Latino museum panel shovels tax dollars to political patrons

After a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill containing 6,600 earmarks was just narrowly stopped in the Senate on Thursday, it's easy to forget about spending that's already on the books. But what's past is indeed prologue, so let's look back at just one example of how Washington politicians spend tax dollars.

When Congress established a “commission to study the potential creation of a national museum of the American Latino,” it did so with an obscure provision tucked away in the Consolidated National Resources Act in 2008. The commission was given $3.2 million to consider creating a museum to showcase the way “Latinos have been an integral part of the history and culture of this country.” The panel will submit its official report next year. It's budget may appear modest, but Washington politicians grow big scandals from small beginnings.

In this case, the commission is equal parts political back scratching, defiant secrecy and apparent conflicts of interest — topped off by questionable contracts to well-connected contractors. Take, for example, commission Chairman Henry Munoz III, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. According to OpenSecrets.org, Munoz has given more than $150,000 to Democratic candidates and causes. He maxed out to President Obama at $2,300, and he sent $2,000 to the re-election campaign of then-Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. Another commissioner, Abigail Pollack, has also given more than $150,000 to Democrats, including maxing out her contributions to the presidential campaigns of both Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Salazar is now secretary of the interior, and he just happens to be the guy designated by the commission's authorizing legislation to approve the compensation of those serving on it. When

The Examiner asked a commission spokesman how much commissioners are paid, he declined to provide the information, saying we would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request. So a Democratic contributor is appointed to a federal job with compensation to be determined by one of the recipients of his campaign largesse, but the public is not allowed to know how much that compensation is without filing a FOIA? The potential for abuse here should be obvious.

There are also questions about contracts issued by the panel, which appear to be going to — can you guess? — Democratic campaign contributors. Employees of Landair, for example, which is charged with creating the museum's governance plan and structure, donated $6,100, all to Democrats. Employees of Balsera Communications, which is crafting the commission's communications strategy, gave nine times as much to Democrats as to Republicans, for a total of $7,050. A commission spokesman said all contracts were issued via normal procurement processes. If that is true, it suggests those processes are far too easily manipulated to reward partisan political interests. Does this say something about why so many members of Congress refuse to give up earmarks?

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