When the George Bush Presidential Library opens its doors, I do not think that Follow The Money will be among the celebrated volumes gracing its bookshelves. Their loss. For Follow The Money is an absorbing read, a connect-the-odious-dots primer on political corruption in the Republican gilded donor age, and a lesson on the value of sunshine and oversight inside a Beltway where power and money flourish sordidly in every nook and cranny of the shadows.
While it could rightly be said that this is true about any politician or political operative in the modern era — where 527s rule the airwaves with their rolling soft money extravagances and where PAC donations create miniature fiefdoms on the Hill — the level of corruption of the system that is laid out so clearly and concisely in Follow The Money is breathtaking both in scope and ballsy mendacity. For those of you who have followed the sordid tales of Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Jim Baker, the Federalist Society, and all of the many offshoots and related K Street op-shops of the modern GOP, much of this will not be new ground. But for the political novice or for someone who hasn’t quite connected all the dots, it is one revalation after another.
This could be the present you’ve been looking for if you have a political neophyte in your life. Reading all of this, laid out in one continuous, intertwined narrative, showcases the malignant kudzu of modern American political smarm in all its kickback and corruption glory.
Truly, this book reads as though it were laying out the elements of a racketeering indictment. Except that instead of the usual muscle threats that you see in a mob case, what is hung over the heads of those squeezed for hush money and influence bribes is the power of public legislation — or the withholding thereof. The wheels of the United States government as muscle against the moneyed interests of those wishing to game the system — and ordinary citizens are left to be ground down by the ever-turning wheels of legislation and its aftermath.
Money has always purchased influence in Washington — let there be no doubt on that score. But the sheer level of planning, shell and dummy corporations for laundering the ill-gotten donor earnings, and involvement at the highest echelons of power in the most minute details of this mess will blow even the most jaded and cynical political watcher away.
That the genesis of a lot of this began during the College Republican involvement of some of the more odious members of this corruption cabal reeks of long-term planning: Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist, among many, many others from those years. With those friendships forged in early dirty campaign tricks for the RNC (for which they were fired) came a series of IOUs that were cashed in, to the detriment of an unsuspecting public (p. 13):
What Jack Abramoff brought with him, to begin with, were a bunch of somewhat dubious IOUs, based on his close ties to Norquist, Reed and Rove. Eventually, the IOUs would come due, but early in 1995, the old friendships counted for little more than introductions. Still, one such introduction did prove pivotal, when Norquist began opening doors on Capitol Hill for Abramoff. Norquist was by then an important figure amng the Contract with America crowd. His Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), founded in 1985, had gradually evolved into a right-wing strategy shop during the early Clinton years.
One door, in particular, that Norquist helped open — the door to a suite of rooms occupied by the House Majority Whip and, later House Majority Leader — would remain open for Jack Abramoff for much of the next ten years. Thanks to Norquist, Jack Abramoff was soon able to expand the orbit of his right-wing fellowship to include the powerful inner circle of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, beginning with his chief of staff, Ed Buckham.
It was Buckham who became Jack Abramoff’s lasting entree into the Majority Whip’s office….
It is Buckham who is facing frequent attention from the FBI and the DOJ, having had his business records recently subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, currently feeling the heat of scrutiny stemming from Jack Abramoff’s multiple pleas to federal felonies and his agreement for cooperation with authorities.
There are a number of insidery bits dropped into this book that I want to flesh out further in today’s discussion. As a native Texan, John Anderson had access to a lot of the folks intimately involved in the actions — and the oppo flinging — through the years in Texas politics. And it is those bits and pieces of the narrative that I found most intriguing:
— The tidbit in a footnote on page 277: details of Rove’s prior use of a pliant USAtty office in San Antonio for payback against political opponents as a template for the current USAtty scandal and politicization questions embroiling the DOJ. So many of Rove’s actions are repeats of successful smaller oppo actions in his past — what other predictors are we missing?
— The fascinating connections with Ed Buckham, Christine DeLay, and the whole host of Team DeLay K Street placements that have caught the eye of Federal prosecutors in the public corruption unit. With this slight proviso: with Alice Fisher at the helm, what are the odds that anything will move forward with regard to federal indictment of DeLay while the Bush Administration is still in office? (See the footnote on p. 252 for more.)
— The fact that Grover Norquist is still running the K Street project, to the extent that he is even running the GOP-linked website of the same name. Given Norquist and Ralph Reed’s proclivities for “taking a cut” on any monetary pass through for Abramoff’s many shell company money laundering schemes for client largesse, what are the odds that either man is also looking at a future federal inquisition (from page 35):
…On another occasion, Abramoff e-mailed Reed to let him know that a payment of $300,000 was on its way, adding that it would, unfortunately, prove “a bit lighter” than that because he had had to “give Grover something for helping.” That something amounted to $25,000, Grover Norquist’s standard fee for acting as a “pass through” for Indian gambling money. Following yet another money transfer to Reed via ATR, Abramoff had cause to complain, “Grover took another $25K!” And so it went.
Norquist’s appetite for money was insatiable — as was Reed’s (whose management fees could run as high as $45,000 per month) — as was Abramoff’s. No wonder these three proved such good friends. They no doubt saw more than a little of themselves in each other.
And so it went, indeed, for years of back and forth of Abramoff’s client money to his pals and back to his shell companies, each taking a larger and larger cut, and providing fewer and fewer real services to the clients. Why, then, have Norquist and Reed thus far escaped much scrutiny? And, for that matter, why have former Sen. Santorum, DeLay’s Senate counterpart on the K Street scheme and Sen. John Cornyn, Reed’s errand boy when he was AG in Texas, escaped stringent scrutiny? The listing of contacts of all these cronies with the Bush White House truly ought to be plastered into every news story about them from now forward. (You can find this on pp. 262-263.)
— I have many questions regarding Federalist Society involvement in the Florida recount efforts, various judgeship and DOJ placements, and in prepping Administration officials for congressional hearings. The recent piece from Sidney Blumenthal regarding the Mukasey prep does not make me any more comfortable on this score, and I’m wondering if John has particular thoughts about this group, the Cheney/Addington/neocon connection and the Federalist desire to return the nation to a “landed gentry” control along with the DeLay and GOP affiliated tort reform money crowd — effectively rolling back decades of democratization of the political and judicial process in favor of the moneyed few.
— The Jim Baker vignette in the prologue, including the Aziz/Baker transcript in the lobby of the Baker Center at Rice seems like a big, fat finger raised at Dick Cheney and the neocons. And a warning to George Bush that Baker is tired of cleaning up after Junior’s messes. I’d love further insights on this.
— What is the status of the DeLay and TRMPAC and TAB indictments in Texas? Things have seem stalled for a while, and I’m wondering if it is only seeming that way outside of Texas, or if it really is in a holding pattern?
— Finally, there was some mention of the interconnected nest of DeLay cronies on various defense-related appropriations committees, including the now incarcerated Duke Cunningham. Given the removal of Carol Lam as USAtty on this investigation, and the enormous GOP-power names on the scrutiny list, including the very powerful Rep. Jerry Lewis, this needs much deeper exploration. I’m especially curious about this (pp. 275-276):
The question arose: what if the global war on terror had, at least in part, been the public face used to conceal millions — perhaps even billions — of dollars in corrupt appropriations being siphoned into top-secret contracts? What if a small coterie of Appropriations, Defense, Homeland Security, and Intelligence committee members were, in fact, on the take and engaged in a massive giveaway of federal funds.
The question begged answering.
Indeed it does. And with that, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to John Anderson from FDL and open the floor to questions.