Last year, Judicial Watch made big news by exposing Nancy Pelosi’s boorish demands for military travel. According to the internal DOD correspondence we uncovered the Speaker has been treating the U.S. Air Force as her own personal airline. And not only was her staff demanding, arrogant and rude, but the Speaker cost taxpayers a lot of money by making last minute cancellations and changes to the itinerary.
This week, Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Air Force that shed a bit more light on this ugly story.
According to the documents, which we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Speaker’s military travel cost the Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period — $101,429.14 for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol. (Lots and lots of alcohol.) The following are highlights from the recent release of about 2,000 documents, which you can read here:
Speaker Pelosi used Air Force aircraft to travel back to her district at an average cost of $28,210.51 per flight. The average cost of an international congressional delegation (CODEL) is $228,563.33. Of the 103 Pelosi-led CODELs, 31 trips included members of the House Speaker’s family.
One CODEL traveling from Washington, D.C. through Tel Aviv, Israel to Baghdad, Iraq from May 15-20, 2008, “to discuss matters of mutual concern with government leaders” included members of Congress and their spouses and cost $17,931 per hour in aircraft alone. Purchases for the CODEL included: Johnny Walker Red scotch, Grey Goose vodka, E&J brandy, Bailey’s Irish Crème, Maker’s Mark whiskey, Courvoisier cognac, Bacardi Light rum, Jim Beam whiskey, Beefeater gin, Dewars scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin, Jack Daniels whiskey, Corona beer and several bottles of wine.
According to a “Memo for Record” from a CODEL March 29 – April 7, 2007, that involved a stop in Israel, “CODEL could only bring Kosher items into the Hotel. Kosher alcohol for mixing beverages in the Delegation room was purchased on the local economy i.e. Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch, Vodka, Gin, Triple Sec, Tequila, etc.”
The Department of Defense advanced a CODEL of 56 members of Congress and staff $60,000 to travel to Louisiana and Mississippi July 19-22, 2008, to “view flood relief advances from Hurricane Katrina.” The three-day trip cost the U.S. Air Force $65,505.46, exceeding authorized funding by $5,505.46.
If you have a moment, take a look at the documents for yourself. And pay special attention to the receipts, noting the large quantities of food and alcohol purchased at taxpayer expense. Doesn’t it seem as if the Speaker’s congressional delegations are more about partying than anything else? It certainly seems that way to me.
At the heart of the issue of corruption, is a sense of entitlement on the part of our elected officials. Nancy Pelosi clearly believes she deserves special treatment at taxpayer expense. This message comes across loud and clear in the disrespect she has demonstrated towards the U.S. Air Force and the American taxpayer.
Supreme Court Decimates McCain-Feingold
If you’re a fan of the First Amendment, then you’re really going to like what the U.S. Supreme Court did this week. In a landmark decision the high court decimated the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Here’s the scoop according to Fox News:
In a stunning reversal of the nation’s federal campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday that free-speech rights permit groups like corporations and labor unions to directly spend on political campaigns, prompting the White House to pledge “forceful” action to undercut the decision…
…Siding with filmmakers of “Hillary: The Movie,” who were challenged by the Federal Election Commission on their sources of cash to pay for the film, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that banned corporate and labor money. The decision threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.
The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.
By way of reminder, at issue in this lawsuit was a 90-minute documentary about Hillary Clinton produced by the conservative organization Citizens United. In 2008, the Federal Election Commission, citing McCain-Feingold, prohibited the program from airing on television stations during election season. This prompted Citizens United to file a lawsuit to vindicate its First Amendment rights (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).
As Judicial Watch does often in legal matters of great importance, we filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Court in July 2009 on the side of Citizens United. Here’s an excerpt from our brief: “The [Supreme] Court…was solicitous to protect political speech not only as a matter of individual liberty, and not only because it was the intention of the Framers, but because political speech is crucial to the survival of our representative government and its system of ordered liberty. This principle, in turn, presupposes that First Amendment protection of political speech is the precondition of all other freedoms protected by the Constitution.”
In other words, we believe protecting political speech is especially important. Groups like Judicial Watch (which are organized as corporations) should be able to tell the truth about a candidate at any time. The First Amendment shouldn’t shut down around election season. In fact, some could argue election season is the most important time to engage in the open exchange of ideas and opinions.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court agreed with Judicial Watch on almost every point. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the Court: “There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers,” he wrote. “The government may regulate corporate speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.” As a result of this opinion U.S. corporations and other groups will be able to spend their money independently to support or oppose candidates for public office.
