Monday, June 19, 2006

Congressman arranges national site for wife

And just how many of you have a National Park or bridge or a highway named in your honor? I would bet the answer is going to be a slim few of you even know of someone that has this honor.
Should this be a use of the taxpayer's dollars??
We expect this behavior from the democrats and now we seem to expect it from the republicans.
The differences between these political giants is miniscule and yet the talking heads would have you believe it is vast.
I'm sorry but wasteful spending stems the political scale of both right and left politicians, as well as political corruption!!
How do you get rid of these traits in the political class??
You start by not voting for anyone in either of the two political parties as power can and will corrupt and it has been shown to be so for years.

Vote Libertarian when possible and third party always.

APPROPRIATIONS: The move raises eyebrows among government watchdogs in the wake of the earmark debate.

WASHINGTON - Some guys give their wives jewelry or flowers. Ralph Regula gave his wife a national park.

Regula, a Republican congressman from Ohio, is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. In 2000, his subcommittee created the First Ladies National Historic Site in his district in Canton, Ohio.

Regula's wife, Mary, is the founding president of the nonprofit National First Ladies' Library, which operates the historic site for the National Park Service. She draws no salary.

The historic site is due to Mary Regula's inspiration, said John Debo, the superintendent of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which includes the first ladies site.

Over the years, Ralph Regula's subcommittee has inserted more than $4.5 million in special ``earmarks'' for the first ladies site into federal spending bills. That includes $800,000 to buy a mansion that once belonged to President William McKinley and his wife and $2.5 million to help renovate a nearby bank building that his wife's group owns.

The practice of inserting earmarks into spending bills became controversial over the past year after a spate of publicity highlighted some particularly blatant examples, especially Alaskan Republican Rep. Don Young's $231 million ``bridge to nowhere.'' Lawmakers facing elections in November talked a lot about curbing the practice, but it continues.

Independent ethics watchdogs said the First Ladies National Historic Site was a particularly vivid example of how power worked in Washington, and they fear that Regula soon may be in position to up the ante dramatically. House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., is under federal investigation and has hired defense attorneys. If Lewis steps aside, Regula is a top contender to head the committee.

``I'd hope leaders who've made some public commitment to reining in earmarks would consider his full record before making him chairman,'' said Keith Ashdown, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that monitors congressional spending.

Mary Regula's National First Ladies' Library group receives private donations in addition to federal money. Several corporations listed on its Web site as major donors are longtime supporters of Ralph Regula's political campaigns.

Among them: Timken Corp., a Canton, Ohio, manufacturer whose executives and political action committee collectively are the second-biggest donors to Regula's campaigns since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, another watchdog group that tracks money in politics.

A foundation associated with Timken gave $750,000 to help renovate the bank building and has donated more over the years, said Pat Krider, the executive director of the National First Ladies' Library.

Timken gained more than $200 million in federal payments from a law Ralph Regula sponsored that curbed dumping of underpriced foreign goods, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency.

It's become common practice for big donors seeking to curry favor with lawmakers to circumvent the legal limits on campaign donations by giving large cash gifts to charities and nonprofit groups favored by the lawmakers and their families.

``It's a double bang for the buck,'' said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. ``You win favor with the lawmaker and you get a tax write-off, which you don't get with a campaign contribution.''

The first ladies site consists of the Saxton mansion, where McKinley lived with his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, in her girlhood home, and the bank building. Both have been meticulously restored. The site's mission is to preserve and interpret the role and history of America's first ladies, become a scholarship center for first lady research and preserve the Saxton home, according to the National Park Service.

Visits to the site since its official opening in 2002 average fewer than 10,000 a year, but the park's annual budget has grown to more than $1 million from about $600,000. Most national parks have faced tight budgets in recent years, and many have been forced to cut visitor services.

The first ladies site operates with a remarkable degree of autonomy from the National Park Service, even though the service pays about 70 percent of the site's operating costs. Mary Regula's group picks up the rest.

In fact, Mary Regula calls too many shots, charges the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

She used an acquaintance who had no formal training in historic preservation rather than Park Service professionals to oversee historic interpretation at the two buildings, Park Service officials said. She discouraged Park Service involvement in her plan to install an interactive exhibit, according to an e-mail obtained by PEER.

National First Ladies' Library Director Krider said Mary Regula ``is the driving force, has the vision'' and had pushed the Park Service to compromise when it wasn't used to doing so. Krider acknowledged that compromise hasn't always been easy.

It's easier when you're the wife of a congressman, responded Jeff Ruch, the executive director of PEER.

``On the one hand, you've got the National Park Service telling all its park units they're going to be subject to objective standards and strict economies, and then that doesn't apply to favored little units,'' he said. ``If you're running a park that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors and can barely make ends meet, you've got to wonder who's running the railroad.''