Y’all remember my good friend Sen. David Vitter, he of the errant penis. You remember the Louisiana senator who described himself as “a conservative who opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history.” And you’ll remember that “his phone number was among those on a list of client numbers kept by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam, who is accused of running a prostitution ring in Washington,” sayeth The New York Times.
But what you may not remember is I twice encouraged S&R readers (here and here) to forget Vitter’s penis and follow his money. As I wrote two years ago, “Sen. Vitter’s ‘serious sin’ has nothing to do with sex. It’s the sin far too many senators and members of Congress seem to commit with corporate abandon: ‘Give me money to get elected and I’ll make sure you go to the head of the line for federal cash.'”
Vitter is a fixer. He gets campaign contributions, particularly from Louisiana construction and defense contractors, and, lo and behold, those donors get money from the feds.
Now he’s back in the hot water, this time over donations from … a dry cleaning firm?
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., (known as CREW) and a retired United Parcel Service worker have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the U.S. Dry Cleaning Corporation, Vitter and his campaign committee. According to a Times-Picayune story by Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove, the complaint charges that
the California-based dry cleaning firm reimbursed four of its employees and their spouses for $38,400 in illegal campaign contributions to Vitter’s re-election campaign. The CREW complaint notes that one of the four employees, Jamal Ogbe, told The Times-Picayune that the corporation had reimbursed him for his $4,800 contribution to Vitter’s campaign.
Campaign finance law prohibits corporations from making contributions to federal candidates and bars contributors from being reimbursed for their political donations. [emphasis added]
Vitter’s office said that neither the senator or staff members had made any requests from the company.
Well, gee. Did Vitter actually have to say: “Hey. Give me a donation. I’ll get you federal money”?
No. His record of doing so speaks for him. A few examples from my earlier post of 2007:
In the years that Sen. Vitter has served in Congress (including his House terms), the federal government has awarded $18.6 billion in contracts to Louisiana — of which $10.1 billion went to District 1, his home seat (now held by Rep. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal).
Defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which says it currently employs more than 17,000 shipbuilding professionals, primarily in Louisiana and Mississippi, has received $4.3 billion in federal contracts during Sen. Vitter’s time in Congress. Over that time, Northrop has given Sen. Vitter $38,050 in campaign contributions.
McDermott International, an engineering and construction company with facilities in Morgan City and New Orleans, received $354 million in federal contracts. It gave Sen. Vitter $35,250 in campaign contributions.
Edison Chouest Offshore, an offshore vessel service company founded in Galliano, La., received about $66.6 million in federal contracts during Sen. Vitter’s service in Congress. The company is the largest campaign contributor to Sen. Vitter at $84,526.
So what’s he done in the three years since? Well …
From 1998 to now, Vitter has raised, through his campaign committees and his leadership PAC, more than $20.1 million, more than $10 million of that since 2005. (Interesting note: He’s only spent half that — he’s got $5 million in cash on hand.)
Among his biggest contributors over his decade in office (not including the ubiquitous big law firms) are Louisiana companies such as Edison Chouest Offshore (more than $111,000), construction company Boh Bros. ($54,000), survey firm C&C Technologies (almost $53,000), BellSouth Corp. (more than $52,000), Bollinger Shipyards (more than $51,000), Chevron Corp. (more than $49,000).
In fiscal 2007, federal spending in Louisiana hit $4.5 billion. In fiscal 2008, the federal government awarded $6.1 billion in contracts to Louisiana firms — and more than $4 billion of that dropped right in one of Vitter’s principal spheres of influence, District 2, which comprises almost the entire city of New Orleans (and many corporate headquarters of construction and defense contractors). In fiscal 2009, the feds spent $1.1 billion in Louisiana.
Here’s an example: According to fedspending.org, Bollinger Shipyards has received more than $274 million in federal contracts from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2008.
And another: Over the same time Vitter’s been in office, Edison Chouest Offshore has received more than $177 million in federal contracts.
And another: Since fiscal 2000, Boh Bros. Construction Co. Inc. has received about $325 million in federal contracts.
Vitter’s not shy about being hypocritical over earmarks, either, all the while proclaiming himself a social and fiscal conservative (see his “report card“).
In fiscal 2008, according to databases kept by Taxpayers for Common Sense, he asked for $233 million in earmarks. In 2009, ThinkProgess noted, he railed against the $410 billion omnibus spending bill. Too much spending, too many earmarks, he opined in denouncing it. Yet that bill contained his $249 million in earmarks for 142 projects.
In fiscal 2010, he’s backed off, only requesting $100 million in earmarks. But that three fiscal year total of well more than a half billion dollars in earmarks places him in the top 25 percent of senators requesting earmarks.
It’s good to know that CREW keeps on eye on Vitter. In 2007 the non-profit, non-partisan organization gave Vitter a “dishonorable mention” in its annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress.
Like many, if not most, members of Congress, Vitter is a hypocrite. His actions do not match his words. Now, admittedly, voters in Louisiana may revere him, wanting and needing the pork he brings home to the Bayou. But taxpayers in 49 other states are paying for it. (Yes, folks in those states get their pork, too. But Vitter’s turned pork into Pork Inc.)
For Vitter’s office to declare solemnly that it had no “quid pro quo” contact with the corporate chiefs of a California corporation that owns a chain of dry-cleaning enterprises is probably, on the face of the claim, true.
But in every political way, it is a lie. Vitter’s facade as an honest politician is only that — a shameless facade.