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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the government-chartered mortgage giants tumbling toward a taxpayer bailout — have not been penurious about making campaign contributions and engaging top lobbyists to grease their way on Capitol Hill.
At last count, the two companies have shelled out $170 million on lobbying over the past decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles such figures.
So far this year, they’ve also pumped nearly $500,000 into candidates’ political action committees. Among the top recipients: Senate Banking committee chairman Chris Dodd; Sen. Barack Obama, the soon-to-be-crowned Democratic presidential candidate; Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Democratic primary nemesis; and Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s White House hopeful.
In some quarters of Capitol Hill, sentiment is building to bar Fan and Fred from making such political donations in the future.
If you’re turning to chocolate these days to chase away the gas-prices blues, there’s bad news. The price of cocoa is up a staggering 53 percent this year, reaching $3,150 a ton in New York commodity markets this summer. Gas is up a mere 40 percent over 2007.
Poor African harvests, among other things, have left supplies of the basic confectionary ingredient at a 22-year low.
The effort by open-government watchdogs to publicly document the pork congressional lawmakers earmark for their home areas is bearing fruit. So far, the earmarks requested by 87 legislators for the fiscal 2009 federal budget are listed on a Web site created by the Sunlight Foundation, at www.sunlightfoundation.com.
Those are requests the senators and representatives made public themselves. Another 46 members of Congress have vowed to forego any earmarks for next year’s budget. Ten refuse to disclose their requests.
The watchdog groups, which include Citizens Against Government Waste and Taxpayers for Common Sense, enlisted "citizen journalists" to call lawmakers and request lists of their pet projects, which then were posted online. The Sunlight Foundation promises to update the lists as more information is gathered.
It didn’t get much press attention, but this past week brought the debut of the Civilian Response Corps, a team of federal employees who will be dispatched to crisis points around the world within 48 to 72 hours.
The idea for this outfit was born in the chaos after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when the initial task of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq fell to the Pentagon, which self-admittedly was ill-prepared for reconstruction duty.
In any future post-conflict, nation-building effort, it will be the response corps that parachutes in to start putting the place back together. A full-time team of 250 federal staff will be bolstered by another 2,000 who will serve on "standby" status.
The teams will be cobbled together with experts from the State, Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, Agriculture and Treasury departments, as well as the Agency for International Development. Included will be diplomats, public health officials, economists, law enforcement personnel, lawyers, engineers and others.
Look for a crackdown soon on those who use the Internet to fence stolen goods. The FBI says "organized retail crime" is on the rise, costing U.S. businesses $30 billion in annual losses, and is abetted by the ease of selling items anonymously on the Web. The victims are not just companies, but also buyers who can unwittingly purchase not just stolen goods but dangerous ones, as well. One example: in Texas, the FBI seized $1 million worth of stolen baby formula that was being stored in rodent-infested garages with no temperature controls.
With law enforcement’s encouragement, a bipartisan House bill has been introduced that would make organized retail crime a federal felony and require more monitoring of high-volume online sellers and Internet auctioneers, among others.
SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.