THE ASSOCIATED PRESS investigation of Harry Reid's Las Vegas real estate razzle-dazzle has made a splash equivalent to a drop of water compared with the tidal wave of media attention surrounding Mark Foley. But that doesn't mean the Senate's top Democrat should escape further scrutiny from reporters.
On October 11, the AP broke a story that Reid had pocketed $1.1 million from the sale of land that was not listed on public documents as being owned by him (which was not completely accurate). In 1998, he had bought a piece of residential property on the outskirts of Las Vegas for $400,000. Part of the land he solely owned; another portion he co-owned with Jay Brown, a former casino lawyer who has been associated with, but never indicted for, various organized crime scandals stretching from the late 1970s until last summer.
In 2001, Reid essentially transferred the land to a company called Patrick Lane, LLC, which he and Brown founded. Reid still maintained on congressional reports that he owned the land. He still paid taxes on the land and, because of the nature of a limited liability company, he had a stake in the property, although the extent of his interest in Patrick Lane was never officially documented. In 2004, after the parcel was rezoned as commercial (more on this later), it was sold and developed as a strip mall. Reid made a $700,000 profit.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley criticizes the AP report for implying that Reid didn't note that he owned the land. The only issue that wasn't evident from the forms, says Manley, was "how the interest changed"--which he characterizes as a "technical transfer." However, this in itself might have breached Senate ethics rules. The original AP report cited ethics experts, including a Democrat, stating that Reid should have disclosed the nature of his ownership. Ignorance of the rules is no defense: Reid chaired the Senate Ethics Committee from 2001 to 2002 and held the vice chair position the subsequent year.
Following its first volley, the AP reported that since 2002, Reid had diverted $3,300 in campaign funds to staff at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., where he owns a $750,000 condominium, as part of a holiday appreciation gift that residents contribute to annually. Reid reasoned that this was legitimate since the demands on the hotel staff were "a result of my political activities . . . and my Senate position."
Sheila Krumholz of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics commented on CNN, "You do not use campaign donations for personal use, and tipping your doorman or the condo association just doesn't pass the smell test."
In an October 16 press release, Reid cried foul for the publicizing of the financial dealings, claiming a GOP "campaign of personal attacks and smears" that he wasn't going to let "deflect attention from Republican failures." However, as the AP disclosed, the information driving its reporting came from a former Reid staffer "who had concerns about how it was reported to Congress."
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that while on the campaign trail in Reno for Senate candidate Jack Carter, Reid blasted AP reporter John Solomon, who helped break the story, as a "hit man for the RNC," which was no doubt news to the RNC. "I'm not suggesting," Reid continued when pressed, "I'm telling you that John Solomon is a front for the RNC. I don't know who he works for but he is a front for the RNC." Manley told me that the right-wing blogosphere, which has certainly enjoyed the goings-on, has been pushing the story for months.
Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argues that how the land was actually rezoned is the "sketchiest part" of the story. According to Nick, Reid wouldn't have been able to make a $700,000 profit if the land had not been rezoned. Reid's business partner, Brown, had tried twice and failed to get Clark County officials and the town board to recommend rezoning.
During Brown's third bite at the apple in the summer of 2001, the architect associated with Patrick Lane, LLC, mentioned Reid's name while appearing before the County Commission (AP has video of this). Nick asserts it was this name-dropping that finally got a favorable ruling from the board. Manley, for his part, says the fact that Reid's name was mentioned before the County Commission shows the AP was wrong to say Reid's role in Patrick Lane hadn't been documented. When I pointed out that this was the only way his association with the company had ever been disclosed, Manley said that he wasn't sure of the "nuances."