Lobbying Firm Buys Senate Money Man’s Clout

Saxby Chambliss, Defense Contractors’ Friend


Saxby Chambliss was elected — if indeed he was elected — by running one of the more reprehensible campaigns in the modern era. At its core was the attack ad he ran against former Sen. Max Cleland (see February's Hacks & Flacks). Cleland, the Democratic incumbent and triple-amputee Vietnam War hero, had voted against a homeland security bill because it would have stripped collective bargaining rights from federal employees slated for service with the Department of Homeland Security. Chambliss seized the opportunity, manufactured it actually, by displaying Cleland’s photo in a political ad alongside pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Chamblis sought to persuade voters that Cleland’s vote against Bush’s Homeland Security bill proved he wasn’t sufficiently committed to keeping the country safe.  

Many of Chambliss’ Republican colleagues, among them senators John McCain and Chuck Hagel, condemned the ad. McCain called it “worse than disgraceful, it’s reprehensible.” Hagel threatened to run an ad denouncing Republicans if they didn’t pull it off the air. Eventually, the ad was pulled but by then it had done its work.

The Republican politicians who do the attacking are famous for never having volunteered for or allowed themselves to be drafted in the wars their party promotes. Saxby Chambliss fits the pattern. He had a “bad knee,” he said, but more important were his five student deferments during Vietnam. He didn’t hesitate to attack Cleland, a recipient of a Silver Star and Bronze Star, not to mention Purple Heart, with the soft-on-keeping-the-country-safe theme.

Secret ‘Software Patch’ Rigged Georgia Voting Machines for GOP

Despite the damage from the bin Laden-Saddam ads, many thought Cleland had won re-election anyway. The final polls leading up to the vote had put Cleland ahead by five points. Diebold touch-screen voting machines were being used across the state for the first time. Walden O’Dell, Diebold’s CEO, was a prominent Republican fundraiser. Before the Bush 2004 reelection campaign, in a fundraising invitation for Bush, he wrote, “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.’’ In fairness, when questioned about the statement he said he hadn’t meant he would do anything untoward with the machines. He was only talking about his personal efforts. Whatever the distinctions, Diebold was a Republican-oriented operation from its inception, and its voting machines have always been suspect. Independent researchers at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities had found the machines unreliable and subject to abuse.

In the 2002 Chambliss-Cleland election, the abuse went beyond mere potential. The voting tallies were stored on unprotected memory cards. In a videotaped interview following the election, a Diebold contractor, Chris Hood, said Diebold’s president at the time, Bob Urosevich, showed up at the storage site and instructed him to install an uncertified “software patch” on the machines used in predominantly Democratic counties, allegedly to fix a problem with the clocks. He was instructed not to tell the state’s election officials. Installing uncertified software and keeping it secret violated state law. Chambliss won a surprise victory by seven points.

Stephen Spoonamore, a cyber-security expert and lifelong Republican, also believes the 2002 Georgia Senate race was rigged. “If you look at the case of Saxby Chambliss, that’s ridiculous. The man was not elected. He lost that election by five points. Max Cleland won. They flipped the votes, clear as day.” Both the Hood and Spoonamore interviews can be seen here:

Saxby Chambliss had slithered into the Washington D.C. brothel known as the United States Senate and quickly showed his colleagues he had the right stuff. As the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Agriculture Committee’s chair, he spent a good deal of his time servicing defense contractors and agribusiness CEOs. They paid handsomely for his services. With an American Conservative Union grade of 100 percent and a League of Conservation Voters listing as one of the “Dirty Dozen” for his pro-industry votes on clean air and water legislation, Chambliss fulfilled the expectations engendered by his campaign against Cleland.

Lax Regulations Let Money Flow With Little Accounting, Oversight  

Where he really excelled, though, was financing his golf game with money donated to his leadership PAC, the Republican Majority Fund. Never heard of leadership PACs? Not many citizens know about them. This is where we find true political bipartisanship — enhancing the lifestyles of the guys and gals who make our laws.

Recall all the hoopla in 2007 when, following much-publicized political scandals, the House and Senate were especially desperate to shuck the Jack Abramoff scandal ? Chambliss quickly dumped his Abramoff money, donating it to a charity. They banned members from accepting gifts of any value from lobbyists or the companies that hire them. Well, actually, they never did that. The leadership PAC is the loophole. The vast majority of Senators and Congressmen — and even former members — have them.

