UPDATED: 2:39 Thursday
An investigation by the nonpartisan group United Republic into campaign donations to Patricia McKeon has fueled speculation that Federal campaign donation laws are being subverted.
In the case of 25th District Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, investigative reporter Lee Fang reports in a Salon.com article that one lobbyist who has already donated the maximum allowable amount to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is now seeking to deliver money through his wife Patricia’s Assembly campaign.
Lee Fang (pronounced Fong, pictured at left) is a freelance journalist and the senior investigator for United Republic, a nonpartisan group dedicated to ending the corrupting influence of special interest money in American politics.
KHTS reporter Mark Archuleta spoke with Fang by phone.
KHTS: What brought the McKeon issue to your attention?
Lee Fang: Right now we’re just looking at Chairmen of important committees in Congress so we’ve looked at Armed Services, we’ve looked at Energy and Commerce and on the Senate side we’ve looked at Banking and Finance. We’re just looking at how lobbyists on K Street are trying to influence powerful legislators that have a lot of jurisdiction over what kind of laws we see passed. So, the defense budget is very contentious right now and they’re trying to cut a large percentage of how much we’re spending over the next 10 years. And lobbyists are organizing very quickly to influence the budget and in this case influence McKeon because he oversees and writes the Defense Authorization bill.
KHTS: I’m reading the article and I’m saying to myself is there anything illegal or just inappropriate?
LF: I talked to some McCain-Feingold experts, that’s the campaign finance law on the books, and they said in this case there’s no evidence of illegal conduct. That being said, it’s clear that this lobbyist Mark Valente, this defense contract lobbyist, is trying to get around the Federal limit. The law that limits the amount he can give to a member. He’s basically circumventing the Federal law and giving to McKeon’s wife who is running for the State Assembly. This is legal, but it raises serious ethical concerns, because California has different rules and by giving to Patrician McKeon, or coordinating funds to her, he can basically give her unlimited amounts.
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KHTS: He might say just because you give to my wife that’s not any influence on me.
LF: Sure, and that’s completely fair but there’s an interesting kind of pattern here. Buck McKeon has been very unusual for a member of Congress. He’s put his wife on his Congressional campaign staff for the last 10 years. A few members of Congress have done this but in various small kind of ways. I know there’s a Congressman in Maryland who puts his aunt as bookkeeper and pays her about $10,000 a year. But for Buck McKeon he’s put Patricia on his payroll and paid her over half a million dollars over the last 10 years and I believe he’s also paid other family members for Web development, for maintaining his campaign website. Large payments as much as $1,000 a month. So, there’s a strange pattern here where it at least gives the appearance that McKeon is open to the idea of his campaign contributors funneling money to his family.
KHTS: Other than this instance with Patricia, is there another instance that you’re seeing?
LF: I’ve seen reports that David Logan, who is the husband of McKeon’s daughter Tricia, has been paid by the McKeon campaign. And more than that, the Wall Street Journal had a big story, I believe two or three weeks ago, showing that Countrywide, which was caught giving bribes to several Democratic senators several years ago also gave a preferential mortgage to Buck McKeon in the late ’90s, so this is a serious ethical cloud and the payments to Patricia McKeon add to that pattern.
(Editor’s note: McKeon officials have rebuffed requests from KHTS to provide copies of the Countrywide loan documents.)
KHTS: Is it unusual that Congressmen try to get their spouses into office?
LF: It’s not unheard of. Congresswoman Judy Chu in Southern California. Her husband is a politician, but that was a long-standing kind of thing. They’ve both been in office a very long time. Almost simultaneously throughout their entire careers. It’s not unheard of when a member of Congress dies or retires that his spouse will run for that same seat. You see that with Doris Matsui (who) ran for her husband’s seat after he passed away. The same for Mary Bono Mack. She ran for Sonny Bono’s seat down there in Palm Springs. But, this is a little bit different. In this case it seems that Patricia McKeon, who has never run for office before or engaged in politics on that level, is being aided by the Buck McKeon political machine. So she’s running for the very first time, and although I’m sure she has some support in Santa Clarita, if you follow the money trail it’s coming from D.C. Beltway lobbyists.
KHTS: The only other example of spouse ascendancy I can think of is between George and Sharon Runner.
LF: That’s another great example. Again, if you look nationally even Chris Dodd inherited his seat from his father. There is a lot of nepotism in American politics, but this arrangement is unique because Buck McKeon is one of the most important politicians in America right now. He’s shaping the face and the scope of our military for the next 10 years. So, it’s important to see how lobbyists from Northrup-Grumman, Boeing, and down the list are trying to influence him.
KHTS: I want to link to your article, but is there anything that they haven’t read yet that they really should know?
LF: One interesting thing is that today is actually the deadline for the California Secretary of State for candidates to the State Assembly to turn in their campaign finance reports. I kind of came across information that I published using a research technique that I’ve used for many years, but we’ll get the full view of how he’s been… how Patricia McKeon’s been fundraising for the past four months in the next couple of days. So your listeners should keep their eyes peeled because I think there’s a lot more stories like this coming out. It’s already been reported that Congressman Buck McKeon took his wife to an exclusive Republican fundraising club just about two blocks from the Capitol in October and threw a fundraising party for her. We don’t know who those donors are, but we will know at the end of this week or next week when they post them online.
Howard “Buck” McKeon’s office did not return calls for comment by news time.
At 2:39 Thursday, Alissa McCurley from McKeon’s office did respond:
“This isn’t an article, it is an opinion piece. It is riddled with factual inaccuracies and several of the author’s false statements are obviously written based on nothing other than personal speculation. It appears that Mr. Fang prescribes to the notion that if you simply say it, it’s true. First, contrary to Mr. Fang’s inaccurate assertion, Patricia was not the only state candidate to receive a donation from the Fund for American Opportunity. If you click on the link in the article, you will see several state candidates listed on the group’s 6-month contribution report. Secondly, again contrary to Fang’s false assertion, Mr. Valente has not maxed out to Congressman McKeon. In fact, Mr. Valente has not contributed to Congressman McKeon’s “McKeon for Congress” campaign committee at all.”
(Editor’s note: McCurley has not denied the lobbyist contributed to Patricia McKeon’s campaign; she disagreed with the statement that she was the only candidate. Also, although it may be true Mr. Valente has not contributed to “McKeon for Congress,” Fang’s sources show a $2,500 donation to McKeon through the 21st Century PAC.)
Patricia McKeon did not return calls for comment by news time.
For the full Lee Fang article with sources, click here.