From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
JUDICIAL WATCH VICTORY! Illinois Senate Turns Over Secret List of Earmarks, Vows Full Disclosure
Judicial Watch earned a huge victory recently when the Illinois State Senate finally released a secret list of legislative earmarks and then vowed to make public all future earmarks so the citizens of Illinois can know exactly how legislators are distributing their tax dollars. Judicial Watch has agreed to drop its lawsuit against the Illinois Senate in exchange for the documents.
Senate President John Cullerton is making peace with a government watchdog group that sued his predecessor to get access to a secret list of legislative earmarks.
Cullerton (D-Chicago) has provided Judicial Watch a list of legislative projects kept by ex-Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) and vowed that any similar grants approved in the upcoming 2009-2010 state budget will be identified individually for public scrutiny.
Under Jones, Senate Democrats had $18.7 million for legislators’ pet projects in the 2007-2008 budget year but fought to keep those projects and their sponsors secret, arguing the records were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) put his members’ projects online at the time.
"There will be no more buckets of money handed out from the caucus for members to kind of distribute as they will," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
We’ll see about that. But at least public officials in Illinois won’t be able to operate outside public scrutiny.
And why is this scrutiny so important? Because earmarks are a means by which legislators reward their political contributors. It is part of the cronyism that has infected the political system not only in Illinois, but in government institutions across the country.
You may recall that Judicial Watch filed this lawsuit as part of its overall investigation into corruption involving former (now impeached) Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich was believed to have made secret deals with Illinois lawmakers "for items ranging from police cars and tornado sirens to millions of dollars for after-school programs…"
Don’t you think politicians will think twice about making these kinds of deals if they know the public will be keeping an eye on them? That’s certainly the idea.
Judicial Watch victories come in many forms. In this case, not only did we get the documents we sought, but we also effected a change in policy on behalf of the citizens of Illinois. By the way, we appreciate Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s fresh approach to the problem of earmarking. And rest assured we will make sure he keeps his commitment to transparency.
In the meantime, if you would like to review the earmarking documents we uncovered, click here. It should not come as a shock to you that these documents reference millions and millions of taxpayer dollars poured into pork projects. Now the trick is to find out if there were any corrupt deals made to secure the funds.
(We also appreciate the efforts of the Illinois chapter of Americans For Prosperity (AFP), a grassroots group that advocates for limited government and fiscal restraint. We worked with AFP on this and other Illinois corruption issues.)
Rep. Murtha, House Dems Under Fire
Rep. John Murtha continues to make headlines and for all the wrong reasons.
As you may recall, the Pennsylvania Rep. is already under federal investigation for his corrupt relationship with the now defunct defense lobbyist PMA Group. PMA, founded by a former Murtha associate, has been the congressman’s largest campaign contributor. Since 2002, Murtha has raised $1.7 million from PMA and its clients.
And what does PMA and its clients receive from Murtha in return for their generosity? Earmarks. Tens of millions of dollars in earmarks.
In fact, even with all of the attention surrounding his alleged influence peddling, Murtha is still at it! Following an FBI raid of PMA’s offices earlier this year, Murtha has continued to seek congressional earmarks for PMA clients while also hitting them up for campaign contributions. According to The Hill, in April, "Murtha reported receiving contributions from three former PMA clients for whom he requested earmarks in the pending appropriations bills."
When it comes to PMA, Murtha is not alone. The company has also been linked to a number of senior congressional Democrats, including Rep. Jim Moran and Rep. Peter Visclosky. Calls for the House Ethics Committee to do something about this scandal are growing louder and louder with little effect.
Roll Call is reporting that House Democrats are now circling the wagons in response to the PMA scandal and "cobbling together a defense to offer political cover to their rank and file. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has enlisted Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) to consult with House Democrats on why they should continue to resist Republican demands for an ethics committee investigation into the matter."
But here’s the truth in the matter. While Republicans huff and puff about PMA’s corrupt ties to Murtha and Democratic leaders, they have so far failed to take the one simple act that could remedy the situation — filing a House Ethics Committee complaint against Murtha. They don’t have to "demand" an investigation. They can file a complaint to force the issue.
