October 13, 2006

HARRY REID GETS ATTENTION: The Philadelphia Inquirer editorializes:

After the land was rezoned for a shopping center, the corporation sold it in 2004. Reid received $1.1 million in the sale, turning a neat profit of nearly $700,000 in six years.

While now insisting he did nothing wrong, Reid is also offering to make a “technical change” to his earlier ethics reports if the ethics committee so desires. Simply giving the Democratic leader a mulligan is hardly the way to handle this case. When the Senate debated ethics reforms earlier this year, Reid was out in front to demand the toughest of standards from lawmakers.

“Americans have been shocked and even disgusted by revelations of corruption in our current system by Republican lobbyists, senior Bush Administration officials, members of Congress, and former congressional staff,” Reid said in March. “The scandals have shown that some outsiders and insiders believed they could act with impunity.”

That’s how this case looks, too. Unless Reid comes up with a better explanation for this lack of disclosure, Democrats should not keep him as their leader in the new Congress in 2007.

Ouch. And the Washington Post writes:

THE BEST CASE for Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is that he was sloppy about financial disclosure rules in accounting for a real estate deal on which he made a $700,000 profit. The more unattractive case is that the senator’s inaccurate description of the investment was an effort to disguise his partnership with a Las Vegas lawyer who’s never been charged with wrongdoing but whose name has surfaced in federal investigations involving organized crime, casinos and political bribery since the 1980s. As of now, the evidence points toward sloppiness; Mr. Reid’s friendship with Jay Brown isn’t exactly a secret in the state. But either way, an Associated Press report about Mr. Reid’s dealings doesn’t cast the senator in an attractive light. Neither does his response to the AP story, which indicates a casual disregard for the importance of accurate reporting of lawmakers’ financial affairs. . . .

Mr. Reid’s professions of transparency and full disclosure are transparently wrong. His investment was not reported in a manner that made clear his partnership with Mr. Brown. It’s true — under the inadequate financial disclosure rules — that even if Mr. Reid had listed the newly formed corporation, Patrick Lane LLC, that wouldn’t have by itself demonstrated Mr. Brown’s involvement. Nonetheless, that Mr. Reid no longer owned the land, but instead had sold it for an interest in the Patrick Lane corporation, was not some mere “technical change,” as the senator would like to brush it off. It’s an essential element of financial disclosure rules, the purpose of which is to know how and with whom public officials are financially entwined.

We need more transparency. As the Inquirer notes, Reid himself was saying that not long ago.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey has more on this story, here and here.

So does A.J. Strata. More transparency, please.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Oklahoman comments:

Democrats in Congress wasted no time calling for House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. They regularly rail against profits reported by Big Oil. Now that Reid has been caught with a hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, will they issue similar requests for his resignation and blistering criticism for Reid’s “obscene” profits?

Don’t bet on it.

There are differences, of course. The Foley scandal involves allegations of sexual harassment, not making money the old-fashioned (if unethical) way. And we have no problem with anyone making money on a real estate transaction.

Still, you can bet that if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., violated ethics rules and made a killing on a land deal, his Democratic colleagues would be howling for his ouster.

Yep.

MORE: This is clearly true:

Land deals are the meat-and-potatoes of government corruption, sometimes illegal, sometimes merely smelly. Behind every crooked politician, there’s a crooked land deal. My first big story was the existential essence of the land deal: a couple of the local pols used insider advance knowledge to buy up land around a proposed freeway interchange for resale under the name of a dummy company.

The goverment builds on, buys, sells, or rezones land. Said land increases in value. Pols, friends, relatives invariably exploit the change. Harry’s part of a grand bipartisan tradition. If more reporters were covering this stuff at City Hall, there would be many fewer bad guys of either party in Congress.

Unfortunately, too many reporters think this kind of thing is boring. Maybe local political bloggers will pick up the slack.

STILL MORE: SobekPundit writes:

A very simple search on the Nevada Secretary of State web page shows that Jay Brown is the manager of Patrick Lane, LLC. So anyone who knew that Reid was involved in Patrick Lane, with the click of a few buttons, could have immediately determined that Reid was also involved with Brown — but of course Reid did not disclose his interest.

Seems like there’s a better way than this.

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