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When the Democrats adopted the "culture of corruption" meme as their campaign theme earlier this year, we noted that the culture hardly respected party lines. The leader of the Senate Democratic caucus, Harry Reid, took contributions from clients of Jack Abramoff and intervened on their behalf at least four times, and Abramoff hired one of Reid's staffers and started holding fundraisers for the Senate Minority Leader in Abramoff's offices.
Now COGirl at Hang Right Politics points us towards a Los Angeles Times report on the "culture of corruption" surrounding Harry Reid and a new real-estate development outside of Las Vegas. Reid has intervened on behalf of a powerful developer to gain government concessions while the developer puts money into Reid's campaigns -- and pays Reid's sons' salaries:
One of the most inhospitable places in the country, Coyote Springs Valley is so barren that, until recently, its best use was thought to be as a weapons test range.
Yet the valley — an hour northeast of Las Vegas — is on its way to becoming a real estate development of historic proportions, with as many as 159,000 homes, 16 golf courses and a full complement of stores and service facilities. At nearly 43,000 acres, Coyote Springs covers almost twice as much space as the next-largest development in a state famous for outsized building projects. ...
Over the last four years, Reid has used his influence in Washington to help the developer, Nevada super-lobbyist [Harvey] Whittemore, clear obstacles from Coyote Springs' path.
At one point, Reid proposed opening the way for Whittemore to develop part of the site for free — something for which the developer later agreed to pay the government $10 million.
As the project advanced, Reid received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Whittemore. The contributions not only went to Reid's Senate campaigns, but also to his leadership fund, which he used to help bankroll the campaigns of Democratic colleagues.
Whittemore also helped advance the legal careers of two of Reid's four sons. One of the two, Leif Reid, who is Whittemore's personal lawyer, has represented the developer throughout the Coyote Springs project, including in negotiations with federal officials.
The story of Coyote Springs sounds like a Horatio Alger story. The land Whittemore bought in 1998 from a defense contractor who intended on using it for target practice had a number of restrictions on its use. A quarter of it was subject to a federal power-line right of way. Another quarter had federal protection for the desert tortoise, an endangered species that also is Nevada's official state reptile. The land had a fragile series of streams and washes that required special permission on which to build without ruining the desert's ecosystem.
None of these obstacles proved too difficult for Whittemore, at least not while he had his friend Harry Reid running interference in Congress. Interior refused to relocate the tortoises for over five years, until the Bureau of Land Management agreed to swap the land for another parcel abutting a federal preserve elsewhere. No one ever did an analysis to determine whether the deal was fair to either party, nor did the BLM go to Congress for approval on the changes to a project that Congress had explicitly legislated.
In 2002, Reid worked on the power corridor. He inserted obscure provisions into a land management bill that relocated the power corridor, freeing Whittemore to build on the 10,500 acres that Congress had previously held -- which means that someone else now had to lose property value for Whittemore's benefit, and for no cost whatsoever. That bald move caused raised eyebrows at the BLM and the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Reid backed away -- for the moment. Less than two years later, Reid tried again to give Whittemore the land for a song ($160,000), but Congress balked again. He finally settled for freeing the land for development and allowing Whittemore to buy it at a fair market rate, and forcing the government to relocate the power corridor.
In 2005, Reid and fellow Nevada Senator John Ensign conducted a series of interventions with the EPA to eliminate the final obstacle -- the environmental impact on the fragile ecosystem in Coyote Springs Valley. When the agency blocked Whittemore's efforts, Reid and Ensign held several meetings with EPA officials to pressure them into submission. Whittemore used another Reid son, Lief, to lobby his father's office for assistance. In the end, the pressure paid off, as the EPA backed down from its opposition after winning a few concessions on the development plan.
What did Reid get in exchange for all of this support? According to the Times, Whittemore contributed $45,000 to Reid and his PACs since 2000. He also gave the DSCC $20,000 in 2000, when it pushed Reid as a leader for the party in the Senate. Reid's son Josh got $5,000 for his unsuccessful campaign for a city council seat; his other sone Rory got $5,000 for his successful effort to win a spot on the Clark County Board of Commissioners.
Money talks. And Harry Reid walks. If you wondered why the Democrats have abandoned the corruption theme for these midterm elections, now you know.
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Tracked on August 20, 2006 11:38 AM
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