In the 2003-‘04 election cycle, NC Congressman Charles Taylor (R-11) received three times as much in donations from energy-related political action committees (PACs) as he had in the three previous election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In 2003-04, Taylor received $51,531 from energy PACs. From 1997-2002, Taylor averaged $14,995 in oil, gas, mining, and power company PAC donations. In the 2005-06 cycle he has so far received $22,750.
And surprise, surprise! In a remarkable coincidence with absolutely no relationship to all that lovin’ from the energy industries, in 2003 Taylor just “happened” to write two particularly controversial pieces of legislation for their benefit.There's more below the fold
This post was inspired by the exceptional work of Wampum’s M.B. Williams.
The first legislative ploy, an amendment to the Interior Department’s (ID) budget, would have negated a class action judgment that favored 500,000 Native Americans. It also would have allowed the use of public funds to pay the private legal fees for perpetrators in the case, while cutting the salaries of court-appointed investigators.
And, oh my goodness, I’m sure our Mr. T. did not realize that his measure also had the potential to save energy-related companies billions of dollars. And, of course, it was completely serendipitous that his second piece of legislation may have done just that.
These 500,000 screwed Native Americans were and are Individual Indian Monies (IIM) trust account holders, plaintiffs in a class action suit, Cobell v. Norton, which they won in 1996. The trust accounts were created in 1887 by the U.S. Gubmint supposedly to compensate them for (but really to cheat them out of rents and fees from) the land they’d already been stockaded into.
From the very beginning, according to the court and numerous Congressional investigations, the trusts have been criminally and continually mismanaged. The value of the oil, mineral, water, timber, grazing, and agricultural rights and leases has skyrocketed while many landowners continue to live in poverty. Special masters in the case have concluded from reports by court-appointed investigators that these businesses, and particularly oil, gas, and mining firms, have been allowed for decades to severely undervalue the commodities they extracted.
To access a must-read on the Indian Trust Fund case click here for an excellent background article by Julia Whitty in Mother Jones.
For almost 120 years, ineptitude, deception, theft, fraud, and corruption in both private and public sectors has continued unabated. And all those years, Congress did almost nothing but investigate and report on the existence of the ineptitude, deception, theft, fraud and corruption.
But in 2003, seven years after Blackfeet banker (and MacArther genius award winner) Elouise Cobell sued and won, a member of congress, Charles Taylor, proposed legislation to overturn that court victory. Why? Why would he stick his neck out like that? Or, more to the point, why would the energy industry want him to stick his neck out like that?
Well, you see, it’s all about audits. Yup. Boring ol’ audits. Because without records, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth couldn’t determine how much money the Native Americans were owed. Sure, they’d won the case in 1996, but in 2003 they had yet to receive even token compensation. And that’s because the Interior Department (which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs) continued to refuse to do the necessary audits.
For seven years, Interior officials kept telling the court things like “Records? Sorry, we can’t find them.” When the judge shook his head, they said, “Okay. Our dogs peed on them.” Okay, that’s not what they said. They said things more like: “Well, really now, it will cost too much.”
And, when that didn’t go over, they tried: “We’ll have to take the money for the massive audit out of other much-needed Indian services.” Then they closed down BIA offices all over the country. Those perfectly understandable excuses and actions made the presiding U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth reply with words like “contempt of court.”
And that’s where Chuckie came to the rescue. I mean, we all know he was just trying to be helpful when he wrote that amendment designed to have the whole messy shebang disappear. But Chuckie’s legislation got thrown out (and by a fellow Republican, of all things). Something called a point of order. Apparently, you’re not supposed to legislate from a budget bill. Who knew?
Then, in September, 2003, that same pesky ol’ judge decided to up the ante. In place of that now obviously toothless phrase “contempt of court,” he substituted a far more potent threat to “subpoena industry records.” And that’s when Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Charles Taylor really needed to come up with something good.
Because even though everyone has always known the Indians were getting pennies on the dollar for all those oil wells and coal mines and water and grazing and timber rights -- knowing and presenting those records in court . . . well, we’re talking billions here, potentially hundreds of billions. And while the industry might not be defendants in this case, they prob’ly expected they were gonna be in another very similar one at some point like, maybe in the year 2006?
Check out this May 7, 2006 Washington Post article by Tim Reid:
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- As soaring prices prompt huge increases in gas and oil drilling on public land, an ad hoc posse of state governments, Indian tribes and individual "bounty hunters" is charging that big energy companies are shortchanging taxpayers by billions of dollars.
Firms Harvesting Energy From Public Land May Owe U.S. Under the False Claims Act, Groups Sue for More Fees
Here’s more from that article about the oh-so-interesting False Claims Act:
Critics of the Bush administration's management of royalty payments have been looking for ways to circumvent the government and attack the energy companies directly. Some think they have found the right weapon in a federal statute, the False Claims Act, dating to the Civil War.
Under the law, anyone can file a civil suit known as a qui tam action, a Latin term that means the plaintiff is acting "on behalf of" the government. The procedure can be extremely costly for a defendant who is found to have cheated the federal government; the statute gives courts the right to assess damages three times the amount owed. The private litigant, in turn, gets a significant share of the damages.
Now, do you see why energy dudes might want Cobell v. Norton to disappear?
But, really, I’m sure it was out of sheer coincidence, having nothing to do with the extra thirty grand he received from the energy PACs earlier in the year, that in October 2003, our Chuckie stepped up to the plate one more time. In what is known as a “midnight rider,” Charles Taylor attached a one-year delay of the IIM audit to a bill that provided emergency firefighting funds and also funding for the Iraq war.
Remember, that was the year Southern California went up in flames? No legislator wanted to be on the record voting against monies for the firefighters just as no one wanted to go on record as shortchanging our soldiers.
So, October 30, 2003, Chuckie pitched up that midnight rider and good buddy Tom DeLay hammered it home: 216-205. The cowboys won. And once his task had been successfully completed, in a remarkable case of synchronicity, Taylor’s energy-related donations returned to their previous level. (If they decide to donate thirty grand between now and election, don’t you think Chuck should thank me?)
There’s more, more, and so much more to all this, with a cast of wonderful characters like Interior Department Deputy Secretary and energy industry lobbyist Stephen Griles, convicted felon Jack Abramoff and more! Some day when I’m not vomiting so violently, I’ll describe their involvement.
But for now, I’ll leave you with the words of Taylor’s fellow congressmen. You see, on that October 30, 2003 night when Taylor’s $30,000 midnight rider passed, those forced to vote against emergency firefighting and Iraqi war funding had to defend themselves. They talked from 7:15 until the vote was over at 10:37.
From the Congressional Record. October 30, 2003 2003 Volume 149 Pages H10196-H10205.)
J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), co-chair of Native American Caucus, started out just a tad on the sassy side:
At the onset, let me say my affection for my colleague from North Carolina . . . knows no bounds . .That’s how they all talk. I kid you not. The more angry they want to pretend to be, the more sugary their compliments. After the petard, Hayworth tried in Congress-speak to do his best to turn to sound protestful:
[This] provision is added to this bill which passed neither the House nor the other body and is thrust upon us at the last nanoseconds of the 11th hour in a cynical attempt to say, Come on, we dare you. There is needed firefighting money in here. We dare you to vote against it.Richard Pombo (R-CA), chair of the Committee on Resources which supposedly had jurisdiction over the Indian trust fund settlement said among other things:
This is the wrong thing to do . . . this is the wrong way to settle this problem.Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) said it was:
. . . an effort, I think, inappropriately, to derail a judicial process that is already in progress.Congressman Mark Soulder (R-IN) called the midnight rider:
. . . a blatant violation . . .
That’s as tough as a Republican is allowed to get. Really. It’s the best they can do. Once you get to Washington you go through a process that removes the contents of your intestinal tract. And your testicles. Or, maybe they do it with chemicals. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Here’s what the less forcibly constrained Democrats had to say:Congressman Brad Carson’s (D-OK):
I represent a district with the most-heavily Native American population in the entire country. And as a member of the Committee on Resources, the committee with jurisdiction over the important matter. I had no opportunity nor ability to participate in discussion on this language’s effect on my constituents.Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV):
It is an affront to the American system of government. . . . It is, in my view, unconstitutional and will most assuredly cause more litigation and more mistrust of Congress throughout Indian country.Congressman Dale Kildee (D-MI):
It sends a terrible message to the Indians that when they finally get their day in court, Congress will pull the rug out from under them.And, finally, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ):
. . . justice delayed is justice denied.
You may wonder how did those 216 Congressional “Representatives” who voted to screw the Indians handle their moral dilemma. Well, they didn’t record any words publicly. But I hear there’s video somewhere showing them lining up. Then one by one, bodies bent, asses bared, they screamed, “Sir Tom Delay, Lord of my Life, please may I have some more?”
There were spikes that year in several categories. A spike in timber donations (an extra $10,000) could be part of this story, but since Taylor’s a timber man I excluded those figures. There was a spike in legal donations that same quarter when Jack Abramoff and friends donated over $10,000 which may be related to this. Also, there was a spike in telecommunications donations. Haven’t figured that one out yet, but when I do I’ll let you know.