Friday, May 26, 2006

Former Jefferson Aide Sentenced to Eight Years for Bribery

As Matthew Barakat reports for the Associated Press, Brett Pfeffer, a former aide to embattled Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson, was sentenced to eight years in prison today for his role in a bribery scheme involving telecommunications contracts in Africa.

The fairly stiff sentence paints a dark picture for Mr. Jefferson, who stands accused of demanding bribes in return for using his office to help out a tech venture in Africa.

Pfeffer and Vernon Jackson, the CEO of a tech company called iGate, have pleaded guilty this year to bribing Jefferson. Both Pfeffer and Jackson allege that Jefferson demanded an ownership stake in a tech venture in Africa in return for helping the venture get a loan from the Import-Export Bank and nail down contracts in Africa.

An FBI affidavit in support of a warrant for a search conducted of Jefferson's congressional office over last weekend states that the FBI has Jefferson on tape receiving a suitcase filled with $100,000 in $100 bills from the owner of the investment company Pfeffer worked for. $90,000 of the money was later found in a freezer in Jefferson's Louisiana home.

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California Dems Prove the Fattest Cats of 2006

So far. As Dan Morain reports in the Los Angeles Times, with California's June 6 primary just around the corner, the cash is flying fast and furious into candidate accounts, independent expenditure committees, and ballot measure campaigns.

The two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, state controller Steve Westly and state treasurer Phil Angelides, have spent nearly $60 million between the two of them to date. Just as interesting as how they spend their money is where they get it.

Westly is far and away the fattest of the two cats, with $34.5 million in contributions to his own electoral effort to date, $2 million of which he ponied up yesterday. It's difficult to imagine how attuned to the needs of regular Californians a guy can be when he can write himself even one $2 million check, much less 17 of 'em.

If Westly wins the primary and continues to fund his own campaign, he will likely join the elite ranks of candidates who have spent upwards of $50 million of their own fortune trying to buy public office. This includes NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg (around $70 million in 2001 and 2005) and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (both U.S. 2002 Senate race and 2005 gubernatorial race).

Far behind Westly, but still completely removed from the realm of your average Golden Stater, Angelides kicked in $1.5 million to his campaign this week. Angelides contributed another $1 million to his campaign in January 2006, when he forgave a 2002 $1 million loan (page 4) he had made to Friends of Phil Angelides, one of four different committees he currently controls. (The other three are Angelides 2006, Standing Up for California, and Yes on 82, Standing Up for Our Kids.)

Friends of Phil Angelides gave $8.4 million to Angelides 2006 in May-June 2003 (page 172). As a way of background, in 2002, California had adopted Prop 34, which put into place limits on campaign contributions, where as before there were none. By contributing money from his pre-34 committee (Friends of Phil Angelides) to his post-34 committee (Angelides 2006), Angelides was able to use the unlimited contributions which he had raised from friends like developer Angelo Tsakapolous prior to the change in the law.

So when Angelides forgave the $1 million this year, he in essence contributed another $1 million to his gubernatorial effort, bringing his total contributions to $2.5 million. Painful to walk through, but true nonetheless. Add in the $100,000 from River West Investments, Angelides' development company, and the total creeps up further.

In addition to the more than $600,000 Mr. Tsakapolous contributed to Phil's pre-34 committee (much of which ended up in his current gubernatorial account), he and his family have helped Angelides' gubernatorial bid with more than $200,000 in contributions to Angelides 2006 and a much ballyhooed $8.7 million in contributions to an independent expenditure committee supporting Angelides. As Tom Chorneau and John Wildermuth report in the San Francisco Chronicle, $2 million of that money came just this week.

In addition to Westly, Angelides, and Tsakapolous, another famous California Dem is throwing his considerable financial weight around, this time towards a ballot measure. Rob Reiner, actor/director and until recently, head of the California First 5 Commission, has contributed some $5.5 million to the Yes on Prop 82 committee along with his wife and father.

Prop 82 is Reiner's baby, hatched while he was still serving on the First 5 Commission. That Commission spent $23 million on "Preschool for All" ads while Reiner's folks were collecting signatures to put Prop 82, the "Preschool for All" initiative, on the ballot. The $23 million ad campaign appears to have violated California's prohibition on spending taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes, leading to much furor and eventually causing Reiner to resign from the Commission.

Reiner has stayed low since his apparently illegal activity was brought to light, but Prop 82's eroding approval ratings prompted him to sink another $1.65 million into the campaign this week, as reported by Peter Hecht in the Sacramento Bee. Reiner's heart might be in the right place, but his approach to democracy is outright hubris: he thinks if he's got a good idea, he should be able to purchase its implementation.

So, mammon is funding the hubris which these men must possess to believe that they are entitled to greater say and political opportunity than the rest of us. Westly and Angelides have both announced their support for public financing of elections, which helps level the playing field so that candidates like themselves don't have the enormously unfair advantages they themselves currently possess.

But, the proof will be in the pudding. While the legislative version of publicly financed elections (AB 583) appears close to demise, the California Nurses Association have likely put on the November ballot a measure which would implement a program of public financing for elections, in addition to lowering the contribution limits for privately financed candidates, placing limits on contributions to independent expenditure committees, and placing an aggregate cap on all contributions a person can make to candidates, parties, and committees in a given cycle.

If Angelides and Westly are serious about their support for true democratic reform, they will not hesitate to chip in some of their millions towards the nurses' initiative. If they do not do so, Californians will have a much clearer picture of what these men truly stand for. From where I sit, as of now, it appears to be themselves.

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