One of the hazards of being both powerful and in Washington a long time is arrogance and a sense of entitlement. How else to explain Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ indictment for concealing gifts from an oil company that, considering the billions that the senator controlled from his seat on the Appropriations committee, amounted to a relatively paltry $250,000.
And the benefits went for the relatively pedestrian purpose of renovating his ski chalet-style house outside Anchorage — a new first floor, a new garage, a wraparound deck, new plumbing and wiring, furniture, a fully-stocked tool cabinet and a Viking gas grill. And swapping an old car for a new Land Rover for his daughter.
Stevens is accused only of failing to report the gifts from oilfield services company VECO Corp. on his legally required Senate financial disclosure form. Although the indictment said the senator "could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO," he was not charged with the far more serious crime of taking bribes.
Stevens, 84, certainly fills the longtime requirement. He came to the Senate in 1968 and thanks to his unapologetic munificence with federal funds, he has been reelected six times since over increasingly negligible opposition. He is the Senate’s senior Republican.
And thanks to his seniority and committee assignments he is powerful. A famously combative legislator, Stevens was last in the spotlight for his earmark of $278 million for the "Bridge to Nowhere," a project, ultimately cancelled, that was intended to shave a few minutes off the driving time to the airport for a handful of island dwellers.
The timing for besieged congressional Republicans could hardly be worse, but this investigation into Alaskan corruption has been going on for four years and has been public knowledge for the last two. The investigation has resulted in seven convictions, three of them of state lawmakers. Stevens’ son, Ben, a former state Senate president, and Alaska’s sole U.S. House member, Republican Don Young, are said to remain under investigation.
Stevens’ Senate colleagues are quick to say the he is presumed innocent and has yet to have his say in court. However this case turns out, the fact that the feds were willing to indict a powerful Republican institution like Stevens in an election year shows that the Justice department may have successfully withstood attempts to politicize it.