert reaping multi-million dollar profits from land speculations that end up becoming incredibly lucrative due to legislation they help... [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2006 4:37 PM

» Profiting From Your Elected Position? from Fly At Night
I am sure that we will read and hear more about conflict of interest and profiting from being a public official. I would hope not but this is reality. ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2006 4:57 PM

» The pork butterfly effect from Outside The Beltway | OTB
Porkbuster weiners Glenn Reynolds and Ed Morrissey are hyping alleged windfall profits by GOP congressmen Dennis Hastert, Ken Calvert, and Gary Miller they received after selling property proximate to highway projects they have championed in Congress&#... [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2006 5:17 PM


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