Tim Johnson Watch

Representative Tim Johnson was elected to represent the residents of Illinois' 15th Congressional District in Central Illinois. His constituents should know what he's doing.

Location: 15th Congressional District, Illinois, United States

A concerned citizen of Central Illinois.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tim Johnson: Time to Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When the Republicans took over the House in 1994, they had their Contract With America. (That was the one promising term limits, forgotten by House Republicans like Tim Johnson forgot his own personal term limit pledge.)

As the Democrats are on the verge of a similarly historic victory, they have their 100 Hours, a promise of how they will "drain the swamp" of House GOP corruption and begin to implement changes that, honestly, should have had bipartisan support all along.

Voters should consider, then, how Tim Johnson will respond to these middle of the road proposals. Unfortunately, it does not look promising. Here's the Democratic agenda, and TJW's estimation of where Mr. Johnson stands:
Day One: Put new rules in place to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation." AGAINST. What can one expect from someone who as a state legislator "asked for contributions on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly" (Kurt Erickson, "End of the tunnel in view; Campaigns almost over -- thankfully", Bloomington Pantagraph, Nov. 5, 2000), voted against a bi-partisan ethics task force, and kept Tom Delay's money while allowing his GOP colleagues to try to protect him?

Day Two: Enact all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. AGAINST. Republican Chris Shays (R-CT) has proposed just such a bill (HR 5017). Johnson has refused to cosponsor the bill (though he's usually free with his cosponsorships) and the bill has been relegated by the GOP leadership to die in committee.

Time remaining until 100 hours: Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, maybe in one step. FOR, BUT ONLY SORT OF. Johnson has supported increase in minimum wage, but has tied it to tax giveaways for the rich.

Cut the interest rate on student loans in half. AGAINST: Tim Johnson does talk a good game on student loans, but he voted earlier this year to increase the interest rate.

Allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients. AGAINST. Tim Johnson was a decisive vote in favor of the half-trillion dollar Medicare "Modernization" Act, which narrowly passed the House 220-215 and which prevents the government from saving taxpayer money by negotiating lower prices from the drug companies.

Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds -- "I hope with a veto-proof majority," she added in an Associated Press interview Thursday. AGAINST: In May 2005, Johnson voted against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a medical research bill championed by pro-life Republican Mike Castle (R-DE) that passed with 50 Republican votes, and doubtless would have received even more Republican support but for the aggressive opposition of Tom DeLay.

All the days after that: "Pay as you go," meaning no increasing the deficit, whether the issue is middle class tax relief, health care or some other priority. AGAINST: Tim Johnson came to Washington at a time of budget surpluses but has been a consistent supporter of the Bush tax policy of massive cuts for the very, very wealthy, without offsetting cuts in spending, which has caused the deficit to balloon to close to half a trillion dollars per year.
So, by all means, if you make over $250,000 and oppose stem-cell research, vote for Tim Johnson. But if, like most residents of this District, you fit into neither category, November 7 is time to tell Mr. Johnson to get out of the way.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tim Johnson's Tainted Campaign Cash, Part III

Last week, TJW reported that Johnson took $1000 in 2004 from Nicholas Hurtgen, who has since been indicted on charges of defrauding the State, the Illinois Facilities Planning Board, the Chicago Medical School, and a related charitable trust out of millions. That post further reported that Johnson also took $1000 from Hurtgen's wife, Catherine, who has been reported to have laundered Nicholas's contributions to state officials (Johnson was a state legislator at the time) because SEC rules restricted Nicholas from making such contributions directly.

But it gets still fishier. It turns out that on October 28, 2000 -- the very same day that Hurtgen's wife gave Johnson $1000 -- Johnson also received $1000 from Stuart Levine, who was indicted as Nicholas Hurtgen's co-conspirator in the same fraud. (UPDATE: Levine pleaded guilty today.)

So let's review. Just 10 days before a close election (Johnson beat Mike Kelleher 53%-47%), Hurtgen's wife and his indicted co-conspirator each give the maximum to Johnson. Hurtgen, who can't give Johnson money because federal anti-corruption rules would then restrict his ability to seek State business -- and in any case couldn't give him more than $1000 under then applicable campaign finance laws -- doesn't give him a cent. We can't know what was in anybody's mind, of course, but it's hard to believe this was a coincidence. The clear inference is that Hurtgen encouraged his confidantes to funnel money to Johnson so as to evade both campaign finance limits and anti-corruption rules designed to prevent exactly this kind of influence peddling.

UPDATE: Also maxing out for Johnson on October 28, 2000, was George Ryan's son, George Jr. As you will recall, Johnson was a favorite recipient of Governor Ryan's largesse. Hurtgen, meanwhile, was a bit player in Ryan's corruption, in addition to his own criminal problems. Oh, what TJW would have given to be a fly on the wall during that fundraiser....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

But At Least He's Good For The Farmers ... Or Not

Tim Johnson is Illinois' lone member on the House Agrigulture Committee. He frequently repeats that "agriculture is the backbone of the district's economy".

You'd expect Tim Johnson to be a reliable voice in Congress for the farmer, wouldn't you?

You'd be wrong.

The National Farmer's Union -- an organization founded in 1902, which today has "a membership of 250,000 farm and ranch families" and "continues its original mission to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities" -- keeps score. And Tim Johnson gets a failing grade.

Johnson scored a whopping 50% for the 2005-06 congressional session. And that's the best he's ever done. In 2003-04, he scored a mere 33%. And in 2001-02, it was 30%. (You can see details and methodology for the last two terms here. Those details aren't available for 2001-02, but the scores are here.)

Honestly, if Tim Johnson's not a reliable friend of the farmer, what does he have left?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Tim Johnson's Tainted Campaign Cash, Part II

As I mentioned earlier this week, there should be another entry -- or actually two -- in My Pet Goat's informative list of Tim Johnson's shady donors.

Mr. Johnson accepted $1000 from Nicholas Hurtgen, just weeks before it was disclosed that he was a defendant in a federal whistle blower lawsuit, and just a year before he was indicted in federal court in Chicago on charges of a multimillion dollar construction fraud scheme to defraud the State of Illinois, the Illinois Facilities Planning Board, the Chicago Medical School, and a related charitable trust. (Hurtgen's trial has been delayed, apparently because he is now cooperating with federal prosecutors.)

To make matters more interesting, in 2000, Mr. Johnson also accepted $1000 from Hurtgen's wife, Catherine (who also made several large donations to George Ryan). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has since suggested that Mr. Hurtgen may have been laundering political contributions through his wife to state officials to avoid an SEC rule that forbids investment brokers from doing business with a public official to whom they have given a political donation within the past two years. Significantly, when Catherine's donation was made in 2000, Tim Johnson was still a state official as a member of the Illinois legislature.

Of course, there is nothing necessarily wrong with accepting money from someone who's later indicted, but as noted previously, it's extraordinary how Tim Johnson seems to end up collecting cash from every corrupt Republican influence peddler.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

TJW Mailbag

Dear TJW:

While reading a local paper (Southern Champaign County Today, 10/11/06), I see that Rep. Tim Johnson won an award from the National Association of Manufacturers. Wow!

I question the newsworthiness of these awards. If you go to nam.org's web site, and download the PDF of who won the award in the 109th house, you see that 224 Republicans out of the 230 Republicans in the house ALSO got this award.

Basically, this award is about as special as the gold star I got for showing up in kindergarten.

Bob Rubendunst,
Sidney, IL
October 12, 2006
And what does NAM want for its gold star? They support the Bush plan to gut social security, freezing the minimum wage, the disastrous 2003 Medicare "Reform" Act, and a menu of extreme environmental depravity (opposing, for example, reductions in the levels of fine particles in the air and mercury in the water, and favoring drilling not just in the ANWR but in the Outer Continental Shelf). This gold star may please Tim Johnson's Republican colleagues in Washington, but it's surely not what's in the best interests of his constituents.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tim Johnson's Tainted Campaign Cash

What better way to start the week here at Tim Johnson Watch than with more of Mr. Johnson's ties to corruption?

Over at My Pet Goat, Mrs. Cake has been pulling together a veritable America's Most Wanted of Tim Johnson's campaign contributors. On September 30, she posted an annotated list of some of Johnson's big-money contributors and hints of what they might have been paying for. Please visit her site for the full list (and supporting links), which includes links to various influence peddlers and convicts, including now convicted Bob Ney (R-OH), now indicted Tom DeLay (R-OH), and the American Indian tribe associated with convicted Jack Abramoff (via John Boehner (R-OH) and Roy Blunt (R-MO)).

Since there's already so much out there connecting Tim Johnson to the country's and Illinois' most corrupt Republican officeholders, I'd like to focus on some of the corrupt individuals who've been contributing to his campaigns. The rogue's gallery assembled by Mrs. Cake is particularly impressive when one considers how few individual donors Mr. Johnson has (and how much he relies on PACs as his main source of funding). From her September 30 list:
Walter Bollinger
Total received: $1300
Employer was Unistat, direct-mail firm owned by Roger Stanley and involved in George Ryan scandal....

Stuart Levine
Total received: $2000
Has been indicted on charges of fraud, money laundering, and extortion....

Donald Udstuen
Total received: $1000
Udstuen was recently convicted and sentenced in connection with the George Ryan scandal
Quite an impressive list, to be sure, but Tim Johnson is not one to sit on his laurels. Mrs. Cake provided us an update Saturday:
This week, another one of Johnson's contributors made the news. Stuart Levine, who's given Johnson $2000, has officially been indicted in the TRS probes. Bill Cellini, a powerful Springfield Republican who was "Individual A" in Levine's indictment, has given Johnson $4000. Another Johnson contributor, Donald Udstuen, has already been convicted in connection with the Ryan corruption. [And, as TJW has reported, Johnson was a direct recipient of an extraordinary number of George Ryan's tainted "favors". --ed.]
But the fun continues. TJW will be reporting on more corrupt Johnson donors later this week. (And please don't hesitate to send tips to timjohnsonwatch AT yahoo DOT com.)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stand By Your Man, Or Tim Johnson Circles The Wagons In House Underage Sex Scandal, Part IV

Just a reminder of where Tim Johnson was Thursday night:

(Via WurfWhile.)

Meanwhile, Hoosier reports that Johnson's taking the same tack with his constituents:

All I could quickly think of was to ask about the Foley scandal, to which he gave a fairly straightforward answer (paraphrasing here, I don’t have recording equipment on my home phone line):

The actions are disgusting, but I don’t want to pass any judgement on the House leadership until a full investigation of the facts of who knew what and when is conducted.

In other words, delay it until after the mid-terms and get it off the front page. Not suprising and very similar to what is being reported at Tim Johnson Watch.

It all sounds very reasonable, of course. Full investigation, due deliberation, etc., etc. Except that the GOP House Majority Leader has already told us that Hastert knew about Foley and told him the problem had been "taken care of". And except that the head of the GOP's House campaign also says he told Hastert months ago and Hastert did nothing. And except that Foley's Republican chief of staff testified under oath this week that he told Hastert's office years ago. For someone who was quick to suggest that the pages themselves should be the ones to suffer, Tim Johnson is remarkably reluctant to lay blame on the leaders who enabled Mark Foley. Deliberation has its place, but sometimes leaders must lead.

Monday, October 09, 2006

It's The War Stupid, Part II

This morning's news brought an indictment of the Tim Johnson-enabled Bush war perhaps as damning as last month's National Intelligence Estimate reporting that the Iraq War had made us less safe from terrorism:
SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea said Monday it had exploded a nuclear weapon for the first time, an underground test that defied international warnings but was hailed by the communist nation as a "great leap forward" for its people.
Perhaps a nuclear North Korea would have come eventually without Iraq, but there is no doubt that North Korea's nuclear program was accelerated by the Iraq War (because they feared that we would attack a non-nuclear enemy on the flimsiest of justifications, as we had in Iraq) and that its militant leaders were emboldened by it (because they knew that our troops were bogged down in Iraq, leaving us relegated to empty threats).

When TJW speaks to Tim Johnson's defenders -- and encouragingly there do seem to be fewer of them these days -- the more candid among them will usually say something like, Okay, he's not very interested in policy or legislation, but he's great on staying in contact with his constituents and helping out when they have a problem. We can debate the truth of Tim Johnson's "constituent service" -- to TJW's eyes it's basically what every competent incumbent does, except that Johnson is particularly good at taking personal credit for his staff's work -- but, when we see how dangerous a world Mr. Johnson has created for us and our children, we have to conclude that policy matters more.

