An honorable man? — 1 down, 18 to go

In two recent postings (here and here), I expressed my complete surprise over the fact that pork — and lots of it — had entered into the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 — probably the last place where pork should have appeared if elected senators and representatives had any decency or respect for the United States voters and tax payers. The pork included tax relief and credits a variety of special interest groups and multi-billion corporations, including the entertainment industry and Nascar.

The bill — and most of the pork — originated with Mr. Max Baucus’ Committee on Finance in the late summer of 2012 and was approved by 19 of the committee’s members, with only 5 members voting against, and the amount of pork was widely recognized throughout the legislative process that eventually culminated in late December of 2012.

I was so incredulous about the fact that elected politicians and lobby organizations in an incredible act of arrogance had loaded the bill with pork, that I suggested that the 19 senators would consider political seppuku if they had even an iota of honor.

For the record — and lest we forget who thought it was acceptable to increase the tax burden on working families while granting tax credits to multi-billion dollar companies and interest groups — the committee members that voted for the veritable pork-barrel were Rockefeller, Conrad, Bingaman, Kerry, Wyden, Schumer, Stabenow, Cantwell, Nelson (by proxy), Menendez, Carper, Cardin, Hatch, Grassley, Snowe, Crapo, Roberts (by proxy), Thune, and Chairman Baucus.

Jay Rockefeller

Jay Rockefeller

As it happens Rockefeller announced on January 11th, 2013, approximately one week after my posting, that he would be retiring from the United States Senate. In his official press-release conveying the news, he noted that “[h]is announcement comes as he nears 50 years of public service in West Virginia and 30 years in the Senate.”

As I have written about in the past, I no longer have illusions of grandeur and a belief that my pen — or the pen of others — have the power to cause change, but — regardless — there it was: Something akin to political seppuku by one of the individuals who had voted for the bill.

I am pleased about this resignation, and when I read about it the phrase good riddance came to mind. Having spent an incredible 30 years in the Senate, whatever achievements Mr. Rockefeller made over the years (and, for the record, there are many) were to my mind eradicated entirely when he voted aye to a bill, which — among other things — transferred $70 million of the tax payers’ money to the motor sport industry at a point in time where the scrutiny of such behavior was at its highest.

Had Mr. Rockefeller at least committed an act of seppuku in a proper manner, apologizing first in public for his part in the porking of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 and immediately thereafter resigning (he will — it appears — be hanging around for an additional two years,) I would perhaps have been able to view him in a different light — perhaps even admiring him for being an honorable — albeit flawed — man. As it happens, he did not and he is not.

Besides its silence on the porking, I noted one thing about Mr. Rockefeller’s press-release, namely his 30 year service, amounting to five terms, starting in 1984, when he defeated Mr. John Raese in the elections. In fact, when I consider these five terms and Mr. Baucus’ continous, ad nauseum re-election since 1974, it really becomes clear to me that what the United States needs more than anything else is term limits in the House of Representatives and in the Senate — if nothing else then because it would limit the damage that a politician could inflict on the country, and so, perhaps a better name would be damage limit.

Not surprising, perhaps, the web-sites of Mr. Rockefeller and Baucus tell remarkable stories of success, sacrifice, dedication, vitality, and sustained unselfish public service.

Lest we forget, Mr. Rockefeller was born in 1937 and Mr. Baucus was born in 1941, making them 75 and 71 years old — hardly spring chickens, and they have spent virtually their entire life inside the political machine.

With respect to public service it may be worth remembering that Mr. Rockefeller was the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the infamous Bush/Cheney years and voted to suspend habeas corpus provisions for anyone deemed — in the unilateral view of the Executive Branch of the United States government — to be an “unlawful combatant,” and gave a retroactive, nine-year immunity to any official who authorized, ordered, or committed acts of torture and abuse. Pretty scary stuff and hardly the stuff of legends. Moreover, when Mr. Rockefeller retires, he will be entitled to retirement annuity amounting to something near 80% of his annual salary ($174,000 as of 2009,) yielding a nice income of $139,200 per year, plus, of course, first-rate medical benefits… Not bad when you consider that the median annual household income among his constituents is $38,029 (ranked as 48th in the United States.)

Perhaps, in particular given his personal wealth (somewhere in the range of $63,082,021 to $142,330,003 in 2011 according to his recent filing of a United States Senate Financial Disclosure form,) Mr. Rockefeller will chose to not accept the retirement pay and other benefits that he is entitled to?

