Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Predators

[Following up on the previous post regarding Christopher Caron]

In the summer of 2004, Christopher Caron, legislative director for Tom Cole (R-Ok), and his wife took a week long trip to the UK. The $20,000 chit run-up during that jaunt was paid for by a San Diego-based defense contractor named General Atomics. Now, anytime the phrase, "San Diego-based defense contractor," appears in reference to congressional members and their staffs, there is really only one thing that can pop into one's mind: Cunningham scandal.

General Atomics, General Atomics ... hmmmm, where have we heard that name before?
Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, angrily denied yesterday that he or his staff had engaged in any misconduct in dealing with lobbyists or in “earmarking” federal money.

But a federal government source told The San Diego Union-Tribune that investigators were probing Lewis' dealings with lobbyist and former Republican Rep. Bill Lowery of San Diego. The source said the investigation was a spin-off from the corruption probe of now-imprisoned former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

However, Lewis and Cunningham sometimes campaigned together, including a joint fund-raiser at the San Diego headquarters of General Atomics in October 2004.
Justin Rood has more on General Atomics and their generous congressional trip program though, curiously, he make no mention of the pricey junket for Caron.

Tom Cole was one of the Ethics Committee replacements designed to keep Tom DeLay from getting any more admonishments than he had already received. At that time, Cole had already donated $5000 to DeLay's legal defense fund.

Now we suddenly have an appearance that Cole, via his proxy Caron, has some connection to, not only DeLay, but to the Cunningham web of intrigue, which lately has been growing under further scrutiny.

General Atomics paid for many, many trips, employing a strategy of targeting congressional staffers, no doubt for aid on contract bids:
staffers attended meetings with officials of foreign governments being solicited to buy the company's unmanned spy plane, the Predator.
Campaign contributions to respective members of Congress would then follow. In fact, this pattern appears to be confirmed by the Caron trip to the UK. Jane's reported back in June of 2003, that General Atomics was trying to persuade the UK government to buy their new Predator B unmanned aircraft, which was not being met there with much enthusiasm at the time (though recently they did manage to sell it to Canada). However, since Caron's trip, the Brits' position appears to have been adjusted significantly:
It is understood that the UK is currently negotiating with Washington to buy an initial purchase of two Predator B air vehicles and a ground station from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for delivery on 2006 to support a major deployment of UK Army forces to Afghanistan next year.
Whether Cole, by way of Caron, has much to do with the Wade/Wilkes circle of defense contractor hell remains to be seen. But one thing is clear from these arrangements: America's public officials are engaged in doing business for private corporations and being rewarded well for the time they spend at it; rewarded both with lavish trips abroad and with campaign contributions designed to keep the players in play. And American and other countries' taxpayers, once again, are footing the bill for what amounts to an elaborate payola scheme. This sort of back room scheming is nothing new, of course, but its maw has grown considerably under GOP control in the last few years. It speaks volumes of the current situation in Washington today that members of the House Ethics Committee are now part of the scene.

With all the time spent in the service of themselves and corporations, I wonder, when does all this "people's work" get done?


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