Thursday, January 05, 2006

In search of the 'Quid' for the 'Quo' in the Western Cotton Research Lab giveaway

This post revisits the federal giveaway to two lobbyists of the Western Cotton Research Laboratory that Porkopolis broke in November, 2005 and looks at in the light of recent developments involving criminal activity Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to.

(Quick backgrounder: Sec. 783 of the Appropriation Bill, now law, H.R. 2744 transferred the Western Cotton Research Lab in Phoenix, Arizona to two lobbyists; the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima. This transfer was facilitated by Congressman Ed Pastor of Arizona, an individual that has received over $21,000 in contributions from the lobbyists and/or organization directly related to the lobbyists.)

The Columbus Dispatch notes that:

The testimony of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff not only imperils Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, it also hints at revelations that could shake the Capitol Hill power structure in a far-reaching congressional scandal.
The article goes on to say:

...Abramoff, who pleaded guilty yesterday in Florida to a charge of conspiracy in an effort in 2000 to buy SunCruz, a casino cruise-ship line, is one of three major witnesses against Ney and probably other lawmakers. The others are Michael Scanlon and Adam Kidan, former associates of Abramoff. Scanlon’s plea agreement suggests he will corroborate Abramoff’s allegations against Ney.

Federal prosecutors are investigating why Ney placed two statements in the Congressional Record in 2000 that appeared to support Abramoff and Kidan’s efforts to buy SunCruz. (ed. Bob Ney's statement) The Congressional Record is the daily report of all speeches and statements delivered on the floor of the House and Senate.

If Ohio's Bob Ney is being investigated for 'simply' inserting a statement into the Congressional Record that benefitted a lobbyist, it is reasonable to ask the following question:

Shouldn't the Congressperson(s) that inserted a special provision into an Appropriations Bill that resulted in the free transfer of land to two lobbyists also be investigated?

Here again is the statement uncovered in the Congressional Record on behalf of Congressman Pastor and the eventual provision that allowed for the federal land transfer which circumvented the normal procedures of disposing of surplus federal land:

From the Congressional Record (CR H4237):


Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

The Clerk read as follows:

Amendment offered by Ms. DeLauro:

In section 757, strike ``and the Western Cotton Research Center, Phoenix, Arizona, and credit the net proceeds of such sales'' and insert ``and credit the net proceeds of such sale''.

[Begin Insert]

Mr. KOLBE. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of Mrs. DeLauro's amendment to strike part of Section 757 of Title VII of the Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2006.

In 1966, the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and the Arizona Cotton Planting Seed Distributors deeded a piece of property located at 4135 East Broadway Road in Phoenix To USDA for $1.00 to help with the construction of the Western Cotton Research Center. With the construction of a new facility for the research center at the University of Arizona's Maricopa Agricultural Center, the research and its staff will move within the next two years, leaving this property behind.

I think it is appropriate that this property, which abuts the headquarters of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, revert back to that group, since they deeded this property to USDA originally for only $1.00.

I fully support removing the language allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to sell the Wester Cotton Research Center, Phoenix, Arizona and crediting the net proceeds of that sale as offsetting collections to the ARS Buildings and Facilities account.

[End Insert]

Mr. BONILLA. Mr. Chairman, this is a good amendment that the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Pastor) has worked very hard on for some time and the gentlewoman from Connecticut (Ms. DeLauro) is offering on his behalf, and we are happy to accept the amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The gentlewoman from Connecticut (Ms. DeLauro) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for accepting the amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from Connecticut (Ms. DeLauro).

The amendment was agreed to.

And the provision in H.R. 2744 :

SEC. 783. As soon as practicable after the Agricultural Research Service Operations at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory located at 4135 East Broadway Road in Phoenix, Arizona, have ceased, the Secretary of Agriculture shall convey, without consideration, to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the real property at that location, including improvements.

Here's a critical quote from Rick Lavis, Executive Vice President of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association in Le Templar's article, 'Cotton growers gain research site for free':

The federal government has a lengthy process for disposing of surplus property. And land values have been skyrocketing in this part of east Phoenix, which houses a growing number of office and light-industrial complexes.

"This is a case of where if we had to stand in line, we would never have gotten a shot at it," said Rick Lavis, executive vice president of the cotton growers association.
To "stand in line" is what everyone else would do to 'purchase' the surplus land through an open bidding process. Mr. Lavis and his organization, with the assistance of Congressman Ed Pastor, bypassed the federal land purchase process and went straight to receiving an outright 'gift' from the American tax payer.

In light of Bob Ney's possible (we should be mindful that every individual is innocent until proven guilty) transgressions on behalf of a lobbyists, Porkopolis has forwarded this information to the Justice Department and the House Ethics Committee (via Congresswoman Jean Schmidt) requesting a review of the circumstances surrounding the giveaway of the Western Cotton Research Laboratory.


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