Alan B. Mollohan and the Democrats' Ethical Cesspool
Two generations ago, Huey Long, Louisiana's "Kingfish" and governor, was speaking to a crowd of his supporters, known as the "wool hats." The New Orleans Times-Picayune had accused him of corruption, and the Kingfish wanted to respond. He said, "My brethren, they say I stole! Well, the truth is that I DID steal. But my brethren, I stole for YOU." He was re-elected in a landslide.
One of the problems an honest candidate in Pennsylvania -- a person like Diana Lynn Irey Melissa Hart -- faces is that some voters in the Commonwealth might as well be wearing wool hats. A Congressman John Murtha or a State Senator Frank Gigliotti essentially steals from the taxpayers, and the voters -- at least a segment of them -- don't care.
Our sister state West Virginia is almost as bad. To paraphrase a WVU political science professor, some voters hear chapter and verse about the misdeeds of a Congressman Alan B. Mollohan, and their response is "whatever." They expect a congressman to be something of a thief, and as long as he doesn't send nasty e-mails to minors -- or perhaps molest the local Sunday school teacher -- they're willing to re-elect him.
How bad is Mollohan? Let me count the ways.
The Center for Responsive Politics' Capitol Eye Report says the following about the West Virginian: "Mollohan has been criticized for grossly under-representing his assets and earnings on personal financial disclosures from 1996 to 2004; for steering taxpayer money towards non-profit organizations that he helped create, then accepting contributions from their employees and board members; and, finally, for purchasing a farm in partnership with the head of a defense firm. The company won a government contract that Mollohan funded through a 2005 spending bill [e.g., "earmark"].
For the congressman, the consequences were almost humorous. Capitol Eye continues, "These allegations forced Mollohan to step down from his post as the senior Democrat on . . . the House Ethics Committee."
Should we laugh or cry? Senior Democrat on the House ETHICS Committee? Who replaced him? Jack Murtha? Howard Jefferson? Ken Lay?
Mollohan has been in Congress since 1982. Generally, he runs either unopposed or with token opposition. The district is so Democratic that it probably would elect Mark Foley if he came disguised in a donkey suit. .
In 2006, Mollohan did face a candidate of some substance (although not a great deal of substance) named Chris Wakim, a state legislator. To beat a Mollohan, a challenger has to go toe-to-toe with him in terms of fundraising, and that didn't happen.
Mollohan spent nearly $1.6 million and Wakim much less than half that amount. Mollahan won by nearly 45,000 votes in an election with sparse turnout, the norm for West Virginia. Why should people vote in elections that are basically charades?
Question: Why did Mollohan have to spend so much money in an election that was never in doubt? Another question: What did he spend it on? A third question: Did he in fact engage in something that the cynics among us might regard as "vote buying?"
If a politician in West Virginia or Western Pennsylvania is corrupt but many people don't care, is it really worthy of note? Mr. Mollohan, along with his partner in political chicanery, Jack Murtha, remains on the Appropriations Committee, doling out billions to people who express their gratitude with lavish contributions.
Jack Murtha. In my last column, I mentioned a big number ($2 million-plus) for his 2006 campaign spending, but I was relying on October numbers. The final number is much larger.
Murtha's 2006 spending against Diana Irey was $3,158,873. He was left with cash on hand of $415,000, plus change, perhaps the better to ensure his re-election next time. (I do believe this will be his last term in Congress, but I'll leave that for another column.)
Murtha received contributions from Political Action Committees, all of whom apparently benefited from his earmarks or othe legislative actions, of $793,000-plus. His contributions from individuals, most of them apparently associated with companies associated with his PAC contributors, of $1,870,000.
On a relative level, Murtha's campaign spending exceeded that of Senator Hillary Clinton in New York. Again on a relative level, it exceed the COMBINED spending of senatorial candidates Allen and Webb in Virginia. Murtha spent more than $26 per vote (120,000 votes), more than double what Diana Irey spent per vote (78,000 votes)
Diana, an especially attractive and articulate candidate, raised $854,000, an amazing amount for a first-time candidate challenging an extremely powerful and vindictive incumbent. Of her campaign funds, only $38,600 came from PACS and nearly $790,000 from individuals -- mainly in Pennsylvania, but also across the country and around the world, including soldiers in Iraq.
In retrospect, it appears Diana -- whom I cherish as a friend -- would have need to raise at least $2 million to come close to beating Murtha. She ended up getting four-out-of-10 votes cast -- a major comedown for a Murtha used to getting 100% of the vote. But she needed five-out-of-10, plus one.
In congressional races, incumbents nearly always win, 95%-plus in a normal election year. What we have with the current system is the appearance of democracy rather than the reality.
Incumbents who are honest win. Incumbents who are dishonest win. Incumbents who are morally neutral win.
In most cases, the people who don't win are the challengers -- like Diana -- who could make great contributions to their countries. They don't win because they don't have "earmarks" (taxpayers' money) to hand out to people who in return will dole out big campaign contributions.
America is not going to solve its problems in a Congress dominated by people by Mollohan and Murtha. In fact, they ARE the problem.
How we solve said problem will be a continuing subject in this blog.
P.S. Political Moneyline had an interesting piece last week on Alan B. Molohan. "12/7/2006 Rep. Alan Mollohan reported paying $70,112 in legal fees to Kellogg, Huber, Hansen Todd, Evan and Gigel." Congressman Mollohan will be paying a lot more to the good folks at Kellogg, Huber in the days ahead. Should it be "Gigel" or "Giggle?"