Beating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must be our No. 1 priority.
Reid is an old-time deal maker who's been accused of using his influence to line his own and his family's pockets. Like many of his colleagues, he has an ethical tin ear and will never admit that he's wrong.
As majority leader of the Senate, Reid has been President Obama's biggest cheerleader. It was Reid who single-handedly jammed Obama's costly liberal agenda through the Senate by introducing a bold new leadership tool — bribing members to get their votes.
During the initial healthcare debate, it was Reid who brokered a deal to get the crucial 60th vote: He promised Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska full federal funding for Medicaid expansion in his state — worth about $100 million — in exchange for his support.
And that was just part of it. Nelson also made another deal with Reid to help out insurance companies in Nebraska.
According to published reports, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska would save between $15 million and $20 million in new fees under the provision in the Senate bill that Nelson negotiated. And other Nebraska insurers would be excluded from taxes on supplemental Medigap insurance sold to the elderly.
Those of us in the other 49 states, including his home state of Nevada, didn't approve of his buying votes that we'd have to pay for. But Reid isn't worrying about people like us.
He's spent his entire career worrying about the casino/gaming industry that dominates Nevada, and about the trial lawyers, banks, telecommunications companies, and lobbyists who pay for his campaigns. They're his constituents.
Reid won't go away quietly. He's announced that he'll raise $25 million for the race, if he needs to — and the special interests will be glad to help him out. They need him there.
At the beginning of 2010, Reid had already raked in over $15 million. But money may not be enough. After spending $22,000 a day from October through December (for a total of almost $2 million), Reed hasn't made any significant inroads in the polls.
The people of Nevada, it turns out, just aren't wild about Harry.
Raising money won't be hard for Reid. He's always had the financial support of the casinos, personal injury lawyers, banks, telecommunications, lobbyists, and mines. They're his people and they'll come through for him. Just like he comes through for them.
Here are the top industries that have contributed to Reid's campaign and PAC in the 2010 election cycle:
- Lawyers/Law Firms = $1,851,425
- Casinos/Gambling = $917,913
- Lobbyists = $727,087
- Securities & Investment = $669,910
- Real Estate = $669,311
- Health Professionals = $554,800
(Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Opensecrets.org )
It's interesting to note that Reid has received almost $1 million of the $4,447,000 that the casino/gaming industry has already shelled out in this election cycle. For good reason: Reid has been the industry's mouthpiece in fighting online gambling — a serious threat to Las Vegas. He's their boy. And, so far, he's kept the Internet folks at bay.
But it's not just the Las Vegas gambling interests that Reid has helped out. He's been available to help other casinos, too.
In fact, when the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal broke, lobbying firm records revealed that Reid had intervened with the Department of Interior on behalf of several tribes who were Abramoff clients.
Abramoff and his lobbying firm, Greenburg/Taurig, were at the core of a landmark lobbying investigation into the more than $80 million that Indian tribes paid to him and affiliated groups.
Prosecutors were especially interested in the contributions of over $4 million that were made available to friendly congressmen. In 2006, Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion, and corrupt practices arising from his lobbying and campaign activities.
According to John Solomon of The Associated Press, Reid sent a letter urging then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton to reject a casino project opposed by two Abramoff clients, the Louisiana Coushatta and Mississippi Choctaw tribes.
These tribes, of course, had nothing to do with Nevada. But Reid was only too happy to help them.
Why would a Nevada senator go to bat for tribal gambling interests in Louisiana and Mississippi?
Well, Reid was probably happy when, the very day after he sent his letter, his PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, received a $5,000 donation from the Coushatta tribe — at Abramoff's direction.
But, of course, that was just a coincidence.
Reid was probably also happy about the additional contributions he received from Abramoff clients. Between 2001 and 2004, $68,000 in Abramoff-related donations went to Reid.
But, again, we're sure that money was totally unrelated to his work for the tribes.
Reid actively helped Abramoff's tribal clients on a number of occasions. According to Solomon, Reid sent four letters to officials in the Bush administration on their behalf and argued for their position once on the Senate floor, successfully opposing a fellow Democrat's bill. "Reid collected donations around the time of each action," Solomon reported.
Again, the timing? Just a coincidence.
There was frequent phone contact and meetings between Abramoff's firm and Reid's office. At one point, one of Reid's top aides quit the Senate office to go to work for Abramoff's firm as a lobbyist, where he quickly organized a fundraiser for Reid.
After the Abramoff scandal, Reid actually called for ethical reforms to control the influence of lobbyists, including closing the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period during which lawmakers, senior congressional staff, and executive branch officials are prohibited from lobbying their former offices.
Did that, by any chance, include his own staff?
But Reid went even further: He criticized Republicans who accepted contributions from Abramoff, while, at the same time, refusing to refund the very same Abramoff-related contributions he himself had received.
Because, you see, those were different.
