The FBI apparently is investigating state Sen. Pam Roach for the crime of practicing politics. Her real no-no is that she didn’t wink and nod like everybody else.
Now that FBI agents are done investigating Hillary’s emails, they must really have some time on their hands.
That’s about the only explanation I can come up with for the news that our top federal cops are hot on the erratic and mostly irrelevant trail of state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner.
The alleged offense at the center of this year’s Roach scandalette, which we’re dubbing Pam’s Payola so we can keep it straight from all her other controversies, is that she supposedly tried to shake down a utility company for campaign cash.
“I have just been appointed to a new energy committee,” she wrote eagerly to Spokane-based Avista. “I wanted that to enter into your thinking on your possible support.”
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Um, FBI, if that’s a crime in politics, then it would save time and hassle to immediately convert the state and U.S. Capitols into penitentiaries.
Every politician I have ever known uses their committee memberships as their mother lode of fundraising (once their friends and family have been tapped out, that is). The fundraising feedback loop between committee assignments and companies or associations with business before those committees is the drive train of the entire political system.
Let’s just take a look at the Washington state delegation to Congress. We have 10 U.S. House members. They come with a range of skills, policy beliefs and career backgrounds. But if you want to know who backs them with cash, you need know only one fact — their committee assignments.
We have one member on the House Transportation Committee, for example — Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. Guess who is our number one recipient of transportation-industry contributions, by far?
Even though he’s in the minority party, Larsen has racked up twice as much money from transportation interests this campaign ($121,000) as the next-highest local recipient, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane (who is in the Republican leadership). That’s according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal donations.
Our top House recipient of agribusiness money is Rep. Dan Newhouse, R- Sunnyside, with $194,000. He happens to sit on the House Agriculture Committee. Wondering who gets the most from energy companies? Well, it doesn’t take an FBI agent to sleuth out that it’s our one member who is on the House’s influential Energy and Commerce Committee, McMorris Rodgers.
I’m wondering if the FBI thinks it’s just a mad coincidence that all this industry money wiggles its way into the campaign kitties of politicians who preside over those same industries?
If Roach is guilty of anything here it’s that she was too loud about the soft arts of political money-grubbing. Avista undoubtedly already knows who is on the various state energy committees. So telling them — in writing, no less — is not only unnecessary, it makes an ordinary transaction of politics feel more like an extortion.
Still, this latest episode from Roach once again serves a sort of backward public service. Because it shows how things really work. It’s that old saying about how in politics, it’s what’s legal that’s the real scandal.
Sorry, FBI, but energy-committee appointees hitting up energy firms for cash is standard operating procedure. Earlier this year the heads of the energy committees in the U.S. House and Senate set up a joint fundraising committee for the express purpose of soliciting donations from oil and gas concerns. These are the panels that set energy policy for the entire country. And you’re after Pam Roach?
You can tell what Roach really did wrong is she put it in writing.
“If we were to contribute to your campaign now and your email were to somehow enter the public domain, all of us would be more than embarrassed,” an Avista lobbyist wrote. “… I cannot put the company’s reputation at such potential risk. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
Such fortitude! Yet the way this tempest ended gives that game away. After Roach got re-elected, winning without Avista’s support, the company then rushed to give her the maximum state donation of $950. This is standard political practice, too. Companies that backed the wrong side shower donations on the winners. In the business it’s called “make-good money.”
So whether Avista was genuinely aggrieved by Pam’s Payola scheme, or not, they sure seem to have gotten over it.