Washington's gossip mill is spinning furiously over the recent revelations about Dennis Hastert's long-hidden sexual molestation scandal. But what about the filthy backroom affair he's been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?
During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. In exchange for campaign cash for Republican candidates, corporate interests gained entry into Denny's psychedelic playhouse.
With Hastert himself singing "Candy Man," the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress' back rooms.
Remember "earmarks," the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks were the trademark of Hastert's regime — indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.
When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist.
Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members, and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company and other giants.
He specializes in getting "riders" attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.
Most certainly, Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage and pain his alleged molestation would've caused for his former student. But Denny should also pay for his abominable abuse of the House Speaker's office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people's trust.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.
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