Mr. Magoo Goes to Washington

April 20, 2011

In 2007, the House of Representatives modified its travel rules to require, among other things, that all privately-funded travel by members of Congress be pre-approved by the House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct ("Ethics Committee").  Accordingly, private sponsors were required to submit a Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form disclosing, among other things, the source of funding for the member's trip, including transportation, lodging and meals.    

Four Days in the Caribbean

For over a decade, Karl B. Rodney, the chief executive officer of the Carib News Foundation and publisher of Carib News, organized an annual conference in the Caribbean called the "Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference." One can only imagine the lure of a conference in the sunny Caribbean for so many of our nation's congressional representatives.  In fact, it appears that Rodney's conference - or should I say "junket?" - was popular with our elected officials.   In connection with the 12th Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference held in Antigua and Barbuda from November 8-11, 2007,  Rodney provided round-trip airfare, hotels and meals for the members attending the conference using money and in-kind support provided by the foreign host country and a private corporation.   

Dickenson Bay Beach in Antigua

Congressional leaders hard at work at site of Multi-National Business Conference

Under the House of Representatives' travel rules, Rodney was required to disclose on the Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form any entity contributing funds or in-kind support towards the members' trip.  However, Rodney falsely stated that Carib News Foundation was the only entity that paid for the members' travel and that the foundation had not accepted funds from any other source earmarked for that purpose.  In fact, the foreign host country and private corporations were providing funding.  

Don't Tell, Don't Ask

Oh my, a businessman offers elected federal officials a few day of fun in the sun on Caribbean isles and fibs about the sponsors of the event. Did any of the congressional leaders bother to ask about the funding?  Sure, I understand that the charges here are that Rodney lied about the sponsors - but did the folks who went on this junket really think that there wasn't any corporate funding covering their room and board?  Is it really enough to shrug your shoulders, point to some written misstatements by Rodney, and say that you had no idea?  Is there some "Don't tell us and we won't ask" policy in our government?  

All of which begs another question: Why couldn't members of Congress find a better use for their time than to attend Rodney's four-day conference in Antigua and Barbuda?  

Yeah, you're right, why even ask those questions.  


The Investigative Subcommittee found that Members who attended the conferences, other than Representative Charles Rangel, did not knowingly accept an improper gift of travel. These Members include Representatives Bennie Thompson, Yvette Clarke, Donald Payne, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and Delegate Donna Christensen. The Investigative Subcommittee found that Representative Rangel accepted an improper gift of travel.

Guilty Plea

On April 14, 2011, Rodney pleaded guilty in federal court to making false statements on the Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form submitted to the Ethics Committee.  He faces  a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the false statement charge.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 22, 2011.  

SIDE BAR: Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division is credited with announcing the Rodney plea in official Department of Justice release.  As you may recall from a recent "Street Sweeper" column, Breuer somehow just had to go to Moscow to attend the "Third Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States Summit on Anti-Corruption."   Apparently whether elected or appointed, members of our federal government just don't seem to have enough work at home.  It's good that they have a chance to travel and get around.  I'm glad that they're mingling with all sorts of interesting people. Wouldn't want them cooped up in the office all day, would we? See, "One Day In the Life Of Lanny Breuer (the Moscow Anti-Corruption Summit)"   

A Confederacy of Liars

Is there any place on this planet that can claim a greater aggregation of liars than the combined chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate?  Flooding those ranks are folks who lie to get into office, lie when they're in office, and lie about all that they did (or didn't do) after they've left office.   Worse, they have this whole lexicon that transforms bad conduct into good. For example, what you and I would call a bribe, they call a campaign contribution.  What you and I would call a kick-back, they call lobbying funds.  These days, it's simply how you spin things when it comes to ethics in government.   

U.S. Marshals Service mugshot of Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds' Mugshot

So - round one, we got politicians sunning and funning on faraway beaches, and then their sponsor gets charged with lying to Congress.  Then there's that whole Charles Rangel thing, but who wants to go into that, yet again? The Congressman just didn't know. That's his excuse for everything.    

Round two in the shocking crime of lying to Congress is the Barry Bonds case, which, at best,  resulted in a somewhat tepid jury verdict.  

What a shock! A baseball player lied about his use of steroids. Imagine that.  When our elected representatives sat in the luxury box seats drinking from bottomless glasses of booze, eating sumptuous lobster rolls, and ogling the celebrities, not a single one of those eagle-eyes noticed that the once underweight professional baseball players on the diamond had suddenly developed massive bodies.  Didn't it occur to those politicians that there was something wrong when the sizing of baseball caps went from 1 to Zeppelin?  

Oh, yeah, you're right - it's not like they paid for those complimentary jerseys or baseball caps. How would they have known?  Maybe they all asked Rangel for his advice. Maybe they were all myopic.

Round three in this new wave of Congressional moral outrage appears to be motivated by the Senate's report on the origins of the 2008 financial crisis. Wall Street and The Financial Crisis:Anatomy of a Financial CollapseUnited States Senate (Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations, Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs, April 13, 2011).  In commenting on the report, Senator Carl Levin (D. MI) stated that "In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled the Congress." Levin is reportedly seeking to have the Department of Justice review potential perjury charges against Goldman Sachs executives based upon their denials of realizing significant profits from net short positions in the subprime mortgage market.  

Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but isn't there some biblical line about he who is without sin casting the first stone?  Which of those interrogating Senators didn't accept campaign contributions or lobbying funding from Wall Street?  Which of those paragons of virtue returned all the filthy lucre from these now contemptible lowlifes?

Apparently, not a single member of the House or the Senate or any regulator or any prosecutor had any idea, not even an inkling, that Wall Street was up to no good during all the years that lead up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Just like every attendee at Rodney's conference was there for serious work on behalf of the taxpayers.  Just like no one saw Barry Bonds blossom into a Transformer. 

Bet you didn't know that you voted for Mr. Magoo in the last election.

SIDE BAR: For an excellent take on this issue, read Halah Touryalai's article: Barry Bonds Faces Jail Time While Wall Street Execs Sit Pretty ("Working Capital," April 14, 2011)