Lobbyists pour hundreds of millions of dollars into these convenient entities. Theoretically, the leadership PACS were designed to enable strong fundraisers to raise money and distribute it to other party members who would use it in tight campaigns.

The grateful beneficiaries would support their donors for leadership positions. So lobbyists contribute large sums to their guy who earns the support of his colleagues to move up the political ladder and is in a stronger position to help the ultimate source of the money. Everybody wins. That’s ugly enough, especially when what the donor is a defense contractor who wants to keep spending billions of dollars of our money for an obsolete weapon system to “Keep America Safe.” This of course, is right in Saxby Chambliss’ wheelhouse.

But when it comes to so-called leadership PACs, where the money actually goes, nobody really knows. The accounting and recordkeeping rules are very loose and the enforcement is non-existent.  Besides, just about everything is legal anyway. That’s the point of a loophole.

Saxby Chambliss is an avid golfer. Or as they might put it in New York’s grittier precincts, he’s got a major golfing jones. How major? This champion of American security once skipped a closed-door Iraq war intelligence briefing in 2005 to golf with Tiger Woods. Not that his presence would have mattered one way or another, but one might think he’d at least want to keep up appearances.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2008, the last time he ran for office, lobbyists, corporate donors, and the rest of the skells (that’s cop slang for low-life; we can’t seem to resist the vernacular when thinking about what these insiders have done — what we’ve allowed them to do — to our democracy), contributed $692,618 to his leadership PAC. Defense contractors Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics kicked in $30,000 to the leadership PAC and $51,800 and $15,000 respectively to Chambliss’ campaign committee.

One of Chambliss’ golfing buddies is that old used-car salesman, John Boehner of Ohio. He had his own leadership PAC. Predictably, he named it The Freedom Project.

Chambliss spent at least a quarter of a million dollars playing golf at Pebble Beach, Boca Raton Resort, the famous Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, and dozens of other luxury resorts. A typical notation was the Ritz-Carlton Naples outing on Jan. 25, 2008: “PAC event/lodging/banquet/golf.” $50,394. Not too put too fine a point on it, this leadership PAC loophole is a straightforward, in-your-face scam. Here’s the cash, live it up large, and we’ll see you in D.C. to talk about whatever it is we want you to do for us.

Needless to say, Chambliss and the people on his payroll don’t see it the way normal people see it. His communications director, Bronwyn Lance-Chester, once told a reporter, “Leadership PACs are appropriate vehicles through which members support deserving candidates in their campaigns . . . . Different leadership PACs have different ways of raising funds. Every fundraising event Sen. Chambliss has held has been appropriately conducted, all expenses have been closely scrutinized and all reporting has been accurate.”

In other words, F*ck you and what are you going to do about it? Not very much, it seems.

Saxby Chambliss has made the transition to becoming a madam at the very large, very rich, and very sleazy K Street lobbying firm DLA Piper.

And here, without irony, is an excerpt from the announcement by Ignacio Sanchez, co-chair of the firm’s “International Trade, Regulatory and Government Affairs” practice: “Senator Chambliss arrives at a time when his experience in cybersecurity, national defense, and homeland security place him at the nexus of how government and business are addressing domestic and global threats.”

Experience in cybersecurity? Yes, indeed. But Chambliss prefers not to talk about his cybersecurity experience with Diebold during that Georgia election. National defense? Homeland security? The Max Cleland campaign would haunt an ordinary conscience into the grave. When asked about it these days, he defends it as truthful and accurate.

Parenthetically, once in office, Chambliss was one of the good old boys whom the permanent security state could count on to make a farce of congressional oversight. Anyone who has independently examined the process has come away with the same judgment: There is no meaningful oversight.

All water under the bridge, or as they say in the cynical world of corporate media, “yesterday’s news.” According to Roger Meltzer, global co-chair and co-chair (Americas) of DLA Piper, Chambliss is “deeply respected in Washington and abroad and has extensive relationships among government and corporate leaders.”

Chambliss has much to offer DLA Piper’s clients, among them some of the largest corporations, the likes of  Raytheon, Comcast, and Pfizer. But DLA Piper is best known for its many foreign government clients, some of them among the world’s worst dictatorships.

Saxby Chambliss, our Madam of the Month, has found a perfect home.

Written for Fedupnewyorkers.org

Much of the segment on leadership PACs is based on reporting by PROPUBLICA and ABC NEWS.

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