BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
There have been numerous instances of faux-outrage now pushed by the political establishment about the fact that Senator Chris McDaniel, who is running against Senator Thad Cochran for U.S. Senate, has said he would have read the Katrina relief bill and worked harder not to divert funding set aside to help victims.
The Cochran campaign team, including a Haley Barbour funded PAC run by his nephew Henry and Mississippi consultant Brian Perry, have seized on a quote in Politico where McDaniel said he would have to read a bill thoroughly before saying for sure how he would cast a vote, including disaster relief bills.
McDaniel said, “Just to be perfectly clear, I support disaster relief efforts for massive tragedies like Katrina. However, waste, fraud and abuse and misspent funds must never be allowed. The disaster relief must reach the intended beneficiaries, and we must be responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
McDaniel pointed to studies that estimated more than $2 billion in Katrina waste and misspent funds saying, “Perhaps if the money had been properly spent the Gulf Coast recovery would be much further along than it is.”
Sounds like a responsible conservative approach don’t you think?
The Cochran campaign has rested their entire hopes of his reelection on him being successfully promoted as the “hero” of the Katrina recovery story. They can’t have some whippersnapper coming in and pointing out that the ’emperor has no clothes’. That’s why Haley Barbour has gone to the media time and again to feign indignation at McDaniel’s stance on responsible relief funding oversight.
Cochran stuck to the Barbour script when he told Politico of the Katrina funding, “As I look at how local and state officials have used this money, I am proud of what we did.”
The Barbour machine then recruited Auditor Stacy Pickering, who himself has said he would run for Cochran’s seat should the 76-year old decide to retire. Pickering was recruited to write an Op-Ed where he bashed McDaniel’s pro-responsible spending position. In that article, Pickering maintained that “95%” of Katrina relief funding was on the up-and-up (you scratch my back . . .).
The problem for the Cochran campaign and for the political establishment (now including a desperately ambitious Pickering) is simple; the evidence points to inside ‘good ole boy’ politics and quite a bit of waste, fraud and abuse, much of which is coming home to roost at Cochran and Barbour’s doorstep at a most inopportune time.
For those of us who love the Mississippi coast and visit often, the slabs where homes once stood is a visual reminder of where the money DIDN’T go. So, where did it go?
Cochran is the Wasteful Government Enabler
Cochran fought hard to be sure no-bid contracts were part of the Katrina relief package and that Barbour held the reins of the spending, so Barbour and his cronies could make out like bandits.
It was Cochran’s long-time engineering cronies who received the large fees associated with readjusting population numbers for water and sewer projects. It was Barbour’s niece who bilked the federal government out of money for portable toilets and portable showers, that in turn brought an FBI investigation and fraud convictions. And it was Henry Barbour, despite having no experience in disaster relief, that was named as head of then Gov. Barbour’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal.
Cochran and Barbour Leave Local Government Emergency Agencies Without Help
Now comes a new report of how Barbour’s lobbying client Motorola, with Cochran’s help, bilked taxpayers and Katrina victims out of $100 million in federal disaster relief.
The scheme was to bid low, sue the competition and use lobbyists like Barbour to maintain an iron-fist grip, then come back later and renegotiate the contracts. This has left local governments without the ability to use a new state-wide radio system intended to help Mississippians during emergencies.
Disaster Money Diverted
The McClatchy Report says that “within months of Katrina’s 2005 devastation, Barbour enlisted Mississippi’s two powerful senators, fellow Republicans Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, to divert $100 million in federal disaster aid toward a new statewide digital radio system.
Later, with construction underway, Barbour announced plans to vault Mississippi into the vanguard by building a second, $70 million next-generation network that could flash data and videos via broadband to cops, firefighters and medics.
Motorola Uses Barbour and Cochran to Skirt Anti-Trust Laws
The report spells out how Motorola captured both of Mississippi’s mega contracts, which promised to generate more than $300 million in sales, with initial bid prices so low that competitors were dumbfounded.
The firm’s low-ball bids offer a case study in how some of the company’s myriad marketing tactics have warded off competition and helped preserve its estimated 80 percent hold on the nation’s emergency telecommunication business.
In Mississippi, Motorola locked up the radio project with a bid price of $221 million, $90 million below that of rival M/A-Com Inc. Although Motorola had the least experience of three bidders for the broadband network, its price of $56 million over the system’s 10-year life was $33 million lower than that of runner-up Alcatel-Lucent.
Despite the appeal of savings in Motorola’s bids, one of the new networks has been scrapped and Mississippi lacks the funds to operate the other.
Several industry experts also say the Mississippi network was grossly short of the number of towers needed to perform as advertised, perhaps helping to explain Motorola’s low bid.
Barbour’s Tough Talk Leads to a New Client
Former Mississippi Gov. Barbour said that he was warned “about some companies that have a reputation for underbidding” and then recovering the money through change orders.
“We worked very, very hard regularly to make sure there weren’t change orders” on the radio contract, Barbour said.
It was tough talk, considering that within months of leaving office in 2012 Barbour registered as a federal lobbyist for Motorola Solutions.
So to recap:
1. Cochran gives Barbour no-bid contracts with Katrina disaster money intended for Mississippians,
2. Barbour gives cronies and family members access to federal contracts.
3. Barbour gives Motorola control over the states radio network,
4. Motorola now wants $13 million more to make the system workable,
5. Barbour registers as a lobbyist for Motorola after leaving office,
6. Barbour is raising millions to keep Cochran in office.
Yeah sure. No red flags there at all.
Let’s all just take a step back here and for a minute understand the reality of the situation. We Republicans bear some of the responsibility here. We stopped paying attention, or maybe we stopped seeing what was right in front of our eyes.
Truth matters, folks.
Give me the candidate that understands reality and is willing to tell the truth over the one willing to sell me snake oil as the next greatest cure, any day.
We won’t get back on track by pretending otherwise. The first way to recovery is a willingness to admit there’s a problem.
While establishment politicians are preaching to us about how abandoning certain core conservative beliefs are key to winning in the future, they are pillaging and plundering at the government trough. This is absolute hypocrisy.
It’s time to grow a backbone, to realize that conservative governing works, and to be the conservative Republicans we tell people we are.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett