Recess Appointments Reek of Cronyism

Nick Burt

If it weren't for Katherine Harris, where would George W. Bush be now?

After last year’s Katrina and Supreme Court fiascos provoked catcalls of cronyism” from all sides, the Bush administration learned something about making appointments. The lesson: Be more subtle.

On January 4, Bush used the congressional recess to bypass the Senate confirmation process and appoint 17 officials to posts in the State Department, Federal Election Commission, National Labor Relations Board and other federal offices. The recess appointments avoided floor fights over dubiously credentialed nominees, including a former oil executive, a former president of a weapons manufacturer and a relative of a cabinet employee. All told, they include eight donors to Bush’s presidential campaigns.

Two of the appointees are 2004 Bush-Cheney Campaign Rangers,” supporters who are being rewarded for having bundled” at least $200,000 in $2,000 contributions from individuals. Among the 221 Rangers were Roger Wallace, who was named to the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation, and Stephen Goldsmith, who now sits on the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Both appointees to the Amtrak Reform Board also contributed to his re-election. Floyd Hall, the former CEO of K-Mart who shepherded the company to Chapter 11, has donated $453,000 to the GOP since 1996. Enrique Sosa, a retired oil executive from Florida, has given more than $22,000 to Bush and the RNC since 2000. In June 2004, Sosa admitted to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that he’s never ridden an Amtrak train but would be happy to do so if confirmed.

Others, like Gordon England, the pick for Deputy Secretary of Defense, do have experience related to their new office. England’s résumé includes a stint as vice-president of General Dynamics Corporation and president of General Dynamics Fort Worth Aircraft Company (later purchased by Lockheed Martin). General Dynamics, a top weapons manufacturer, regularly rakes in more than $8 billion a year in government contracts. Since 2000, the company has given more than $5 million to political candidates, with 58 percent of the money directed to Republicans.

Although nine of the 17 recess appointees have personally contributed a total of $440,585 to either Bush or the Republican Party since 1999, issuing a check isn’t the only way to get an appointment.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., worked for the Bush-Cheney 2000 election effort as a volunteer during the Florida recount. But his greatest contribution to the campaign may have been a 1997 article he penned for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation that encouraged states to aggressively purge their voter rolls of alleged felons. When implemented in Florida, the plan led to the disenfranchisement of an estimated 2,873 mostly minority voters. Von Spakovsky’s new job? A post on the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Joining von Spakovsky on the FEC as one of the legally required Democratic members is Robert D. Lenhard, who as an attorney for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees argued that the Supreme Court should deem the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law unconstitutional.

[Bush] has appointed people [to the FEC] who have no interest in regulating special interest money in campaigns and elections,” says Public Citizen’s Frank Clemente, director of Congress Watch. They get to draft regulations to implement campaign finance laws,” which can make the difference between whether the law has teeth or is a toothless tiger.”

Another player from the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign is Ellen Sauerbrey, who chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Maryland. She is now the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Sauerbrey’s appointment is a sop to the Christian right. Since 2003 she has served on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, where she has been an outspoken opponent of family planning and abortion rights. 

Past support for Bush’s policies appears to have helped the appointment of Tracy Henke, the new executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness of the Department of Homeland Security, and Peter Kirsanow, a new member of the National Labor Relations Board. Henke has been accused of deleting relevant information from Justice Department reports that documented racial disparities in the treatment of motorists stopped by police. Kirsanow, who is African American, opposes affirmative action and an increase in the minimum wage. As a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, he suggested, post-9/11, that should another terrorist attack be committed by Arabs, the group can forget about civil rights.”

And then there are always family” values. The new assistant secretary of homeland security at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is 36-year-old Julie Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard Myers and the wife of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s chief of staff, John Wood. While Congress has mandated that ICE nominees have a minimum of five years of experience in both management and law enforcement, Myers’ past experience includes two years as a federal prosecutor and four years of short stints in the Commerce, Treasury and Justice Departments. None of the jobs pertained to immigration, or, more important, offered her experience managing an office with 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget. 

Her lack of credentials became even too much for right-wing screedstress Michelle Malkin, who decried the choice of Myers in an article titled, No More Cronyism: Bush DHS Nominee Doesn’t Deserve the Job.”

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