Friday, July 30, 2010

Richard Shelby's Pork Parade Helps Fund Discrimination on Alabama Campuses

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has steered more than $250 million in earmarks over the past two years to organizations whose lobbyists used to work in Shelby's office, according to a new report at Politico.

A huge chunk of that pork has gone to the University of Alabama System, which we have shown at Legal Schnauzer has rampant problems with discrimination in employment. We also have shown that the UA System is a terrible steward of federal funds, with widespread financial and scientific fraud on its Birmingham campus (UAB) alone.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. 2000d, prohibits the use of federal funds for organizations that discriminate. That means Richard Shelby has sent millions of federal dollars to a university system that does not qualify, under the law, to receive them.

It's not just our opinion, by the way, that the UA System discriminates. A federal jury found that UA discriminated against former medical resident Seema Gupta based on her Hindu religion. Numerous other lawsuits have been settled or are currently in litigation.

Politico's report is based on a study, "Senator Shelby's Pork Parade," by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Eight staffers have left Shelby's office to create or join lobbying firms, CREW reports, and Shelby has earmarked $266,524,500 for their clients. In a case of classic political back-scratching, those clients clearly return the favor. The lobbying firms have earned $10,075,000 in fees. And the firms and clients have sent $999,471 to Shelby's campaign committee and leadership PAC since 1999. Reports Politico:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that compiled the data on Shelby’s earmarks and campaign contributions, believes that Shelby’s actions are similar to the favor trading that clouded the tenure of late Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha.

“Sen. Shelby, like Rep. Murtha before him, takes trading earmarks for campaign dollars to a level most members of Congress can only dream about,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the organization. “Also like Murtha, Shelby earmarks for the benefit of his former-staffers-turned-lobbyists.”

Even some of Shelby's Republican colleagues have raised questions about such tactics. Reports Politico:

Shelby’s earmarking doesn’t appear to run afoul of Senate rules or federal ethics laws. But critics said his tactics are part of a Washington culture in which lawmakers direct money back home to narrow interests, which, in turn, hire well-connected lobbyists — often former congressional aides — who enjoy special access on Capitol Hill.

“It is a system that is in direct conflict of interest with our oath of office because it’s parochial,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), an earmark critic who declined to comment on Shelby directly.

While lobbyists, their clients, and Shelby himself clearly are winners in this charade, taxpayers appear to be the big losers. Consider the dollars that former Shelby staffer Ray Cole has raked in for the University of Alabama System:

A former Shelby state director and campaign manager, Cole is registered to lobby for The University of Alabama System, which has received $175 million in Shelby earmarks since 2008, the first year lawmakers had to publicly declare their sponsorship of pet projects. The earmarks have included $30 million for a state-of-the-art science center, $10.5 million for Gulf of Mexico weather research and $10.2 million for facilities and equipment at the Tuscaloosa campus.

Alabama universities love to tout their ties to Shelby--and they are happy to return the favors. Reports Politico:

Shelby’s influence is hard to miss at Alabama campuses. There’s Shelby Hall at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. In 2008, the Huntsville campus opened the Shelby Center for Science and Technology at a cost of $60 million — two-thirds of it built with federal dollars. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is home to the Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building.

Employees of The University of Alabama System contributed more than $153,000 to Shelby's campaigns since 1999. And since that time, Cole’s firm has received $3.5 million from the University of Alabama System in lobbying fees.

Does this produce good government? Not exactly. Here is how we recently described the situation at the UA campus in Birmingham:

Under the the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison, with an assist from Provost Eli Capilouto, UAB has a longstanding pattern of mistreating faculty and staff--and mishandling federal funds. In fact, UAB has seen so many scandals and lawsuits that we summed them up in a post titled "Has UAB Become a Hotbed for Mismanagement and Corruption."

In short, UAB rakes in millions of dollars from Sen. Shelby while blatantly violating federal laws. Here is a recent summary from a post titled "UAB Dysfunction Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum":

It's difficult to keep up with all the UAB sleaze under Garrison, but here is our best effort at an updated and comprehensive list. . . .

* Nine papers written by scientist H.M. Krishna Murthy are retracted because of concerns about academic fraud;

* Researchers Juan R. Contreras and Judith M. Thomas are barred from receiving federal funds after falsifying results from animal studies;

* School of Medicine Dean Robert Rich steps down under mysterious circumstances, in the wake of multiple reports about fraud and discrimination that took place on his watch;

* A University of Louisville dean, who has ties to UAB 's Carol Garrison from her days as provost at U of L, pleads guilty to fraud-related charges and is sentenced to 63 months in federal prison;

* Longtime engineering professor Rosalia Scripa files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime history professor Horace Huntley files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Longtime business professor Susan Key files a discrimination lawsuit;

* Former trainee Seema Gupta files a lawsuit claiming widespread discrimination against international medical graduates in UAB's Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville;

* A company owned by a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, is found to have been involved in insurance fraud;

* An office associate uses a university computer to send a hate-filled e-mail to a California gay-rights group. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A financial associate uses a university computer to send a racist e-mail that mocks President Obama and other major Democrats. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;

* A federal lawsuit alleges that UAB's Office of Public Relations and Marketing unlawfully used copyrighted illustrations in various print publications and on the university's Web site.

* A prominent donor, with strong ties to Republican Party politics, has a lengthy history of driving-related arrests and questionable business practices;

* Several UAB medical professionals have ties to a company owned by attorney Rob Riley (son of GOP Governor Bob Riley), which has been accused in federal-court documents of practicing health-care fraud;

* UAB settles a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleges some $600 million in fraud over a 10-year period;

* In her first year on the job, President Garrison embarrasses the university by playing a prominent role in a scandal that led to the ouster of University of Tennessee President John Shumaker.

That list doesn't include the ongoing case of business professor Glenn Feldman who has faced unlawful harassment and discrimination largely because of his ties to organized labor and Democratic Party politics. Feldman's academic specialty is labor economics and history.

It also doesn't include by own case, where I was unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor in the UAB Office of Publications after 19 years at the university. Evidence strongly indicates that I was fired largely because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

Is it a coincidence that a university that relies so heavily on pork from a Republican senator is hostile to those who express progressive views? Maybe not.

Are taxpayers being well served by Richard Shelby's back-scratching pork campaign? Definitely not.


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