Sen. Phil Graham’s Unethical Behavior

Richard Whittle of the Dallas Morning News knows more than ever the meaning of the old journalistic adage that in the U.S. “news flows west, not east.”

On Sunday, July 25, 1993, the Dallas newspaper broke a very long page one story by Whittle on Senator Phil Gramm’s extraordinary uses of campaign finance and taxpayer monies for advancement of his re-election campaign of 1990. The next morning, another long page one story appeared, reporting further details based on hundreds of pages of his internal office documents given Whittle by former Gramm aides who became disgusted with the way he spent and used staff for his own self-promotion. Gramm, a Republican, who is not bashful about telling everyone that he is “going to run for President” in 1996 stunned independent political science scholars who were given access to the “Gramm papers” for their evaluation by the Dallas Morning News.

Richard Fenno, a University of Rochester political scientist, who has authored several books on the Senate, knows that most Senators use their position to further their political careers. But after reading the Gramm documents, memos and scheduling records, he said: “The explicitness …is quite extraordinary.” Because “you’re dealing with the expenditure of taxpayer money, it is a form of behavior for which every elected representative ought to be held accountable.”

John E. Carbaugh, Jr. a former conservative Republican political operative and Senate aide to Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, said that Gramm papers show a politicization of Senate staff greater than any he had ever seen, reports the Dallas newspaper. “Great God, we would have thought this was illegal,” Mr. Carbaugh was quoted as declaring.

Senator Gramm denies any wrongdoing. Nothing wrong he says with charging taxpayers at least $9000 just before his 1990 re­election campaign for a trip that he, his wife and two sons took to hunt on a south Texas ranch, followed by a trip to a college football game in El Paso.

He sees nothing wrong in using large numbers of his Senate staff in what is clearly campaign-intense activities while still on the taxpayers’ tab. Likewise, he believes it proper to spend $166,700.87 of the taxpayers’ monies in 1989-90 for his travel inside Texas, more than double the runner-up Senator Alan Simpson who reported $64,337.75.

The man who makes much ado in Washington about excessive federal spending, makes even more ado in Texas announcing federal dollar projects with much media ballyhoo as if he were responsible for these grants, megabillion dollar projects and pork. He has taken this cross-country hypocrisy to new depths of political cynicism.

What led one assistant to quit occurred one day when the staff was organizing him to go to a church on Sunday in Texas. The aide asked staff closer to Gramm than he, “What denomination is he?” The reply: “Well, it really doesn’t matter. Find out who has a televised service and we’ll go there.”

Describing his opinion of the Gramm documents, Bruce Jennings a prominent ethicist at the Hastings Center in New York, said “…if it is not, strictly speaking illegal, it is corrupting and therefore ethically objectionable.”

Since the Congress is a law unto itself, the blurred lines between legal and illegal behavior in this area are kept blurred. But there is a Senate Ethics Committee. Thus far, it has not taken notice of the Dallas Morning News’ two-part series.

Neither have any of the large eastern daily newspapers or television networks. News doesn’t flow east very often. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal and others have not mentioned the Dallas series, nor followed up on it. After all, it was not their scoop. But their reading audience deserves to know what was documented in the Dallas newspaper and deserves a follow-up.

As for Whittle, he is wondering what more he has to do to overcome the east coast barriers to heartland breaking news.

Interested readers may with to obtain a free set of the Dallas Morning News series on Senator Phil Gramm by writing to Richard Whittle, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas.

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