Solon Economou: The four junketeers

Providence Journal, Op-Ed, Saturday, May 20, 2006


FOLLOWING THE RECENT ABRAMOFF SCANDAL, concerned political figures are calling for tighter lobbying reforms and stricter oversight of activities of special-interest groups. But not four Massachusetts congressmen, all Democrats and compadres of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.

This year the four U.S. representatives, -- part of that august body often called "the best Congress that money can buy" -- took junkets funded by various special-interest groups. Then all four jumped on the Kennedy anti-wind-farm bandwagon.

Rep. Barney Frank went on three special-interest-funded junkets. These took him to Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Philadelphia. I don't care much for Philly, but L.A. and Fort Lauderdale sound very nice.

Rep. Edward Markey and his wife, Dr. Susan Blumenthal, were treated to a week at a resort in beautiful Punta Mita, Mexico, in January, in the midst of our New England winter. The junket was paid for by the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based "think tank." I just love those think tanks; their labels tell nothing and can encompass anything.

Rep. Richard Neal took a two-day trip to Miami, also in that cold, gray January, paid for by the Wachovia Corporation, a Fortune 500 company and the fifth-largest bank-holding company in the United States.

Finally, Rep. William Delahunt, Cape Cod's congressman, took a weeklong trip in dreary February to beautiful San Diego. This one was paid for by the German Marshall Fund, another "think tank."

So how are these four congressmen connected?

On May 10, they all announced that they would support the controversial provision inserted in the $8.7 billion Coast Guard bill that would give Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney unprecedented -- and possibly unconstitutional -- specific veto power over the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm.

This provision is the infamous back-room deal masterminded by Massachusetts Senator Kennedy, an opponent of Cape Wind's proposed project off the coast of Massachusetts and ally of other rich and famous people who, like him, have houses on Nantucket Sound. The provision was surreptitiously inserted into the Coast Guard bill by Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican from oil-rich Alaska -- a strange bedfellow who probably can't even find Nantucket Sound on the map.

As Edgar Schoaff once said, "Politicians make strange bedfellows, but they all share the same bunk." The institutions sponsoring the congressional junkets are varied, or so they seem, but what they apparently have in common are big bucks, influence and connections -- the fuels that run our political engine.

A vast web has been spun by wealthy Cape Wind opponents and powerful lobbyists trying to sway the public against the wind farm. The opponents include not only rich people who consider Nantucket Sound their personal yachting lake, but also individuals and groups deep into coal, oil and other fossil-fuel interests. Millions have already been spent in the attempt to kill what would be the nation's first, and model, offshore wind farm -- and the deep pockets haven't even been grazed.

Are the winter junkets of these four congressmen, sponsored by seemingly disparate special-interest groups, merely coincidental with their announced intention of supporting Kennedy's attempt to kill the Nantucket Sound wind farm? Who can tell?

But, as Sherlock Holmes said, "Once is an accident; twice is coincidence; but three times, the game's afoot."

In Massachusetts, the dirty-politics game certainly seems to be afoot. It is pitiable that Senator Kennedy, who has done so much for the people of his state, appears to have gone off the deep end with his tactics to kill the Nantucket Sound wind farm.

Let's hope, for the good of New England and the nation, that Kennedy's reprehensible back-room deal is relegated to the trash heap of history, where it belongs.

SolonSolon Economou, a retired Army officer, is an engineer and a newspaper columnist. This Op Ed piece appeared here in today's Providence Journal. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on