Below, find a complex defense of former Rep. Richard Pombo, Crooked Cowboy-Tracy, currently running for a congressional seat far from his residence and home of his family's real estate business. McClatchy's Fresno and Modesto chain outlets have been covering the fund-raising efforts of Pombo, state Sen. Jeff Denham (endorsed by retiring Rep. George Radanovich), and two more Republicans and a brace of Democrats running far behind. Unlike Pombo and Denham however, the four in the rear of the race actually live in the district they are seeking to represent. And to make it more complicated, Radanovich places third in contributions at this time.
The specter of Pombo representing the headwaters of four Sierra rivers supplying water for six irrigation districts and 28 water districts, and representing Yosemite National Park does not qualify as an issue in the Bees' eyes. They are correct. The question of the money is much more important than the question of the environment and water supply. Above all, lobbyists behind the money want to avoid another eccentric outbreak of democracy like the one that occurred in Pombo's old district in 2006, when an 80-year-old former Republican congressman and national environmental groups ran an actual, old-fashioned political campaign to successfully defeat Pombo. In fact, the race added a word to the political vocabulary: to be "pombo-ed" means capital lost control of the election process for once and the people were able to dislodge one corrupt member of Congress. To be pombo-ed is viewed as a very bad thing by lobbyists and their masters, who live and die on their ability to continually corrupt Congress.
As Sheldon Wolin remarks in his powerful analysis of the dire straights of American democracy:
At issue is more than crude bribery. Campaign contributions are a vital tool of political management. They create a pecking order that calibrates, in strictly quantitative and objective terms, whose interests have priority. The amount of corruption that regularly takes place before elections means that corruption is not an anomaly but an essential element in the fuctioning of managed democracy. The entrenched system of bribery and corruption involves no physical violence, no brown-shirted storm troopers, no coercion of the political opposition. While the tactics are not those of the Nazis, the end result is the inverted equivalent. Opposition has not been liquidated but rendered feckless. – Wolin, Democracy Inc. pp. 140-141.
In McClatchy's attempts to whitewash Pombo's black cowboy hat, they find it convenient to ignore the voters of the 11th Congressional District, who gave Pombo a 14.6-percent victory in 2004 and threw him out of office by the same margin in 2006. According to McClatchy, the voters of the 11th were too dumb to know Pombo wasn't corrupt. Current right opinion in Fresno is that environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife that played large rolls in defeating Pombo in 2006 have no business operating in McClatchy jurisdiction to try to defeat the Crooked Cowboy's bid for the 19th CD Republican nomination.
What both Pombo and McClatchy well know is that corruption is not an anomaly but an essential element in the fuctioning of managed democracy. Nevertheless, the charade that this is not the case must keep on going on. The anomoly is that Pombo openly and with such ideological aplomb sold the environment to private property owners that he attracted the ire of people who do fight for the environment and for the Public Trust. They did launch a major political campaign against him in 2006 and they beat him. And, even though he looks like as sure a thing to seasoned valley politicos as Hillary Clinton did in 2008, the odds are good they will beat him again on charges of corruption.
Pombo, the Crooked Cowboy, became the poster child for political corruption not because he was the most corrupt member of Congress or even of the California congressional delegation, but because he mounted a serious attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act while chairman of the House Resources Committee (since restored to its older title, "Natural Resources Committee") and, in a phrase reportedly whispered about on K Street, he got "pombo-ed." In other words, despite the general fecklessness of the larger environmental organizations, if you are dumb enough to give them a target as big as the Crooked Cowboy's black hat, they can muster the financial resources to conduct a reasonably professional political campaign and whup you. Of course the body work in the early rounds of the 2006 campaign was done by McCloskey, not the only Republican co-sponsor of the ESA in 1973.
If his own district, the 11th CD -- a district festooned with "Pombo Ranch Realty" signs for at least 60 years and not known for its affection for the environmental cause -- voted him down in favor of a candidate so unimpressive, people were calling him "Jerry McNada" during the campaign. McNerney was elected because of disgust for Pombo among many people he had represented for 14 years. Maybe the voters of the 19th CD, where Pombo does not live, could learn more from other voters than from a newspaper comglomerate that has about the same amount of concern for the Common Good as Pombo does. The Crooked Cowboy has already sold himself out completely to the lobbyists; McClatchy is chumming the waters in the hope -- really a sort of magic reasoning -- that by returning politicians like Pombo to office, the real estate bubble will inflate again and along with it real estate advertising revenues.
