In pursuing a case that threatens to envelop Congress in an election-year lobbying scandal, federal prosecutors are arguing that campaign dollars and other perks routinely showered on lawmakers by those with legislative and political interests on Capitol Hill can reach the level of criminal misconduct.
The prosecutors say that among the criminal activities of Michael Scanlon, a former House leadership aide who pleaded guilty on Monday to bribery conspiracy, were efforts to influence a lawmaker identified in court papers only as Representative No. 1 with gifts that included $4,000 to his campaign account and $10,000 to a Republican Party fund on his behalf.
Lawyers and others who follow such issues say the case against Mr. Scanlon amounted to a shift by the Justice Department, which, they say, has generally steered clear of trying to build corruption cases around political donations because the charges can be hard to prove.
"The department has rarely charged campaign contribution cases," said Joseph E. diGenova, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. "It would be a surprise that a contribution that has been lawfully reported" would lead to a criminal charge.
The case against Mr. Scanlon, who became wealthy in a partnership with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, reaches far beyond the contributions to Representative No. 1. Court documents filed by prosecutors lay out an extensive conspiracy in which Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff, identified in the documents only as Lobbyist A, sought to defraud clients - mainly Indian tribes with gambling interests - and win legislative help from lawmakers in exchange for campaign donations, trips, dinners, greens fees and jobs.
Watchdog groups and some lawmakers say the emerging details of how at least one set of well-connected lobbyists operated should help build momentum for changes in lobbying rules. And, they say, the case demonstrates that the Justice Department shares their longstanding contention that campaign contributions can be used to game the system.
The above is from Carl Hulse's "Political Donations, Bribery and the Portrayal of a Nexus" in this morning's New York Times. It's our spotlight entry selected by Liang, Micah and Durham Gal.
Tad e-mailed (Wednesday, sorry for the delay) to note Juan Gonzalez's "Oil For Bronx Poor is a Foreign Gift: Santa Claus, make way for Santa Chavez" (New York Daily News via Common Dreams):
Poor residents and nonprofit groups in the South Bronx are about to receive a huge Christmas gift from Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez: Eight-million gallons of heating oil at bargain-basement prices.
Two months ago, in an interview with the Daily News during his visit to the United Nations, Chavez first made the startling offer of cheap fuel for this winter from his oil-rich country to a handful of poor communities in the United States.
At the time, critics of the radical populist Chavez, the Bush administration's biggest nemesis in South America, scoffed at his proposal.
But the Venezuelan leader is about to deliver.
"The first shipments of low-cost fuel from CITGO will begin arriving in my district by late next week," U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) said yesterday.
CITGO, the Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's national oil company, owns 14,000 gas stations and eight refineries in the U.S. Because of that, Chavez has a ready-made distribution system and doesn't need any special approvals from the White House for his project.
"My constituents are facing some of the highest energy bills in recent history, even as oil companies are reporting the largest profits in recent memory," Serrano said. "I'm very pleased to have helped broker this historic agreement."
Juan Gonzalez is also the co-host of Democracy Now! and today's program is about Yip Yip Harburg and deals with the topics of art (Harburg wrote songs with Harold Arlen including the songs to The Wizard of Oz) and politics. Want to know the story behind "Over the Rainbow"? check out today's program of Democracy Now!
We'll also note Joey's highlight, also from Common Dreams, Norman Solomon's "Thanksgiving and More Taking:"
When Thanksgiving arrives, the media coverage is mostly predictable. Feature stories tell of turkeys and food drives for the needy. We hear about why some people, famous and unknown, say they feel thankful. And, of course, holiday advertising campaigns launch via TV, radio and print outlets.
Like our own responses to Thanksgiving, the repeated media messages are apt to be contradictory. Answers to basic questions run the gamut: How much time and money should we spend on the holiday dinner compared to helping the less fortunate? Is this really the time to count our blessings -- or yield to ads that tell us how satisfied we'll be after buying the latest brand-new products and services?
Under the surface, some familiar media themes are at cross purposes this time of year. Holiday celebrations that speak to the need for compassion and spiritual connection are frequently marked by efforts and expenditures that point in opposite directions. Within the media echo chambers, a lot of the wallpaper is the color of money.
In its unadorned state, the idea of being thankful is on a collision course with "Thanksgiving" the commercialized media phenomenon. To explore the genuine realms of giving thanks is to pause and mull over good fortune -- dwelling on it while hopefully mustering at least a bit of humility and gratitude for life along the way. But the prevalent emphasis on goodies for dinner-table consumption and the big-hype kickoff of the holiday buying season are media cues with widespread effects.
As a practical matter, in the media world, late November brings a ritualized frenzy that makes cash registers ring (or whatever they do these digital days). Anyone who takes thanksgiving seriously as a potential activity for reflection is likely to sense a disconnect with profuse media content that seems to be unclear on the concept.
And we'll give a heads up. CounterSpin will have Norman Solomon on the new episode. On some stations that will air today (such as Pacifica's WBAI), on others it will air over the weekend. You can also catch it be going to CounterSpin and listening online. (And the link will also assist you in finding out whether CounterSpin is broadcast in your area, if you're unsure.)
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the new york times