Earmarked for Corruption

Florida Times-Union reporter Matt Dixon deserves kudos for his detailed exposé of Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s (D-FL) corruption-tainted earmarking. Since 2008, Brown has sought millions for a non-profit in Jacksonville that employs a lobbying outfit that just happens to have Brown’s daughter Shantrel on its staff.

Brown and her daughter have tried to secure $1.1 million for “streetscape improvements and renovations” at a plaza leased by the non-profit. Rep. Brown is currently requesting a direct appropriation of $1 million for it, but interestingly says on her website that “I certify that neither I nor my spouse has any financial interest in this project.” Okay, but what about her daughter?

As the article explains, this isn’t the first time the Browns have collaborated at taxpayer expense:

The Community Rehabilitation Center is not the only client of her daughter’s that Brown has helped.

In 2006, she traveled to the Republic of Georgia shortly before natural gas importer Itera had stopped supplying portions of the country with gas due to $6 million in non-payments. Over an eight-month period that year, Itera paid Shantrel Brown and one other Alcalde and Fay lobbyist more than $80,000 to work on “international debt issues,” lobbying reports indicate.

The Russian company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Jacksonville, has filed 31 separate federal lobbying reports since 2005. It used Shantrel Brown only during the eight months in 2006.

In a separate 1999 incident involving her daughter, Brown was investigated by an ethics subcommittee after a $50,000 Lexus purchased by African banker Karim Pouye wound up registered in Shantrel’s name. Corrine Brown had lobbied to keep Pouye’s boss, West African millionaire Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko, out of federal prison after he was accused of stealing $240 million from a bank in the United Arab Emirates. The money wound up in Miami bank accounts controlled by Sissoko. The subcommittee took no action, but in its written report was critical of the Lexus.

According to the article, the non-profit had $4.6 million in total revenue in 2009. Of that amount, $2.1 million came from Medicaid and another $1.6 million came from “government contributions.” Where the money is going should raise eyebrows:

In [2008 and 2009], employee salaries made up nearly 40 percent of the center’s overall expenses. In 2008, $1.6 million of the center’s $4.5 million in total expenses was tied to salaries. The following year, the salary number jumped to $1.8 million of the center’s total $4.5 million in expenses. It is unclear how many employees the Community Rehabilitation Center employed during those years.

As a Cato essay on special-interest spending explains, earmark apologists are wrong when they argue that earmarks aren’t a big deal since they constitute a tiny portion of overall federal spending:

The problem is that earmarking has contributed to a general erosion of fiscal responsibility in Washington. Earmarks have exacerbated the parochial mindset of most members of Congress, who spend their time appeasing state and local interest groups rather than tackling issues of broad national concern. Many politicians complain about the soaring federal deficit, yet their own staff members spend most of their time trying to secure earmarks in spending bills.

Corrine Brown takes this parochial mindset to a new level by using her power to enrich her own family at taxpayer expense.