Heidi Heitkamp's Good Friend Harry Reid Has Some Major Ethical Problems

In terms of outside spending in the 2012 Senate race in North Dakota – spending, that is, that came from places other than the candidates themselves – there was no single person who had more of an impact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Outside of the national Republican and Democrat parties, Reid’s Majority PAC spent more than any other group on the Senate race, a whopping $3.285 million according to Open Secrets.

Heitkamp was a major target for Majority PAC spending. Expenditures supporting her campaign accounted for almost 9% of the group’s independent expenditures for the entire 2012 election cycle. That’s quite a chunk of change for low-population, tiny media market like North Dakota.

In addition to that, Reid also maxed out in direct contributions to Heitkamp’s campaign funneling $10,000 to her through his Searchlight Leadership Fund.

But now the man who was key to Senator Heitkamp winning her narrow election victory over Republican Rick Berg is facing serious ethical charges. Long-time friend and political power broker Harvey Whittemore was convicted in federal court of illegally funneling $133,000 to Reid’s 2010 campaign, but the alliance between Whittemore and Reid is much larger than that as Daniel Forster reports for National Review:

When Reid made his move for a Senate leadership position in 1997, he formed the Searchlight Leadership PAC to bankroll the palm greasing it would require. Whittemore and his then-client, casino magnate Steve Wynn, were among the earliest donors, maxing out their contributions. In 1998, Whittemore attended a private meeting in Reid’s Senate offices, ostensibly on the subject of transportation problems in Nevada, with Clinton transportation secretary Rodney Slater, then-mayor Jeff Griffin of Reno, and representatives from every member of the Nevada congressional delegation (except Republican congressman John Ensign, whose staffers Reid’s aides had barred from attending).

Soon, the Whittemore-Reid partnership became a family affair, with Whittemore at one time or another employing all four of Reid’s sons. In 2001, Rory Reid even took a lobbying job at Whittemore’s firm while he was chairman of Nevada’s Democratic party. In an e-mail circulated by a political opponent, Reid the Younger was quoted as saying, “I don’t think (being a lobbyist) presents a problem.” The quote continued: “I believe in the clients I represent. I will do what I can to help the party, and I believe in the issues I am lobbying on. Lobbyists are part of the process.”

The relationship turned even sketchier when Whittemore largely stopped lobbying on behalf of clients and turned to lobbying on behalf of himself, in his new capacity as a real-estate tycoon. In the early 2000s, Whittemore led the development of Coyote Springs, Nevada’s largest master-planned community, where 50,000 homes and ten golf courses sprawled over 42,800 acres 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas. In 2003, Reid sponsored legislation that would have moved a federal utility right-of-way from Whittemore’s property onto a federally protected “wilderness study” area, freeing up 11,000 acres for development. The move was hidden in technical language within a larger bill and initially would have come at no charge to Whittemore or his partners. But when the Department of the Interior objected, and the Los Angeles Times reported on the scheme, Reid had two changes of heart, first agreeing that the developers should pay for the move themselves and then withdrawing the right-of-way provision altogether.

But Reid was back at it the next year, this time with a proposal that required Whittemore to pay “fair market value” for the easement but defining that value based on a 1988 appraisal adjusted for inflation — a mere $160,000 on land that the Los Angeles Times reported was probably worth closer to $5 million. The measure eventually passed and became law, albeit with the Department of the Interior, not Harvey’s friend Harry, calculating the worth of the easement.

There’s no apparent ties between Whittemore and Heitkamp, to be clear, but given how influential Reid was in getting Heitkamp elected and how willing he’s been, apparently, to sell power and influence it would be worth keeping a weather eye toward how Heitkamp votes.

Because that vote may well belong to Reid.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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