President Obama, as you might expect, disagrees. And he wasted no time in voicing his opposition to the Supreme Court ruling:
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”
I don’t recall any president ever attacking the Supreme Court so directly at a State of the Union address. Obama’s attack was a disgrace that undermined the rule of law. It means that a Supreme Court justice might think twice about any ruling that could rankle President Obama — for fear of being attacked in person in front of a national audience.
And President Obama is wrong; the Supreme Court overturned a precedent that was 20 years old, not 100 years old. So Obama’s statement was “not true,” as Justice Alito seemed to indicate in response to Obama. The Supreme Court ruling also did not address foreign involvement in our elections, which is still illegal. (Obama may want to ask the Clintons and his own campaign about that.)
Intimidation, attacks, and end-runs around the Constitution are nothing new to this President or this Congress. Nevertheless, the First Amendment was vindicated by the high court. Better enforcement of bribery and extortion laws is the key to fighting government corruption — not self-serving restrictions on free speech by politicians. Allowing full participation in our nation’s political process for citizens acting through corporations will do more to hold corrupt politicians accountable than any campaign finance restriction or bureaucratic regulation.
Big Government politicians like Obama will never understand that. I’m glad that the Supreme Court does.
Secrets in the Obama Administration
President Obama provided a lot of fodder for discussion following Wednesday night’s marathon State of the Union speech, but I’d like to focus on transparency and ethics. And here’s what the President said on the subject:
…To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.
That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why — for the first time in history — my administration posts our White House visitors online. That’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.
Okay, so that’s the rhetoric. The truth is that lobbyists do work in his administration — and do make policy. So the reality is that Obama is against hiring lobbyists except when he wants to hire lobbyists — hence his infamous “ethics waivers.” If you don’t believe me, the liberal Politfact rated this line in Obama’s speech as “false.”
And he is also misleading on the White House visitor lists. Only certain records are being released, others are being withheld for arbitrary and unlawful reasons. In fact, the Obama administration continues to advance the ridiculous claim that the visitor logs are not agency records and are therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. (After Judicial Watch issued a press release critical of the Obama’s intolerable position on the release of White House visitor logs, his White House invited us over to “make a deal” on the logs, but refused to change its position. That’s why we’re in federal court over this issue.)
As we note in our lawsuit, this claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by federal courts. So Obama should have said that he’s releasing the visitor names he wants to release and withholding thousands more. (Politifact labeled Obama’s visitor logs statement “mostly true.” So does that mean he was only lying a little bit?)
This mendacity is why American people don’t trust the government. Judicial Watch conducted a poll with SurveyUSA in December that made this point very clear. A majority of likely voters (56%) said they believe the Obama administration is too secretive. It doesn’t take a genius Obama pollster to craft a line about openness in order to appeal to public sentiment.
The Washington Post also exposed the Obama transparency fraud the very day of the State of the Union speech:
More than 300 individuals and groups have sued the government to get records in the year since President Obama pledged that his administration would be the most open in history.
In case after case, the plaintiffs say little has changed since the Bush administration years, when most began their quests for records. Agencies still often fight requests for disclosure, contending that national security and internal decision-making need to be protected.
The article goes on to note that the total number of FOIA lawsuits filed against the Obama administration — 319 — actually represents an increase over the Bush administration. By comparison, in President Bush’s last year in office, his administration was slapped with 298 FOIA lawsuits.
What The Post conveniently fails to mention, however, is that the nation’s largest government watchdog organization, Judicial Watch, is responsible for about 20 of the aforementioned FOIA lawsuits filed against the Obama administration.
Indeed, on a wide range of key issues, from the White House visitor logs to bailout documents, the Obama administration has stonewalled just about every FOIA request Judicial Watch has filed. And on occasions when Judicial Watch has been forced to file FOIA lawsuits, the Obama administration fights those tooth and nail as well.
Transparency is perhaps the most important tool we have to guard against corruption. And I find it shameful that the President continues to use the issue of transparency to manipulate public sentiment in speeches while his administration frustrates the open records process on a daily basis. It kind of makes you wonder what they’re trying to hide, doesn’t it? And it makes our FOIA litigation and pursuit of moral and ethical government as important as ever.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to everyone who donated to Judicial Watch in response to the matching grant challenge issued at the end of last year. Thanks to the wonderful response from our supporters, we not only raised the $67,500 needed to receive the matching grant from our generous benefactor, but we exceeded our expectations by raising more than double our original goal! Again, thank you as always for your continuing support.
Tom Fitton – President
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, and to access the embedded links please go to: www.JudicialWatch.org