Naughty Judd Gregg made money off earmarks

Thanks to New Hampshire blogger Dean Barker I learned something new today about Senator Judd Gregg.  

According to the Associated Press,

President Barack Obama’s former nominee to become commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg, steered taxpayer money to his home state’s redevelopment of a former Air Force base even as he and his brother engaged in real estate deals there, an Associated Press investigation found.

Gregg, R-N.H., personally has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg’s office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.

Sadly, this isn’t unprecedented or even the most egregious example of members of Congress profiting from earmarks. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert sold real estate for nearly $2 million in profits after he secured federal earmarks to construct the Prairie Parkway near land he owned.

What looks corrupt in politics turns out to be legal more often than not, and that seems to be the case here. The AP says Senate ethics rules do not permit senators to direct earmarks to projects “solely” in order to benefit themselves or their family members financially, but of course Gregg could point to all kinds of benefits from redeveloping the former base.

“I am absolutely sure that in every way I’ve complied with the ethics rules of the Senate both literally and in their spirit relative to any investment that I’ve made anywhere,” Gregg told the AP. “These earmarks do not benefit me in any way, shape, manner financially, personally or in any other manner other than the fact that I’m a citizen of New Hampshire.”

Still, one wonders whether this story prompted Gregg to withdraw his nomination for Commerce Secretary. Whatever his reasons, we’re better off without him.

Members of Congress should stick to the usual form of legalized corruption and only seek earmarks that would personally profit their large campaign contributors.

No one raises ethical concerns about that behavior. As a bonus, donors who stand to gain from the earmarks may go the extra mile during the incumbent’s next tough campaign.

Gregg to be nominated tomorrow

According to The Politico President Obama will nominate Judd Gregg to be his Sectary of Commerce tomorrow. Gregg will almost assuredly be confirmed easily and quickly as he’s well liked by Republicans and Democrats alike.

This now opens up his Senate seat. New Hampshire’s Democratic Governor John Lynch has all but pledged to appoint a Republican to the seat and Gregg said he only would have accepted with that condition. The most commonly mentioned liberal Republican placeholder is Bonnie Newman who served as chief of staff to Gregg but also endorsed Lynch in 2004.

This almost certainly assures that Gregg will at least vote for cloture on the stimulus which makes it likely that it will pass. In addition Newman is likely to be close politically to moderate Republicans like Snowe during her two years.

Also, after two years she is likely to retire rather then run for re-election. This will make the Democratic candidate (likely progressive Rep. Paul Hodes or Rep. Carol Shea-Porter) the odds on favorite. Likely Republican candidates include former Senator John Sununu and other even weaker candidates.

So in short, this moves the Senate slightly leftward for the next two years and will add a very progressive Senator after that. In return Gregg will get to be a member of the cabinet where he can’t do a whole lot of damage and will be useful selling stuff to Senate Republicans.