Reid claims that none of this was any problem since he'd never met Abramoff himself. But how did Reid know to write the letters and speak up on the floor? How did he know to show up at the lobbyists' fundraisers to benefit him?
Just another coincidence.
All in the Family: Reid's Sons Represented Special Interests
Until several years ago, the Reid family were the folks to go to if you needed something in Nevada from the federal government. Reid's sons, who are lobbyists, could often be found in Harry Reid's Senate office, blurring the line between family and business.
But that all got a little uncomfortable after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times exposed the pervasive role of Reid's three sons and one son-in-law in representing special interests in Washington and Nevada.
After the article, Reid finally blocked the sons from working from his office or lobbying his staff. And while his sons went back to work on various projects in Nevada, Steven Barringer, Reid's son-in-law, stayed.
He's still an active lobbyist at the D.C. firm of Holland & Hart, where he has been a rainmaker for the firm: The year before he joined, Holland & Hart made only $100,000 in lobbying fees. Since he arrived in 2006, it has averaged about $2 million in lobbying fees.
It helps to be related to the majority leader of the Senate, doesn't it?
Harry Reid is in a class by himself. One of his sons and his son-in-law lobby in Washington for companies, trade groups, and municipalities seeking Reid's help in the Senate.
A second son has lobbied in Nevada for some of those same interests, and a third has represented a couple of them as a litigator.
In the last four years alone, their firms have collected more than $2 million in lobbying fees from special interests that were represented by the kids and helped by the senator in Washington.
So pervasive are the ties among Reid, members of his family and Nevada's leading industries and institutions that it's difficult to find a significant field in which such a relationship does not exist.
During that time, Reid was vice chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. He apparently asked for an opinion on whether his sons could work as lobbyist and was told that there was no problem.
Talk about the goats guarding the garbage!
Since then, Senate rules have prohibited lobbying of a member by a spouse or immediate family member.
Here are some of the significant findings from the Los Angeles Times story:
- Mining companies paid $200,000 in lobbying fees to the law firm where Barringer worked from 1999 to 2000.
- When Barringer moved to another firm, Lionel Sawyer & Collins, in 2001, the mining interests followed him: The National Mining Association and other mining companies active in Nevada paid the new firm $780,000 and Barringer was their registered lobbyist on the mining accounts. "Doug Hock, a spokesman for Newmont Mining Corp., said the company used Barringer 'based on his expertise in mining and environmental law' and not because of his family ties." From 2001-2002, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins contributed $150,000 to Reid's PAC.
- "In 2003, Reid's four sons, Rory, 40, Leif, 35, Josh, 31, and Key, 28, work[ed] for Nevada's largest law firm, Lionel Sawyer & Collins. Rory Reid was a partner in the firm and was a Nevada lobbyist before his election to the Clark County Board of Commissioners in November 2003. (Rory Reid is now a candidate for governor of Nevada. Leif Reid is a litigator who has represented mining and resort industry associations in Nevada.)" Rory Reid is still listed on the Lionel Sawyer & Collins Web site as a shareholder and attorney with a practice specializing in "gaming."
- Key Reid was hired by the firm in 2002 to help open its Washington office.
- "The mining firm Placer Dome Inc. paid the Lionel Sawyer law firm $5,000 a month in 2001 to be its 'eyes and ears' in Nevada and sought out Rory Reid's services."
- The American Gaming Association followed Barringer from firm to firm and paid Lionel Sawyer over $180,000 from 2001-2003.
- Barringer was hired by a helicopter-tour company fighting new federal flight restrictions near the Grand Canyon. Reid helped out on the matter.
- "A chemical company seeking federal money to clean up radioactive waste and a hydrogen-fuel maker looking for a federal contract also got help from [Harry] Reid. Both hired son Rory to lobby on unrelated issues in Nevada."
- The Howard Hughes Corp. paid $300,000 to Barringer's newly formed consulting firm "to push a provision allowing the company to acquire 998 acres of federal land ripe for development in the exploding Las Vegas metropolitan area." Reid pushed the bill.
- "Other provisions of the same bill were intended to benefit a real estate development headed by a senior partner in Lionel Sawyer & Collins — the Nevada law firm that employed all four of Reid's sons — by moving the right-of-way for a federal power-transmission line off his property and onto what had been protected federal wilderness."
- "Reid never told his senate colleagues or the public that the provisions he authored, some of which were technically and not apparently beneficial to anyone, were, in fact, introduced on behalf of clients who paid his sons and son-in-law over $2 million."
- "The governments of three of Nevada's biggest cities, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson, also gained from the legislation, which freed up tens of thousands of acres of federal land for development and annexation. All three were represented by Reid's family members who contacted his staff on their clients' behalf."
It must be very helpful to have the ear of the majority leader especially one who's shown just how willing he is to go out of his way to help his family.
Harry Reid has adamantly insisted that there was nothing wrong with his family members lobbying him and others on behalf of Nevada businesses.
