POLITICS

Carney: 'Dirty Harry' Reid's donors feel lucky every day

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Photo - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Getty Images)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Harry Reid's recent charge against Mitt Romney is surprisingly dirty politics for a Senate majority leader, but in fact he's been "Dirty Harry" for years.

Rarely do a lawmaker's policies track so closely with the financial interests of his donors. Whether it's shaping Obamacare to the drug lobby's wishes in exchange for campaign support, leveraging the entire casino lobby for his re-election or cutting deals with a lobbyist developer since indicted over illegal campaign contributions, Reid often finds a way to turn his political power into personal gain.

Reid shepherded through the Senate a health care bill in 2009 largely written by the drug lobby, as recently published memos show. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the nation's largest single-industry lobby, applauded the bill's passage in December 2009, for good reason: The "reform" created brand-new subsidies and mandates driving more money toward prescription drugs, and it gave biotech drugs lengthy government-protected monopolies.

These specifics had been agreed upon in a July 2009 White House meeting with drug lobbyists. Over the next two weeks, drug industry PACs gave $23,000 to Reid.

That fall, Reid personally fought for one of Big Pharma's prized perks: He delayed a vote that would have allowed the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada and other foreign countries. After the Obama White House whipped enough votes in Pharma's favor, Reid finally allowed the amendment to come to the floor, and Pharma won, blocking reimportation. After Reid's Senate passed the bill, Reid got PAC checks from PhRMA, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

In 2010, as agreed in the 2009 White House deals, the drug lobby ran ads in Nevada supporting Reid's re-election.

Many of Reid's bundlers at the time were drug lobbyists. William S. Singer, for instance, raised $21,975 for Reid in 2010, after Pfizer paid Singer $80,000 to lobby the Senate on health care legislation in late 2009, according to lobbying disclosure forms.

If this all seems like standard D.C. special-interest politics, then take a look at any of Reid's sketchy land deals. Here's one: From 2002 through 2006, Reid pushed many policies to help one of his loyal donors, lobbyist-turned-developer Harvey Whittemore, build a huge resort and development north of Las Vegas.

Reid crafted a measure moving a federal "power corridor" -- an area reserved for power lines and off-limits to development -- away from the area where Whittemore wanted to build his houses and golf courses, and onto federal land set aside for "wilderness study." Federal bureaucrats objected to Reid's measure, particularly because it wouldn't require Whittemore to pay anything for the move, which would enrich him. (Eventually, Reid gave way on that detail, and Whittemore paid $10.4 million.)

Whittemore, of course, was pouring cash into Reid's campaign coffers through all of this. A final lagniappe was reported by the L.A. Times in 2006: "Whittemore also helped advance the legal careers of two of Reid's four sons. One of the two, Leif Reid, who is Whittemore's personal lawyer, has represented the developer throughout the Coyote Springs project, including in negotiations with federal officials."

Today, Whittemore awaits trial in the U.S. District Court in the District of Nevada on four charges related to $150,000 in allegedly illegal campaign contributions to Reid. Federal prosecutors charge that Whittemore circumvented individual contribution limits by reimbursing friends and family who contributed to Reid's 2010 re-election. Reid says he knew nothing of alleged conduit scheme, and federal prosecutors haven't pointed any fingers at Reid.

Whittemore is far from the only special interest throwing money at Reid in the last election cycle. Reid, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, was the top recipient of contributions from lobbyists, lawyers and casinos.

Reid's favors for casinos have been blatant. MGM Resorts and Caesars gave $300,000 and $75,000, respectively, to Reid's super-PAC in 2010. Just after the election, Reid stuck a provision in the lame-duck tax deal that would have legalized online gambling, but only for well-established casinos, freezing out potential competitors to the giants funding Reid's election (the provision died, and Reid is still pushing it). It's this sort of cronyism that spurred top Harrah's lobbyist Marybel Batjer to write in an email the week before the election that "waking up to a defeat of Harry Reid Nov 3 will be devastating for our industry's future."

As long as Nevada voters keep re-electing him, they deserve Harry Reid. As long as Beltway Democrats keep Reid in a position of leadership, they can't speak about good government with any credibility.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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