According to the latest polls, Pombo has 25 days to overcome a 10-point deficit and the current front-runner by a point is Jim Patterson, former Fresno mayor, who is unconscionably popular and threatens once again to "pombo" Pombo and the plutocrats behind him. Denham is currently second by a point.
We will not indulge in any handicapping but it will be interesting to see what money can do in less than a month.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Ads fudge facts about Pombo-Abramoff ties
Ties to imprisoned ex-lobbyist not concrete...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Richard Pombo's political opponents want to tie him to imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff as part of a larger theme about corruption.
But a review of the public record shows that Pombo's alleged close ties to Abramoff are iffy and spun together from disparate threads.
Other campaign questions about congressional reimbursement for Pombo's visits to national parks hit closer to the mark. Taxpayers did pay for Pombo's family to accompany him as he visited national parks in 2003, though Pombo had a legislative reason to take the trips and says he saved the public money by how he traveled.
A former Tracy-area congressman, Pombo is now seeking the GOP nomination for the district that stretches from Modesto to Fresno. His opponents include three fellow Republicans, as well as environmental groups that disliked him during his prior House tenure between 1993 and 2006.
Abramoff was an influential Republican lobbyist who pleaded guilty in 2006 to multiple corruption counts. He is scheduled to be released from federal prison on Dec. 12.
The Humane Society, in a new mailing, asserts that "Pombo took thousands of dollars from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients." The Wikipedia page for Pombo, which can be edited by nearly anyone, further asserts that "Pombo has taken more money from Abramoff than any other member of Congress ($500,000)."
The Defenders of Wildlife Action fund has aired ads characterizing Pombo as corrupt, and one of his congressional primary opponents, state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater, has echoed the theme with ads about Pombo's national park visits.
The facts are more complicated and, in some cases, contrary to the allegations.
Abramoff made a single, $2,000 contribution in January 2003 to Pombo's re-election campaign, public records show. It was the lobbyist's only direct contribution to Pombo's campaign in 14 years, Federal Election Commission records show.
Abramoff made a separate $5,000 contribution in 2003 to a political action committee Pombo established to help other Republicans, records show. Pombo raised $9 million during his first congressional tenure.
Some critics lump together Abramoff's own contributions with those of the Indian tribes he represented. Tribes contributed several hundred thousand dollars to Pombo, whose committee oversaw Indian gaming and other tribal issues.
In some cases, though, the contributions came when the tribe was not an active client of the lobbyist, or cannot be tied to an Abramoff request.
Billing records show Abramoff engaged Pombo on two occasions while Abramoff was retained by the Northern Mariana Islands as a lobbyist, charging the U.S. commonwealth for telephoning Pombo once and met with him once in 1996. In 2000, Pombo's then-press secretary was treated to Abramoff's luxury sky box at three pro wrestling events.
Tellingly, though, investigators who spent years going after Abramoff never drew Pombo into their net.
Pombo's name does not appear in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's definitive, 373-page report on Abramoff's tribal dealings, completed in 2006. Neither does the name of the House Resources Committee, which Pombo chaired. And author Gary Chavetz, who documented Abramoff's fall in "The Perfect Villain," doesn't mention Pombo in his book's 440 pages.
Neither Pombo nor his staff members were summoned before the Senate panel during its two-year-long investigation. Neither Pombo nor his staffers were charged in the Justice Department's wide-ranging criminal investigation. Pombo never was called to testify.
The travel allegations are meatier, though still subject to interpretation.
The House Resources Committee in 2003 reimbursed Pombo $4,935 for a two-week rental of a recreational vehicle just after he was named chairman. Pombo, though, noted that he paid for all personal family expenses associated with the trip outside of the RV rental.
On the trip, from July 27 to Aug. 11, 2003, Pombo and his family visited several national parks, including: Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Pombo called the travel official business and said it was an inexpensive way for him to see the parks his committee oversaw. A Yellowstone official told McClatchy Newspapers at the time that he set a briefing for Pombo, though officials at several other parks said they didn't recall meeting with the congressman.