Friday, July 28, 2006

Republican ethics -- is this becoming an oxymoron? -- In Virginia's wide-ranging 11th district, Democrat Andrew Hurst is mounting a strong challenge to the Republican incumbent, Rep. Tom Davis. The Washington Post ran a front-page story today on Davis' contacts with a friend, Donald Upson, who established a government contracts consulting company just before Davis became chairman of the powerful House Government Reform Committee. This is thick with irony, given Davis' committee post.

The article charges that Davis and his office have worked to provide close access that has personally benefited Upson's business and the congressman's family. "From the beginning, Upson worked with Davis and his staff as he built his consulting business, which holds seminars on procurement and advises clients on winning government technology contracts worth billions of dollars. Those contracts often came under the oversight of Davis's committee."

According to the Post, one of Upson's first hires was a woman who later married Rep. Davis. Satisfied clients of the company, ICG, "say the firm has provided them with access to the congressman and his staff." The Post article also reports that "the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct told the congressman that his wife can work for the consulting firm as long as the couple does not personally benefit from any official acts by the congressman. The committee told them to take care to 'avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain.'"

Personal benefits? The Post article details a stunningly close working relationship between Upson's company and Davis' office, including letters from Davis on committee letterhead, sent to Pentagon contracting officers, on behalf of the company's clientele. How did Davis' family benefit? His wife is paid $78,000 for 10-20 hours of work a week, work that apparently involves calls from home. Clearly, this is an enviably cushy arrangement, neatly supplementing the $18,000 she earns from her other job as a Virginia state legislator.

How will this play out in the election campaign? From the outset of his campaign, Andy Hurst has made government ethics and campaign finance reform the centerpieces of his message. Since he attended Georgetown Law, where this blogger first met him, Andy Hurst has become a highly-regarded attorney, specializing in health-care law, working for the DC area branch of one of the top international law firms. Surprisingly enough, with that background, Hurst is advocating a notably progressive agenda. But, above all, having worked on the inside, Hurst says the most needed reform is to create a more ethical framework for our politicians. So long as money (campaign contributions, especially) continues to drive policy, other, much-needed reforms of government of policies cannot and will not be achieved.

The hot water that Davis' has landed in seems almost like manna from heaven for Hurst's upstart campaign. Certainly, it illustrates the point that Hurst has been trying to drive home, hammering away at the ethical failings of the current Congress. When Tom Delay's name was in the papers every day, there was little doubt that Hurst was carrying a powerful message, which resonated with voters.

Davis can be thankful, at least, for the timing of the scandal. Traditionally, it is assumed that voters aren't paying attention during the summer months. Should this revelation lead to an indictment nearer to the election, however, Hurst will seem like a prophet. If the campaign website is any indication, Hurst will continue to emphasize his campaign's central theme, the need to reform politics as we know it. "This is exactly the type of thing that got me involved in this race. Congress is corrupt and we need real reform to change it." Andrew Hurst, at

Davis' greatest selling point has been his position of seniority, which supposedly provides him the influence necessary to successfully support locally-based government contractors. Now, it turns out that the ones who may be reaping the biggest benefits from Davis' power and influence are Davis' wife and Davis' best friend.

In truth, Davis' singular achievement, besides the graft reported on by the Post, was to convince the rest of the Government Affairs Committee to hold hearings on steroid use in baseball. Remember that circus? We watched Sammy Sosa's attorney declare that he had never used steroids -- it just wasn't clear whether the lawyer was speaking for himself or Sluggin’ Sammy!!

On Thursday, The Washington Post had reported that Rep. Davis wrote a letter to Virginia's Gov. Tim Keane, weighing in on the question of building an underground tunnel through the Tyson's Corner area for an extension of the Metro to Dulles Airport. According to the Post, Davis acknowledged that the tunnel would be preferable to aboveground stations. Supporters of building the stations underground note that these would be much more useful and appealing to would-be Metro riders. Additionally, during construction, there would be much less disruption to traffic flow. Not to mention that below-ground stations would mean tremendously valuable development immediately above.

Even though the merits of the proposal are undeniable, Davis warned Keane not to endorse the tunnel proposal because it likely would involve additional delay and jeopardize $900 million in federal funding. Of course, anyone who has ever battled traffic in Tyson's knows how desperately mass transit is needed there. On the other hand, the project has waited this long (the Metro turns 30 years old this year). What's a little longer, if it means doing it right?

What about the risk to the promised federal funding? I thought Davis had all this power and influence. What good is his position, if he can't deliver on the most important project his district has ever considered? Are the voters in Northern Virginia, in the 11th District, paying attention?

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