A few years ago, we wrote a series of pieces about Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WVa) who in 2006 became the target of ethics inquiries. The inquiries stemmed from the fact that between 2000 and 2004, Mollohan’s net assets increased from $562,000 to at least $6.3 million. During that same time, he steered $250 million in earmarks to nonprofit groups, some of whose leaders had business relationships with him. In some cases, the earmarks involved not just worthless projects, but projects that actually harmed his district.
Despite pending corruption inquiries by the Justice Department into Mollohan’s dealings, Speaker Pelosi permitted him to ascend to Chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that controls the Justice Department’s $65 billion budget when the Democrats assumed control of the House in 2007. Thus, Mollohan came to hold the purse strings for the agency charged with investigating whether he committed crimes. This created an obvious conflict of interest. As one congressional watchdog group explained: “There are a hundred ways [Mollohan] can influence what happens with the department’s funding without one vote; everything goes through his committee.”
The story died down in 2008 when the Justice Department, after a flurry of subpoenas, seemed to go quiet. Recently, however, it became clear that Justice is still investigating Mollohan. The Washington Post obtained a document showing that the Department has asked the House ethics committee not to move forward with its investigation into Mollohan. This is standard procedure when federal prosecutors are actively investigating a member of Congress. In this case, however, the request may not have been necessary; the ethics committee had done nothing to investigate Mollohan for three years.
In any event, we now know that Mollohan is still the subject of an active Justice Department criminal investigation. Yet the Democrats remain content to have him control Justice’s budget.
It’s difficult to imagine the Democrats losing control of the House in the 2010 elections, given the size of their current majority. But their high comfort level with the “culture of corruption,” voter repulsion to which was instrumental in giving the Dems their massive margin, provides some reason to hope that if the economy is still in trouble in the second half of next year, the electorate will clean house.
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