DeMaio's uncomfortable connection to the Abramoff corruption machine

Friday, December 2, 2011

Carl DeMaio has been well connected to Beltway Republicans his entire career. It's just a shame he was so close to the corrupt ones.

By the end of 2003, Carl DeMaio was well established in inside-the-Beltway Republican circles. He had been plucked out of college by Newt Gingrich to work on the Contract with America and hyper-partisan congressional sessions on out-sourcing government jobs, and had spent years at the conservative Reason Foundation, funded by many millions of dollars from conservative money-men like the Koch Brothers, the Scaife family, and the Bradley Foundation. He had also started two complimentary companies: The Performance Institute, which was getting no-bid government contracts and helping train government employees on tactics for streamlining and outsourcing government jobs, and the American Strategic Management Institute, which helped teach private companies how to take profitable advantage of the new processes that government agencies were learning from the Performance Institute. Needless to say, he was connected. But he could be in an even better position to influence the rules that paid him.

So DeMaio stepped up when President George W. Bush was having trouble with his nominee for director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Obviously, DeMaio had a major financial stake in the course of procurement policy -- DeMaio was busy making his personal fortune by playing both sides of that particular road. Bush nominated David Safavian in November 2003, but by April the confirmation process was bogging down and DeMaio started pushing hard in support of Safavian. DeMaio called Safavian -- who had co-founded a lobbying firm with Grover Norquist and worked closely with Jack Abramoff -- “an ideal candidate to lead the OFPP," and in December, 2004 Safavian was successfully confirmed.

And DeMaio certainly wasn't forgotten after pushing to secure the confirmation. In February, 2005, less than two months after Safavian's confirmation DeMaio was appointed to the new, 14-person Service Acquisition Reform Panel (SARP)... headed by Safavian. With Safavian chairing the first meeting, appointees were sworn in and then SARP immediately brought on an unpaid consultant -- who happened to be a former principal at Safavian and Norquist's lobbyist firm and had at that point moved on to work at Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm. That first meeting, which was administrative, also included a briefing on ethics and preventing conflicts of interest. At the second meeting a few weeks later, "Carl DeMaio talked about striking a balance between addressing ethics and oversight and the potential for going overboard with internal controls." Which would be particularly awkward a few months later.

So who was David Safavian when DeMaio took up his cause and made his way onto Safavian's panel? Another young, fast-rising Beltway conservative with even better connections than DeMaio. Safavian had co-founded the lobbyist firm Merritt Group with Grover Norquist (who's also known for laundering millions of dollars for the Republican Party and wanting to 'drown government in a bathtub'), who explained the new firm in an interview: "We're all very ideologically driven, and have a bias in favor of free markets." And they racked up an impressive client list, including BP, the government of Pakistan, third-world heads of state enriching themselves off of questionable deals with oil companies, the National Indian Gaming Council, the Viejas band, and the Saginaw Chippewa -- along with Jack Abramoff.

By 2002, Safavian was looking to move on, opting for a position with the General Services Administration (GSA) instead of a position with Jack Abramoff's lobbying outfit. But he assured Abramoff that it was just a stop-off "before joining up with you and your band of merry men." It doesn't seem to have interfered with the relationship though. While serving at the GSA, Safavian accompanied Abramoff, House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and lobbyist and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed on one of the now-notorious St. Andrews golf trips to Scotland. Those trips were central to a widespread corruption investigation, also including the Saginaw Chippewa lobbying efforts, that soon swept through Washington. In 2006, Abramoff was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison. Ney was forced to resign and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Former coal industry lobbyist and Bush Administration Deputy Secretary of the Interior J. Steven Griles was sentenced to ten months. And, less than a year after his confirmation to run OFPP that Carl DeMaio had pushed so hard for, David Safavian was indicted October 5, 2005 on multiple felony counts of false statements and obstruction to do with his Abramoff dealings while in government service.

That is, two months after Safavian was confirmed with DeMaio's support, DeMaio was appointed to Safavian's panel revising the practices and regulations that DeMaio was profiting from. At the initial swearing-in meeting, Safavian brought in a former colleague who was working with Jack Abramoff. At the very first substantive panel meeting, DeMaio led off by worrying about "the potential for going overboard with internal controls" on the panel's ethics and oversight. And less than six-months later, Safavian was ensnared in a massive pay-to-play corruption scandal and left the office facing multiple felony charges.

Self-styled taxpayer watchdog Carl DeMaio, concerned with the government becoming a 'smart shopper' had pressed a successful campaign to put a criminally corrupt Norquist and Abramoff ally in charge of setting procurement policy for the entire federal government, responsible for roughly $300 billion taxpayer dollars, and then personally benefitted with added power and influence.

It seems that Carl DeMaio has come up with a strange kind of watchdog that's in the business of hiding and ignoring corruption -- as long as it's a good networking opportunity.