Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mt. Hood Land Swap Deal: An Ethical Problem for Two Congressmen?

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, (D) ORU.S. Representative Greg Walden, (R) ORFor several days the Oregonion has treated us to two articles (Aug. 6, Aug. 8), an editorial and an opinion piece about the proposed land swap deal on Mt. Hood. This deal, brokered by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D) and Greg Walden (R), proposes to swap U.S. government land in the Government Camp area for land currently owned by Mt. Hood Meadows Oregon LP, a limited partnership controlled by Portland businessman Franklin Drake. The articles do a good job of laying out the details of the land swap and the questionable appraisals of the parcels. What concerns me, however, is what I read in the last section of the August 6th article (by Peter Sleeth and Les Zaitz):

As the April congressional hearing approached, Blumenauer and Walden both saw cash infusions into their campaigns from Mt. Hood Meadows partners. Last Feb. 22, Drake, president of Mt. Hood Meadows, donated $6,000 to two Blumenauer committees.

Within days, his partner, Riley, donated $6,000 to the same committees. Blumenauer said he called Riley to seek the contributions. "It was part of my asking. I run for office. I raise money. I asked them," Blumenauer said, adding that the contribution had no effect on his position on the land exchange.

Riley said he has given to Blumenauer in the past and plans to in the future.

Matthew Drake, another Mt. Hood Meadows partner, last February gave $2,800 to Walden in what federal election records list as his first federal contribution. On the same day, Riley gave Walden $1,800.

Asked whether the contributions influenced his actions on the legislation, Walden responded, "The answer is as simple as the question is insulting: Absolutely not."
Am I the only person concerned about what appears to be a distinct ethical problem created by both Representatives? Specifically, the fact that both Reps accepted campaign donations from Mt. Hood Meadows partners during the time this land swap deal was being constructed. And, even more disturbing (if true), the admission of Rep. Blumenauer that he actually "called [one of the partners] to seek the contributions." Of course, both Blumenauer and Walden state that the contributions "had no effect on [their] position on the land exchange." Really?

Let's say that I'm negotiating a contract with a supplier to my company, and I just happen to have a favorite charity that needs some money. So, during the negotiating process, I ask the supplier to donate some money to my favorite charity. Of course, the donation won't influence my decision as to whether your company will win the contract. No, of course not. Don't insult me by even insinuating that! I would be fired if I tried that in my company. So, why is this type of activity Ok for our elected representatives?

The questionable appraisals have already created an "air" around this deal that doesn't smell so good. But, the fact that cash contributions were requested and accepted by the two congresmen who were working to finalize this deal creates an odor that, frankly, stinks. And this from two congresmen who, in March of this year, introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at improving House oversight of ethics and lobbying (see Congressman Blumenauer's website for the press release).

If I lived on one of the districts represented by these guys, I would be asking them very pointed questions about the ethics of asking for and accepting campaign contributions from some of the parties involved in the land swap deal. The appearance of impropriety in this case makes an already questionable deal look even more questionable.