By the way, if you read the disclosure forms, don’t worry that the stated income in 2011 for Mr. Rockefeller was $0. Obviously it was not (it excludes, for instance, his salary from the United States Senate,) and even if it was, his wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, a PepsiCo board member since 1984 and a the CEO and President of WETA, a, not-for-profit PBS station in Washington, D.C. area, since 1989, would be able to help out. While the filing lists Ms. Rockefeller’s income from PepsiCo and WETA and coyly refers to each as being more than $1,000, in fact, according to Forbes, the 2011 compensation from WETA was $398,689, and according to a PepsiCo proxy the 2011 income from Pepsico was $270,000, for total 2011 compensation of at least $668,689.

In case you were wondering what Ms. Rockefeller does to deserve an annual payment of $270,000 from PepsiCo and what qualification she brings to bear, the PepsiCo proxies for 2011 and 2012 can be helpful.

Ms. Rockefeller sits on the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, which met six times in 2011 and the Compensation Committee, which met 6 times in 2011. The Board of Directors met six times and conducted one shareholder meeting in 2011, and, so, in aggregate Ms. Rockefeller was called upon to participate in 19 meetings in 2011 (whether it was via telephone or in person we do not know, and, likewise, we do not know what her attendance record was,) for a per-meeting compensation of $14,210.52. Assuming that the average meeting lasted three hours, her hourly compensation was $4,736.84.

In terms of Ms. Rockefeller’s qualifications, the 2011 PepsiCo proxy is notable in its frankness, stating that Ms. Rockefeller brings to PepsiCo her “… keen knowledge of and contacts with the government…” — a Freudian slip, which was promptly corrected in the 2012 proxy, which instead states that Ms. Rockefeller brings to PepsiCo her “… keen knowledge of government and public policy matters…” Needless to say the difference between having government contacts (including, of course, her husband, Mr. Rockefeller, a member of the influential United States Senate Finance Committee) and knowledge of government public policy matters is material.

I, for one, say good riddance.

I hope Mr. Baucus — together with the 17 other committee members who voted for the porking — will follow Mr. Rockefeller out the door, preferably swiftly and silently. Upon exiting, Mr. Baucus could perhaps, in a proper act of seppuku, reflect on — and apologize for — his strong ties to lobbyists, including Jack Abraham, his ties to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, his lack of residence in Montana, his home state, and his remarkable situation with Ms. Melodee Hanes. As laid out on Wikipedia:

Baucus has been criticized for his ties to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and has been one of the largest beneficiaries in the Senate of campaign contributions from these industries. From 2003 to 2008, Baucus received $3,973,485 from the health sector, including $852,813 from pharmaceutical companies, $851,141 from health professionals, $784,185 from the insurance industry and $465,750 from HMOs/health services, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A 2006 study by Public Citizen found that between 1999 and 2005 Baucus, along with former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, took in the most special-interest money of any senator.

and

Only three senators have more former staffers working as lobbyists on K Street, at least two dozen in Baucus’s case. Several of Baucus’s ex-staffers, including former chief of staff David Castagnetti, are now working for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. Castagnetti co-founded the lobbying firm of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, which represents “America’s Health Insurance Plans Inc.”, the national trade group of health insurance companies, the Medicare Cost Contractors Alliance, as well as Amgen, AstraZeneca PLC and Merck & Co. Another former chief of staff, Jeff Forbes, went on to open his own lobbying shop and to represent the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Advanced Medical Technology Association, among other groups.

and

In December 2005, following the public corruption probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff — who was later convicted of fraud and corruption — Baucus returned $18,892 in contributions that his office found to be connected to Abramoff. Included in the returned donations was an estimated $1,892 that was never reported for Baucus’s use of Abramoff’s sky box at a professional sports stadium and concert venue in downtown Washington in 2001.

and

Baucus has come under fire from critics calling him a beltway insider who no longer really lives in Montana and only occasionally comes to visit. Until 1991, Baucus owned a house in Missoula, where he practiced law for three years before running for Congress in 1974. He didn’t own a home again in Montana until February 2002, when he bought half of his mother’s house from the Sieben Ranch Company, the ranch started by Baucus’s great-grandfather in 1897. The ranch company, and Baucus’s mother, still own the other half of the house. Baucus lives in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill district. As of November 2007, the Missoulian newspaper reported he owned no other property in Montana.

In April 2009, The Associated Press reported that Baucus and his second wife, the former Wanda Minge, are divorcing after 25 years of marriage and have “parted ways amicably and with mutual respect.” Starting in 2008, Senator Baucus has been romantically linked with his state office director, Melodee Hanes, whom he later nominated to the vacant position of U.S. Attorney in Montana. Hanes then withdrew her nomination before the conflict of interest was discovered, because according to Baucus they wanted to be together in Washington, D.C. Both the Senator and Ms. Hanes had ended their marriages within the previous year. Senator Baucus claims he was separated from his wife before he began seeing Ms. Hanes.

Here, too, I say good riddance.

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