The FBI has shifted its investigation into Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), looking at legislative activity sponsored by the Alaskan that may have benefitted his son. They have focused on a number of earmarks that Stevens requested that served Alaska's fishing industry, which returned the favor by hiring Ben Stevens as a consultant. In fact, the younger Stevens sold himself as a conduit for federal pork:
Federal authorities investigating Sen. Ted Stevens are trolling the Alaska fishing industry for evidence of whether the powerful Republican pushed seafood legislation that benefited his lobbyist son.
So far, the most public aspect of the investigation was the FBI raid on Stevens' home in July, with agents seeking evidence of the senator's relationship with a corrupt Alaska oil contractor.
But authorities have also quietly amassed evidence about fishing. ...
But Victor Smith, a fisherman and critic of Ben Stevens, gave the FBI a taped phone conversation that he said proves otherwise. In the 2005 conversation, Smith called the seiners group's board member Bryan Benkman to discuss why funding was stuck in the federal bureaucracy even after the earmark passed.
Both men expressed disappointment in Ben Stevens and Smith asked why he was hired. Benkman replied that the younger Stevens recalled his success getting the crab buyback passed and pitched himself as a conduit to his father.
"He said, 'Hey, see I've got a program. You know, I've got this one to my credit. Hire me, you know, I'll get Dad to fund you guys, too," Benkman said.
The FBI has apparently narrowed their probe to some large-scale pork. Three programs brought Alaska almost $200 million over the last few years, all with connections back to Ben Stevens. A federal loan program to buy back crab boats and boost prices gained Ben a consultant gig with an industry group that campaigned for the program. Thirty million dollars went to start the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which promptly made Ben its first chair -- where he authorized grants to his consultancy customers. A trade association of salmon fishers hired Ben's company to lobby for a $50 million buyback loan program, although the younger Stevens claimed that his partner did the actual lobbying.
As fishing expeditions go, this one may land more pork than perch. The FBI has the sharks circling the Stevens', and statements such as those on the tape may be enough to sink the popular porkmaster. With a couple more witnesses like Smith, or at least a couple more tapes, the feds will be able to reel in the Stevenses.
Regardless of whether the FBI can prove corruption, these cases demonstrate clearly that pork corrodes the process of government. When our elected representatives place themselves in positions to have themselves or their families directly benefit from their legislative activities, it becomes a gross conflict of interest. That's true whether the Senator is Ted Stevens or Harry Reid. The porkers put their own pecuniary interests ahead of the fiscal responsibilities of the nation, and the only productivity we get is in the industry of rationalization.