“All Politics, All the Time.”

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Bush Administration, corruption

Following up yesterday’s post on possible Hatch Act violations by the White House — John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen provide more details in today’s Washington Post. Karl Rove, they write, enlisted “political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.”

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was “asset deployment,” and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush’s reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

“The White House determines which members need visits,” said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove “deployment” team, “and where we need to be strategically placing our assets.” …

… Under Rove’s direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year’s congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays’s district in the six months before the election — once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

Apparently the administration officials on these trips didn’t make campaign appearances with the GOP candidates. However, these appearances were hardly apolitical.

In practical terms, that meant Cabinet officials concentrated their official government travel on the media markets Rove’s team chose, rolling out grant decisions made by agencies with red-carpet fanfare in GOP congressional districts, and carefully crafted announcements highlighting the release of federal money in battleground states.

Further,

… the scale of Rove’s effort is far broader than previously revealed; they say that Rove’s team gave more than 100 such briefings during the seven years of the Bush administration. The political sessions touched nearly all of the Cabinet departments and a handful of smaller agencies that often had major roles in providing grants, such as the White House office of drug policy and the State Department’s Agency for International Development.

As I understand it — note that I’m not an expert — the grants themselves were not a violation of the Hatch Act if the “team” was only making announcements and not meddling with the allocations themselves. The question is, did Bush appointees make grant decisions based on the White House’ political goals?

“What we are seeing is the tip of a whole effort to make the federal government a subsidiary of the Republican Party. It was all politics, all the time,” Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said last week.

There is no question there was tight coordination of campaigns and grant allocations —

Shays wrote Bush on Sept. 8, 2006, to seek the early release — before the election — of heating assistance money for low-income residents in his state. Just four days later, the White House released $6 million. Asked to comment on the administration’s help, Shays’s campaign manager Michael Sohn said, “Chris was grateful to be returned to office based on his record of hard work and accomplishment.”

Were the grant decisions made for political expedience? A WaPo analysis of 2004 Department of Health and Human Services grants for community health and disease-prevention programs showed that

[H]alf the awards went to targeted election states or congressional districts, the rest to noncompetitive areas that included Democratic strongholds.

The agency’s news release about those grants, however, detailed at the top just four recipients — in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and an Oklahoma congressional district — that Rove’s team identified in earlier 2004 briefings as key to the GOP’s reelection strategy.

I would argue that while these grants may not have been politically tainted, taxpayer monies were being used to pay someone in the agency to write GOP campaign press releases. I’d also like to see how much taxpayer money was used to pay for all that travel.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao made 13 official visits in the last two months of the election, never straying more than 50 miles from the media markets on Rove’s office list, the analysis showed. That August, she attended three local Fraternal Order of Police meetings in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to tout new overtime rules that would soon go into effect. Likewise, she traveled to Tampa — another targeted media market — to announce grants for recipients who actually lived in Jacksonville, Fla., a less competitive area.

Aside from her home town of Denver, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton visited just five cities in the first two months of 2004, according to the public announcements. But that pace changed between June and November, when — in visits to 37 cities — she hit the target election markets 32 times, the announcements show.

The White House probably will argue that as long as the officials didn’t specifically endorse candidates, these were not really “campaign” trips. On the other hand …

Those visits occurred after Interior liaison William Kloiber wrote to White House political affairs aide Matt Schlapp to thank him for a briefing about the political landscape. In an e-mail obtained by congressional investigators, Kloiber wrote, “Sometimes these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographic travel can benefit the President.“[emphasis added]

Um, Mr. Kloiber? Who do you work for?

Let’s go back to grant allocation. The White House claims that Karl avoided meddling in “grant and contract decisions made by career government employees.” But more and more of those “career government employees” were hand-picked for their political loyalties.

And can we say “Department of Homeland Security”? In the spring of election year 2004, we learned that DHS was not exactly allocating grant money according to risk.

Of the top 10 states and districts receiving the most money per capita last year, only the District of Columbia also appeared on a list of the top 10 most at-risk places, as calculated by AIR for TIME. In fact, funding appears to be almost inversely proportional to risk.

If all the federal homeland-security grants from last year are added together, Wyoming received $61 a person while California got just $14, according to data gathered at TIME’s request by the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent, nonprofit research organization. Alaska received an impressive $58 a resident, while New York got less than $25. On and on goes the upside-down math of the new homeland-security funding.

There was much chest-thumping and vows to do better, but in the spring of election year 2006 we learned that New York City has no landmarks worth protecting.

Instead, the department’s database of vulnerable critical infrastructure and key resources included the Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo near Huntsville, Ala., a bourbon festival, a bean festival and the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville, Ga. …

… [T]he Homeland Security assessment of New York this year failed to include Times Square, the Empire State Building the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty as a national icon or monument.

