Monday, May 15, 2006

HOW MOLLOHAN FUNNELED federal largesse to his district --

Starting in the 1990s, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) chose an unusual way to funnel federal funds into his poverty-ridden district. He set up a network of nonprofit organizations to administer the millions of dollars he directed to such public endeavors as high-tech research and historic preservation.

Over the same period, Mollohan's personal fortunes soared. From 2000 to 2004, his assets grew from no more than $565,000 to at least $6.3 million. The partners in his rapidly expanding real estate empire included the head of one of these nonprofit groups and the owner of a local company for which he arranged substantial federal aid.

Mollohan used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to secure more than $150 million for five nonprofit groups. One of the groups is headed by a former aide with whom Mollohan bought $2 million worth of property on Bald Head Island, N.C.

Controversy over this blending of commerce and legislation has triggered a federal probe, cost Mollohan his position on the House ethics committee and undermined the Democrats' effort to portray the GOP as the party of corruption because of the Jack Abramoff scandal. As early as today, the 12-term congressman will admit that he misstated some transactions in his congressional filings, according to Mollohan staffers.
Of course, the difficulty here is separating pork barrel spending from classic corruption -- which is an increasing part of the problem. The presumably proper quid pro quo with voters seems to be "vote for me and I'll bring home the bacon." How is that different from the presumably improper quid pro quo with contributors "finance me and I'll bring home the bacon"? It seems to me the only difference here is where "home" really is.

If one is unethical (and probably illegal), shouldn't the other one be viewed the same way? In addition to criminal investigations and procesuctions, maybe we also need a new bargain with our politicians that clarifies the distinction between good government and corruption.

UPDATE -- See another example here. And another here.