But instead, House Republicans continue to posture. Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, for example, is said to be considering an amendment that would freeze earmarks for PMA and its clients. Fair enough. But why not file a complaint as well? Why wait for the FBI to finish its investigation?
Of course the PMA scandal is just the tip of the iceberg for Murtha. Check this out according to UPI:
A nephew of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., has received millions of dollars in no-bid Pentagon contracts, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Robert Murtha Jr., 49, nephew of the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, received $4 million in Defense Department contracts, all of them without competitive bidding, for a range of warehousing and engineering services by his company Murtech Inc., the newspaper said.
The Pentagon claims Murtha had no influence on the contracts awarded to his nephew. But then, why would the nephew mention the Murtha name when attempting to secure the contracts? According to The Washington Post, "Newly obtained documents…show Robert Murtha mentioning his influential family connection as leverage in his business dealings and holding unusual power with the military. The documents add to mounting questions about Rep. Murtha, whose use of federal earmarks to help favored defense companies and whose relationship with a former lobbying firm are under scrutiny by federal investigators."
Murtha is a powerful force in the House of Representatives, especially, as we’ve seen, when it comes to securing large gobs of cash for friends and associates. And it sure looks like that corruption may have helped his nephew.
What did Nancy Pelosi know about so-called "harsh (or enhanced) interrogation techniques" used against terrorist suspects and when did she know it? That’s the central question in a controversy the House Speaker has not been able to shake, despite repeated attempts.
Pelosi admitted in April that she was briefed on these techniques but was not aware they had already been used. The CIA says this is not true, pointing to a briefing they held with the speaker on September 4, 2002 and a subsequent briefing to her top staffer. Pelosi’s response: the CIA is lying.
As President Obama has declined to defend the CIA in the face of this serious charge from Pelosi and her leftist allies, Judicial Watch launched an investigation to uncover the truth.
Records detailing dates when the CIA briefed congressional leaders (to include, but not limited to Rep. Nancy Pelosi and/or her aide, Michael Sheehy) on matters relating to "enhanced interrogation techniques" and/or "harsh interrogation techniques" and suspected and/or known terrorists…
Briefing materials presented to Rep. Nancy Pelosi and/or her aide, Michael Sheehy, relating to "enhanced interrogation techniques" and/or "harsh interrogation techniques" and suspected and/or known terrorists.
Records detailing the names of all Members of Congress (and/or Congressional Aides) briefed on "enhanced interrogation techniques" and/or "harsh interrogation techniques" and suspected and/or known terrorists.
Records and briefing materials from a reported September 4, 2002 briefing of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (and/or her aide Michael Sheehy) concerning waterboarding detainees.
Records detailing all instances when the CIA has provided briefings to Members of Congress under the provisions of the National Security Act from September 11, 2001 to present.
I find it very difficult to believe the speaker was not briefed about the prior use of the "waterboarding" technique on September 4, 2002, as she claims.
Central Intelligence Agency notes suggest that on that day, the speaker was informed of interrogation techniques used to extract information from alleged terrorist Abu Zubaydah. While the notes do not specifically mention waterboarding, according to legal memos released in April, Zubaydah was subjected to the technique 83 times in August 2002, the month before the briefing.
Are we supposed to believe the CIA omitted mention of waterboarding when the technique was used 83 times the month prior on the subject of the briefing? By Pelosi’s own admission, the CIA briefed her on the legality of waterboarding during that meeting. Why would the CIA conceal the use of a technique they deemed within the bounds of law?
At any rate, as I say, Judicial Watch aims to get to the bottom of all of this. I will be sure to update you as events warrant in this space.
One last item as I sign off… earlier this week I was interviewed for a full hour by C-SPAN host Brian Lamb about Judicial Watch and its investigations and lawsuits. You can watch this interview on Sunday night (May 24th) at 8 pm and 11 pm. For the early risers, you can check it out again at 6 am on Monday (May 25th).
I hope that you not only have an enjoyable Memorial Day holiday, but take the time to remember those who gave their lives defending our great nation.
Until next week…
Tom Fitton President
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.