Who was the speaker of those words? Some Air America host like Laura Flanders or Rachel Maddow? The ever present bogeyman of the Right, Michael Moore? No, it was a Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake (no, I’m not making that name up) of Arizona. And what was he complaining about?

Well (courtesy of Josh Marshall) it was this story:

Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s admission that he accepted bribes from defense contractors has renewed scrutiny of the growing power that lawmakers have to steer business to favored companies and causes.

Though Republicans took control of Congress in 1995 vowing to rein in such “earmarking,” the practice has grown significantly during the past decade.

Just to be clear what we are talking about here, this so-called “ear-marking” is the process where members of Congress insert small provisions into a pending bill to benefit their own district or supporters. In other words, it’s a way to “earmark” federal funds for specific projects in a Congressperson’s district, or requiring the federal government to designate that contracts go to particular companies that may have contributed to said Congressperson’s campaign. It’s long been a somewhat tawdry practice, and it certainly existed during the years Democrats held sway over Congress, but under Republican control its use skyrocketed:

“It’s like night and day, the difference between then and now,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, a Sacramento-area Republican and former state attorney general who returned to Congress this year after more than a decade away.

“I’d walk down the hall and there would be streams of people in front of every office, representing every community and every public entity and every other special interest in that district – and they were all coming in for earmarks,” he said. “We sure didn’t have that when I was here before.”

Please note: these are Republicans decrying this obscene grazing at the public trough by their own party! These aren’t Democrats tossing out allegations of graft and corruption as part of “partisan attacks” against Republicans. The smell of this corruption must be exceptionally putrid if even some Republicans are willing to be quoted in print denouncing these “legislative practices.”

More on this story after the break . . .

Critics of the process now point to the Cunningham case as an inevitable outgrowth of that change.

“When you have a dramatic expansion of the ability of individual members to direct federal funds or to designate contracts, you are creating the most fertile environment for corruption imaginable,”
said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If these guys named in the charge could figure out that they could go from trace elements of a company to hundreds of millions of dollars in a short period of time by making a $2.4 million investment in Randy Cunningham, you’ve got to believe there are others out there who have figured the same thing out,” he said.

Just to be clear again, Ornstein is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a well known conservative think tank, not some group of “liberal hacks” in the media. We are talking about graft at scales that make even devoted Movement Conservatives uncomfortable, or at least members of their brain trust are a bit perturbed by corruption that would but Tammany Hall to shame.

Finally, there’s this:

Committee and subcommittee chairs, eager to expand their turf, often urge rank-and-file members to request earmarks for local projects. They also pressure federal agencies to buy certain goods and services.

The problem is compounded when secrecy is involved, experts say. Congress approves billions of dollars in secret intelligence and defense spending each year. The companies that Cunningham has admitted aiding – Washington-based MZM Inc. and Poway-based ADCS Inc. – in return for cash and gifts did defense and intelligence work.

“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, he would have been privy to the most sensitive information about intelligence contracting and he would have been in a position to improperly assist his benefactors,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

“He would be in a position to tip off bidders for impending contracts. He might also be able to tailor or to influence the development of a program in such a way as to make it conform to what a particular vendor has to offer.”

. . . A House Appropriations Committee staff member agreed.

“Everyone knows who got the money and everyone knows who it’s for,” said the staffer, who asked not to be named for fear of angering his bosses. . . .

“It has exploded since Republicans took control,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “It’s shameless. . . . It’s really out of control.”

“Members are getting hooked on earmarks quickly. They are led to believe that that is the way you get re-elected. The leadership pretends that they’re going to get earmarks under control. But they love them because once they get the members hooked, they can lead them around by the nose,” Flake said.

This is the party you voted for Republicans (or at least enough of you did), and now look what it’s getting you. A broken government, infested by lobbyists and plagued by corporate special interests, who receive their gifts of federal largesse as patronage from the Republican Poobahs in Congress. A place where power and money always trump the public interest, even when it concerns providing arms and equipment for our troops. This is how democracy dies you ladies and gentlemen of the right: under a steaming pile of corruption topped off with the gravy of greed.

Do you have anything to say for yourselves?

A Republican spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee did not return a call for comment.

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