Stealth lobbying campaign shows worst of system

Monday, October 20, 2008

The big mystery around Nebraska political circles is, "What's Chuck going to do next?"

"Chuck" is Chuck Hagel, a Republican who recently said farewell to the U.S. Senate after two terms. His wife, Lilibet, has endorsed the Democratic presidential nominee and was a guest of Michelle Obama at the last debate.

What isn't a mystery, after reading an Associated Press investigative piece this morning, is why he might want to leave Washington in frustration.

It also sheds light on Hagel's reluctance to toe the Republican party line.

Back in 2005, before many of us knew what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were, Hagel sponsored legislation, S.190, which would have put the two government-chartered groups under tighter control and possibly avoided the massive bailout taxpayers have recently been forced to fund.

The lending entities, manipulated under Democratic control to buy votes by lending money to unqualified borrowers, and propped up by Republicans under the false hope the reckless lending could keep the housing boom going, secretly hired a Republican consulting firm to derail Hagel's bill.

For $2 million Freddie Mac was able to pressure 17 Republican senators in 13 states to oppose Hagel's regulatory effort (most of the Democratic senators already opposed Hagel's bill).

While federal lobbying law requires reporting and registration when there are contacts with a legislator or staff, the lobbying firm, DCI of Washington, allegedly employed a stealth campaign to persuade prominent constitutents and financial contributors to call the targeted senators and oppose Hagel's bill.

Despite the pleadings of Hagel and 25 other Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., refused to allow a vote.

"It is outrageous that a congressionally chartered government-sponsored enterprise would lobby against a member of Congress's bill that would strengthen the regulation and oversight of that institution," Hagel chief of staff Mike Buttry said Friday. "America has paid an extremely high price for the reckless, and possibly criminal, actions of the leadership at Freddie and Fannie."

It's obvious from the report, reprinted on page two today, that it's too easy to buy influence and hide one's tracks in Washington, whether one is dealing with Democrats or Republicans.

It's a tragedy that it took something like the current financial crisis to bring the extent of that flaw to light.

Those directly responsible for the abuse should pay with their freedom. Those who allowed their votes to be bought should be turned out of office.

And, somewhere along the line, Sen. Chuck Hagel deserves an apology.

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