Someone might want to revisit the DHS grant issue. When New York City howled about its reduced DHS money in 1996, Michael Chertoff said it was New York’s own fault for not filing their proposals properly. Jen Chung wrote at The Gothamist (June 2, 2006; emphasis added):

As New York state and city politicians attack the Department of Homeland Security over cutting the funds NYC gets for anti-terrorism efforts, the DHS has been fighting back by saying that New York City’s proposal wasn’t well-prepared. The NY Times writes, “Federal officials said yesterday that the city had not only done a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but had also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required, instead faxing its request to Washington.” Ha! NY state and city officials say that, in fact, they did electronically submit the application – but you know that there’s probably sniping about so-and-so’s aide or intern screwing things up. But In fact, NYC, though in the “top 25% of urban areas at risk,” was rated in the bottom 25% for the “quality of its application”! Our politicians, though, are saying that the DHS directed money to cities where reelections were coming up in the fall. The Daily News has a feature on Tracy Henske, the DHS official who “signed off on the cuts” – she’s from Missouri and Missouri cities got increases in funding!

Jen Chung linked to a New York Post article that is no longer online. This deserves further investigation, I say.

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5 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dan  •  Aug 19, 2007 @12:55 pm

    Interesting.

    In light of what was presented in this writing, it appears that what was done was good old politics. On steroids, mind you, but nothing I haven’t seen for the 35 or so years of my politically-aware life.

    As for the upside-down money distribution, it appears to be mostly a matter of some political favors mixed with a huge dollop of economies of scale. Again, well-done, but nothing out of political normalcy for either party.

    But, hey, what do I know. It certainly bears close watching (something “conservatives” don’t seem to want to do, even of their opponents).

    I was hoping for more of a smoking gun, but from what I see, it may not be there in blatant-enough form for practical purposes…

  2. maha  •  Aug 19, 2007 @1:32 pm

    In light of what was presented in this writing, it appears that what was done was good old politics. On steroids, mind you, but nothing I haven’t seen for the 35 or so years of my politically-aware life.

    Read the post again, then, because I think you missed a few things.

    The most critical question is how much did politics impact grant allocation? If the political wing of the White House did, in fact, meddle in grant allocation in an attempt to swing elections, then we have crossed a line.
    .
    And to this I say it’s time to re-visit grants made by the Department
    of Homeland Security, especially in election years 2004 and 2006. And don’t forget all those Faith-Based Initiatives.

  3. Swami  •  Aug 19, 2007 @1:41 pm

    I don’t know which is the bigger joke, that Old McDonald’s petting zoo is on the list of critical infrastructure or that we are paying some maggot to be a drug czar..Talk about slopping at the public trough or being on the teat.. and they have the nerve to criticize welfare queens? At least welfare queens have the respectability of hiding their fraud.

  4. Bonnie  •  Aug 19, 2007 @2:38 pm

    I wonder about John Solomon’s name on this article. Perhaps, he gets his name on an article like this in hopes of people forgetting all the rightwing hatchet jobs he does on Democrats.

    Even beyond the icons of New York that Maha mentioned, there are the NY docks that provide for importing and exporting supplies, products, etc., which is very important to our capitalistic system. New Orleans was the fifth largest port, yet this administration let it be destroyed because New Orleans is mostly Democratic and mostly black and poor. It is so amazing that these capitalist pigs are too stupid to know what is really in the interest of capitalism.

    I received my 30-year pin, effective June 30, 2007, for my Federal Government service. This last Friday, I had some physical problems that caused me to not arrive at work in the morning; but, I told my supervisor, I hoped to be in by 2 p.m. Because it was timecard day, I put in my leave for the morning. Other extenuating circumstances (the perfect storm of Murphy’s Law) prevented me from getting in for the afternoon. I called my supervisor shortly after 2 p.m. and explained all the problems I had encountered. She asked me to put the request for the final 4 hours of leave I would be using; and I told her that I was in the process of doing that. The electronic system we use just plain would not let me put that four hours in the system. It gave me a message saying it was more hours than my tour of duty (crazy) despite my attempt to vary the number of hours. I called her back and explained these problems, which was not the first time this has occurred. She decided to threaten me with not approving my timecard (which, of course, would mean I wouldn’t get paid) because it wasn’t true and it would be fraud, waste, and abuse. Never mind that before this system was in place, the previous system required all timecards to be in two days before the end of the pay period; thus, were often wrong if an employee got sick for those last two days. Sorry to make this so long; but, it shows how much the idiocy of these incompetent Republicans permeates the Federal Government these past years under this corrupt Republican administration. I am often subjected to this kind of crap because I am a prominent official in the agency labor union. I plan to retire next year because I do not wish to wait until 2009 for things to get better. I am too old and too tired and have no patience dealing with people who are destroying America.

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