Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fortenberry's $20,000 Corruption Cameo

by Kyle Michaelis

There has been a lot of very disturbing news recently about the extent to which Congress has become held in thrall to suspect campaign donations and to lobbyists' perks under Republican leadership.

The Jack Abramoff scandal has put this culture of corruption out front and center, reaching all the way to the White House. Meanwhile, House Republican leader Tom DeLay has been indicted and forced to give-up his post.

Through all this, Nebraska's Republican House delegation has managed to remain incredibly silent, apparently hoping the public's attention and outrage will blow-over, leaving them unscathed. Particularly distressing is the fact that 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been given such a pass on these issues from the local media when, in his first year of office, he has managed to become more ensnared in this business than either of his counterparts, Lee Terry or Tom Osborne.

Terry, at least, went on record with the Omaha World-Herald on DeLay's resignation, saying "I appreciate his dedication and hard work for the GOP...his decision to step down as majority leader was the right thing to do."

Osborne has taken a less qualified stance against the influence-peddling in Washington D.C. but has always been very careful to portray it as a pox on both political parties. From his five years in Congress, he's testified about the degree to which campaign funding “drives legislation and influences votes" but also seems to instinctually recognize that his personal popularity is most responsible for his not having to dirty his hands like his peers.

And dirty they are. Though not accused of any wrong-doing, Fortenberry has received $20,000 from DeLay's Congressional PAC, the Texas statehouse arm's actions for which he is now under criminal indictment. That Fortenberry has refused to return these tainted funds is one thing, but, to my knowledge, the local press has not even gotten him to comment on the political downfall of their source.

How dare Fortenberry remain silent when he has welcomed this apparent corruption into our elections! Even if he refuses responsibility, he at least owes his voters an explanation. Heck, even something like Terry's vapid farewell to Delay would be a step in the right direction.

Where has the press been on this? If Fortenberry will not answer for his actions or speak on his past support of Delay, the press at least has the obligation to ask him to do so.

$20,000 is a lot of money. These scandals are not going anywhere, and the people deserve to know their elected representative's response. Silence is not acceptable - not from the press, not from Fortenberry.

Have Nebraska Republicans really become so insulated, so sure of victory, that they don't have to answer to voters? If so, I don't foresee their changing until voters finally sicken of being taken for granted and deliver a long overdue wake-up call to the dominant party.

Addendum - 1/12/06 - 12:30 am
The Lincoln Journal-Star did run an editorial Monday calling on Nebraska's congressional delegation to do more for the cause of House reform. Still, Fortenberry's direct involvement with DeLay and his glaring absence in this debate received no specific mention, despite his being Lincoln's congressman.

This sheltering of politicians' names and refusal to call them out directly is in no ones interest but those in power. Does the press' complacency simply reflect the people's apathy or create it?


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