According to Reid, the fact that lobbyists have to file reports means that everything is transparent — that there's no issue.
What's not transparent is what motivates the introduction of certain amendments, like the ones Reid sponsored to secretly help out his sons and benefactors.
What's not transparent are any conversations Reid had with his sons about helping their clients.
What's not transparent is the kind of information a majority leader might give his lobbyist son-in-law.
What is transparent is that Reid needs to go.
Reid's Special Earmark: A Bridge to His Own Land
In 2005, Reid sponsored an earmark to the 2006 transportation bill that provided $18 million in federal funds to build a bridge over the Colorado River connecting Laughlin, Nevada, with Bullhead City, Ariz.
Laughlin is a casino town, but most of its workers live across the river in Bullhead. Also located in Bullhead, just a few miles from the bridge site, is a 160-acre parcel of land . . . owned by Sen. Harry Reid.
So did Reid sponsor an amendment that would increase the value of his own land?
Looks like the answer is yes.
In 2006, some local officials predicted that the construction of the new bridge would "undoubtedly hike land values in an already-booming commuter town, where speculators are snapping up undeveloped land for housing developments and other projects."
Of course, Rebecca Kirszner, Reid's communications director, insisted that "Sen. Reid's support for the bridge had absolutely nothing to do with property he owns."
Construction on the bridge is expected to begin in 2010 and continue until 2013. Meanwhile, building continues in the town and a new "world-class" resort is planned.
Reid bought the property more than 20 years ago, paying $150,000 for 100 acres; his friend Clair Haycock, the owner of Haycock Petroleum in Las Vegas, bought an additional 60 acres for $90,000.
At one point in the 1990s, Reid and his partner sold the land for $1.3 million, but the buyer defaulted on the note and the land was returned to the partners.
Haycock sold his interest to Reid for $10,000 in 2002, even though the property was assessed at more than $2,000 an acre.
Presumably, if Hancock needed to sell, he needed the cash. But even if he didn't, why would he settle for less than 10 percent of his land's assessed value?
Meanwhile, property prices there began to jump after the bridge proposal. According to the Los Angeles Times, one California businessman bought property near the Reid property in 2006, "paying $240,000 for 37.52 acres, an average of $6,396 an acre."
Yet, strangely enough, Sen. Reid has indicated a decrease, not an increase, in the value of the property.
From 2001 to 2005, Reid disclosed that the property was worth $500,000 to $1 million. Then, in 2006, after the earmark for the bridge went into effect, he indicated that the entire 160-acre property was worth only $150,000.
That same year, another nearby purchaser paid over $6,000 an acre. In 2007 and 2008, Reid valued the asset at $250,000 to $500,000.
Is Reid's property the only one in town that's decreasing in value?
And was the property a gift from his oil company pal?
Free Tickets to Professional Boxing Matches
Harry had yet another ethical problem: He accepted free tickets to three professional boxing matches from the Nevada State Athletic Commission while they were trying to persuade him not to pass legislation that would create a federal boxing commission.
Senate rules explicitly prohibit the acceptance of any gift that might even appear to be an attempt to influence any official action by a senator. But that didn't bother Sen. Reid.
He took the free tickets anyway.
He claimed it would help him do his job and that he wouldn't be influenced.
Sure, Harry. We'll take your word for it.
Two other senators, who don't share Reid's ethical tin ears, didn't agree: Sen. John McCain joined Reid at a championship match, but paid $1,400 for the tickets.
At another match, Nevada's other senator attended, but recused himself from any votes on the boxing matter.
Only Reid took the valuable free tickets. And only Reid saw no problem with it.
Reid's Land Grab
In 2004, Reid received a windfall profit of $1.1 million from the sale of Nevada property he hadn't personally owned for at least three years before the sale.
Reid and his wife bought the property for $400,000 in 1998, but they sold it in 2001 for the same price.
When he submitted his financial disclosure form to the Senate for that year, he failed to divulge the transfer of the property to a limited liability company he owned with a friend, Jay Brown, a former casino lawyer "whose name [has] surfaced in a major political bribery trial . . . and in organized crime investigations," according to USA Today.
In 2004, after a change in zoning, Brown sold the land and Reid made $1.1 million.
After John Solomon reported the 2001 transaction, Reid suddenly amended his 2001 disclosure form to reflect the sale.
Although Reid claimed he was a part owner of the limited liability corporation, public records don't list him as a shareholder.
Must have been another clerical error.
It's nice to triple your money on an investment. So why didn't Reid disclose it?
Brown's association with Reid doesn't end there: Brown is a longtime contributor to Reid, contributing $9,800 to his campaign and $20,000 to his PAC, the Reid Victory Fund, in 2009. Brown was also a law partner with Reid's son-in-law, Steven Barringer: His firm was formerly known as Singer, Brown, and Barringer.
Harry Reid, your Nevada home is calling you back.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann