The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Monday, October 10, 2005

Make Up Your Mind -- Are Profits Good or Bad?

Perhaps this should be part of our marvelous media collection. Today, the New York Times tries to "balance" it's coverage by highlighting the money that former Clinton FEMA aide James Lee Witt is making after the hurricanes in the Gulf. Shock. Horror. A man makes money in America doing what he is expert at!

FEMA Director Under Clinton Profits From Experience - New York Times

In rushing into trouble when others were running away, Mr. Witt displayed the energy that won him wide praise for his service as the nation's top emergency official - and the nickname Master of Disaster. The much-criticized performance of FEMA after Hurricane Katrina hit has only enhanced his reputation. But as he applies his skills as a consultant, Mr. Witt is having to step deftly to avoid being perceived as a disaster profiteer.

"I just don't want anyone to say that we used this as a way to profit or to try to get new business," he said. "I just don't want that."

In Louisiana, he cut his usual hourly fee to $275 from $500 for the no-bid state contract and declined to take on any other business there, despite what his partners say are numerous requests. Just one day after his news conference with Allstate, he backed away from his lobbying work for the insurer to avoid conflicts with his advisory role to the state.

Mr. Witt is hardly the first insider to trade on his government experience. Administration officials generally are barred from lobbying their former agency for one year after leaving. Still, some critics find Mr. Witt's business troubling.


Witt cut his fee for no bid contracts. Has pared back his lobbying efforts. What exactly is he doing wrong? Working in an area he has worked at for 20 years or so, become expert and nationally renowned in? Is this supposed to stink of corruption? This isn't exactly the revolving door where Congressmen and staffers move straight into lobbying and call in old favors or administration flunkies set up corporations to get pork barrel projects. But the Times isn't interested in such distinctions. It wants to maintain the appearance of balance in reviewing the sins of both parties. It wants to suggest that any money made off of expertise in government is somewhat suspect. Who is supposed to get these contracts? Someone with no disaster experience or working past in FEMA? This is a similar tact to that taken by shallow man David Broder, whom the Washington Post would have us believe is an eminence gris because he is old. But that doesn't really confer much wisdom or eminence as Broder's case aptly shows. In criticizing the corrupting role of money in politics Broder has chosen to focus on the amount you raise rather than the source or dollar denominations of the money. Bush's fund raising prowess last cycle was well noted as was the fact that most of the money came in large bundles from wealthy contributors and corporate PACS. When Dean began to have fund raising success as well (by getting lots of internet contributions of under $200), Broder insinuated that the Democrats were just as guilty of the Republicans in soiling their hands with fundraising. The distinction of who was giving what to whom and who was owed what was lost to Broder. The stupidity of this argument is boundless.

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