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."
Reid himself apparently never spoke to any commission member about the rezoning application, or told the architect to use his name. Nonetheless, the episode sounds eerily familiar to longtime followers of Reid's career. A June 1979 North Las Vegas Valley Times article began, "An electronically intercepted conversation between two Kansas City mob figures links Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid to a $10,000 per month payment allegedly made to Atty. Jay Brown, who represents Argent Corp. and Tropicana showman Joe Agosto . . . . Reid Saturday denied receiving any money from Brown and charged that his former friend may have been 'trading on my name.'"
In addition, two members of the full board, which overturned the previous zoning decisions, had close ties to Reid, and both in the past were convicted on bribery charges. Dario Herrera, chairman of the County Commission at the time the Patrick Lane plot was rezoned, was "handpicked" by Reid to run for Congress against Jon Porter in 2002, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and was "considered Reid's protégé and the Democratic Party's future star." Reid campaigned for Herrera, calling him "a man of integrity." A year later, Herrera was indicted for taking cash bribes and sexual favors from a strip club owner. Earlier this year, he was convicted on 17 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and extortion and sentenced to 50 months in prison. (He was represented by, among others, David Brown, Jay Brown's son.) One of Reid's aides led Herrera out of the courthouse through a secured exit the day of the conviction to avoid a perp walk.
Erin Kenny, also on the commission, was encouraged by Reid to run for lieutenant governor in 2002; Reid funneled $10,000 from his PAC and appeared in ad spots on her behalf. Kenny reached a plea agreement in 2003 for bribery and testified against Herrera.
Aside from the two AP stories, a lengthy Los Angeles Times article on August 20, which has received little attention, explored links between Reid and developer Harvey Whittemore. Reid "used his influence in Washington" to help Whittemore turn Coyote Springs, a 43,000-acre development on the outskirts of Las Vegas, into an area with "as many as 159,000 homes, 16 golf courses, and a full complement of stores and service facilities." According to the Times, Reid helped Whittemore overcome various legal and environmental hurdles, and Whittemore gave Reid's campaign and PACs about $45,000 over the past six years, as well as $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $5,000 each to two sons of Reid who ran for local offices (one of whom is a partner at Whittemore's law firm). Another son is Whittemore's personal lawyer and negotiated with various government agencies on behalf of the Coyote Springs project.
Back in May, revelations surfaced that Reid took free ringside boxing tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission at the same time he was dealing with legislation on boxing regulations. He didn't come down on the side of the commission, and he defended his actions, saying he was "not Goodie Two Shoes." He also met with two of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clients back in June 2003, and benefited from a fundraiser hosted by a former staffer who worked at Abramoff's firm at the time. Some of his contributors, clients of Abram off's, met around that time with Reid to discuss legislation. He didn't act on the legislation, but did write "at least four letters favorable to Abram off's tribal clients," according to the AP.
When questioned about this on Fox News Sunday back in December 2005, Reid adamantly stated, "I feel totally at ease that I haven't done anything that is even close to being wrong . . . . So don't lump me in with Jack Abramoff. This is a Republican scandal."
What does Reid do when caught red-handed? He simply says "oops" and moves along. Reid told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the boxing ticket episode "didn't look right . . . . I just should have paid for the tickets. I didn't, but I'll never do it again." On the land deal: "I don't have any more land to sell in Las Vegas so this won't happen again." He makes a "technical correction" to fix it. For the Ritz-Carlton staff, he writes a check to replace the $3,300 campaign funds. On the backing of corrupt officials for campaigns, Reid says he won't recruit candidates anymore. On the Whittemore story, Reid's office decided to "prohibit any lobbying of Sen. Reid's office by his family," according to the Los Angeles Times.
These lapses in judgment are starting to add up to the point where they can't be so easily brushed aside. Or maybe they can. Luckily for him, Reid doesn't fit into the press's preferred mantra of a Republican "culture of corruption."
Whitney Blake is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.