And Mr. Johnson's policy is a bloody, expensive, dangerous failure.

See also: It's The War, Stupid

Friday, October 06, 2006

Stand By Your Man, Or Tim Johnson Circles The Wagons In House Underage Sex Scandal, Part III

From the Pantagraph:
“Congressman (Tim) Johnson is not condemning Hastert in any way at this point,” added Phil Bloomer, press secretary for the Urbana Republican. “But, he is supportive of the investigations and believes those in positions of responsibility should be held accountable. …Let the chips fall where they may. There is no excuse of allowing teenagers to be put in vulnerable positions.”...

Both Fuller and Bloomer said their congressmen take exception to the depiction of the Foley scandal as a black eye for all Republicans....

“There is a lot of unfortunate exploitation of this tragedy on the part of many Democrats,” agreed Bloomer. “This act was not a political act by Mark Foley. It was not a Republican or a Democratic act. It was an act by a disturbed individual.”
No, what Mark Foley did was not a political act. But Dennis Hastert's decision to cover up what Mark Foley did -- for three years -- was the rankest of partisan acts. And Tim Johnson's apologies for Hastert aren't far behind.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stand By Your Man, Or Tim Johnson Circles The Wagons In House Underage Sex Scandal, Part II

Fox News -- yes, Fox News -- reports that Hastert's coverup of the Mark Foley scandal could cost the GOP control of the House, and that some House Republicans are starting to treat him like kryptonite:
"The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss."...

The same pollster who provided the gloomy news on Hastert's effect on GOP candidates nationwide did send out an advisory on Tuesday to rank-and-file Republicans that they might consider canceling appearances with Hastert in their districts. Hours later, Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky announced he was canceling a fundraiser scheduled for next week where Hastert was supposed to be the headliner.

As noted below, Tim Johnson has decided to cast his lot with Hastert. And as of now he's not taking the advice to stay away from the Speaker -- they're appearing together at a big-ticket fundraiser in Chicago a week from today. I guess we know where Mr. Johnson stands on cleaning up the House....

Tim Johnson Circles The Wagons In House Underage Sex Scandal

According to NPR yesterday, Tim Johnson has now joined Ray LaHood (R-IL) in calling for the suspension of the House page program in response to recent public revelations that Mark Foley (R-FL) has been carrying on sexually explicit email exchanges with underage pages and that the House Republican leadership -- and especially, Speaker Dennis Hastert, who has known of Foley's misconduct for at least two years -- turned a blind eye to avoid losing Foley's seat and fundraising prowess.

Make no mistake about what Johnson and LaHood are doing. As the conservative Washington Times calls for Hastert's resignation (and rumors swirl that he could resign as early as today or tomorrow), Tim Johnson is trying to save Hastert by deflecting blame onto the page program itself. The Chicago Tribune's Frank James explains the purpose of LaHood's call, now joined by Johnson, to suspend the page program:
Can Republicans change the subject?

Rep. Ray LaHood is known as a straight-talking House Republican. But he is also a loyalist to his fellow Illinois Republican, Rep. Dennis Hastert, the House Speaker.

Both qualities were on display during LaHood’s appearance on CNN yesterday. LaHood essentially absolved Hastert of blame in the Mark Foley congressional page email scandal.

He also plugged his radical idea of suspending the page program. And he acknowledged that the Republican base is likely demoralized by the Foley scandal and will need an extraordinary effort....

As Harold Meyerson, a columnist in today’s Washington Post noted, LaHood’s proposal would wind up punishing the victims—the teenagers who come from all around the country for the rare opportunity to work on Capitol Hill—and not the victimizers....
Or as today's Rockford Registar Star puts it:
Abolishing the page program is a knee-jerk reaction that would deprive young people who are interested in government of a valuable experience. Why punish the pages? They are not the problem....

The page program goes back to Sen. Daniel Webster, who appointed the first Senate page in 1829. House pages have been on the job since 1842. Former pages who’ve come forward since the Foley scandal broke are unanimous in their support of the program.

Foley was a bad apple, sure, but the poor handling by leadership of this matter shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the page program.
In other words, rather than really trying to get to the bottom of and fix and the massive failure of leadership that gave us Mark Foley, Tim Johnson would rather join in LaHood's grandstanding to distract attention from GOP leaders and, especially, Hastert.