• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Spring Donation Drive

CounterPunch is a lifeboat piggybank-icon of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Inside Dirk Kempthorne’s Closet

After serving for five years as Interior Secretary in the Bush Cabinet, Gale Norton, protégé of James Watt, quietly stepped down from her post overseeing the ruination of the American West. Norton’s sudden exit was almost certainly hastened by the widening fallout from the corruption probes into Jack Abramoff and the retinue of clients and the politicians and bureaucrats he then held on retainer. Abramoff, it will be recalled, performed some of his most extravagant shakedowns of clients, many of them destitute Indian tribes, seeking indulgences from the Interior Department.

Norton escaped being directly implicated in Abramoff’s crimes of influence peddling and bribery. But her former chief deputy, super-lobbyist J. Steven Griles, who oversaw oil and gas leasing on federal lands while on the payroll of his lobbying firm, became a key target of the Abramoff investigation and even shuffled off to federal prison for his crimes.

In a series of emails remarkable for their braggadocio and name-dropping, Abramoff advised his clients to donate money to an industry front group, founded by Norton, that promotes the privatization and industrialization of federal lands. In return, Abramoff bragged that he could offer them unfettered access to the top officials at the Interior Department, where their fondest desires would be a favorable hearing from people like Griles. In one instance, Abramoff claimed that Griles promised to block an Indian casino proposal opposed by one of Abramoff’s clients.

To replace Gale Norton, Bush called upon his old pal Dirk Kempthorne, the Idaho governor and former US Senator, who once cherished notions—fantastical though they may have been—of occupying the White House. In picking Kempthorne, Bush once again demonstrated the mindless consistency that would be one of his hallmarks as president. Far from moving to clean up an office sullied by corruption and inside-dealing, Bush tapped a man, who, over the course of his twenty years in politics, has taken more money from timber, big ag, mining and oil companies than any governor in the history of American politics.

Unlike many other western conservatives, Kempthorne doesn’t hit up the religious right for money. He goes straight to the corporations who want something done in Boise: JR Simplot, the potato king; Boise-Cascade, the timber giant; mining companies, such as ASARCO, Hecla, and FMC Gold; and the power companies. And Kempthorne gives them what they want. Kempthorne is Jack Abramoff without the middleman, decision-maker and lobbyist rolled into one.

Over the years, one of Kempthorne’s most loyal political patrons has been the Washington Group International (WGI), a Boise-based company that functions like a mini-Bechtel. During Kempthorne’s tenure as governor, WGI contributed more money to the politician than any other interest. The company got immediate returns on its investment. With an assist from Kempthorne, WGI won the lucrative contract to manage Idaho’s highways. The federal government scuttled the deal, saying the contract had been awarded illegally. The contract went up for bid again and, miraculously, Kempthorne once again picked WGI for the job.

With Idaho mired in a decade-long drought, water has become as contentious a political issue as oil in Alaska. Farmers, ranchers, and Idaho’s influential sports-fishing industry formed a rare coalition last year, intent on reforming Idaho’s archaic water laws to give more water to ranchers and salmon. The bill moved through the state legislature with surprising speed, much to the irritation of the Idaho Power Company, the state’s biggest water hog. Even Idaho Power’s threat to jack up electric rates by millions of dollars didn’t stall progress of the bill. So the company turned to Kempthorne, who flattened the bill with a veto. Idaho Power is Kempthorne’s second largest political contributor.

The phone giant Qwest is Kempthorne’s fourth biggest contributor. In 2004, Qwest approached Kempthorne with an urgent plea: the deregulation of pricing for landline phones in Idaho. When Kempthorne sent a message to the Idaho state legislature urging the body to bow to Qwest’s desires, it was met with a certain measure of hostility by Idaho residents, who viewed with some skepticism the phone company’s contention that such a move would save them money in the long-run. Even members of Kempthorne’s party balked and the bill went down to a narrow defeat. Over the next few months, Kempthorne disciplined recalcitrant Republicans and, when the session opened in early 2005, the Qwest bailout bill sailed through and was signed into law by the governor.

This is run-of-the-mill quid pro quo politics. But Kempthorne has been implicated in a more pungent scandal that may yet lead to criminal indictments of political and business associates: In 1999, a group of investors with close ties to Kempthorne fronted a scheme to build a satellite campus for the University of Idaho in downtown Boise. The project was named University Place and it called for the construction of three large buildings on prime real estate in the heart of the city.

Questions about the economic viability of the University Place project were swept aside by two of Kempthorne’s closest friends, Phil Reberger and Roy Eiguren. All three men were University of Idaho alums and members of the University of Idaho Foundation, the institution responsible for financing the development. At the time of the University Place deal, Reberger, who had managed every one of Kempthorne’s political campaigns, served as the governor’s chief of staff. He also had a seat on the foundation board and had been appointed by Kempthorne to the Idaho State Building Authority.

Eiguren, who is one of Kempthorne’s top individual donors, served as the Foundation’s vice-president at the same time that he worked as a lobbyist for the project in the state legislation. He is also a senior partner in Givens Purlsey, a top Boise law firm that represented Capital Partners, the California construction company picked to build the project.

Financing for the development was a problem from the beginning for the cash-strapped university. So Kempthorne, Reberger, and Eiguren hatched two schemes: first they would entice the Idaho legislature to approve $163 million in state-backed bonds to fund the construction. Then they would ensure that the Idaho Department of Water relocate into one of the buildings, as a prime tenant and a key element in the viability of the project.

Both of these maneuvers may have skirted state and federal laws. A 2003 investigation by the Idaho state attorney general’s office determined that the bid to move the Water Department into University Place may have been rigged from the top.

Meanwhile, the project proved to be a financial catastrophe, which compelled the university’s president, Robert Hoover, to resign in disgrace and left the University Foundation $26 million in debt. The debt was mysteriously repaid in a secret settlement earlier this year. The federal Department of Justice has quietly opened a criminal investigation into the affair.

Kempthorne’s nomination was momentarily blocked by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who begged for the governor’s assurance that he not open the Florida coastline to oil drilling. Kempthorne told the senator he would make no such pledge. Indeed, he brayed that his top priority would be to expand drilling for oil across all federal lands, including off shore reserves. Nelson wobbled and the Democrats Maginot Line crumbled once again. Kempthorne sailed through the Interior committee without a vote against him and scarcely one probing question about the corruption scandal that shadows his every footstep. A week later the entire senate took a test vote on his nomination: only eight Democrats voted no. A few minutes later his nomination was approved on a voice vote without dissent.

And that’s how Dirk Kempthorne, one of the most environmentally hostile visigoths in the West, came to occupy the office once inhabited by the legendary swindler Albert Fall.

Kempthorne must feel right at home.

This article is excerpted from JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s new environmental history, Born Under a Bad Sky (AK Press).

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest books, Born Under a Bad Sky and Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (co-edited with Joshua Frank) are just out from AK Press. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
Howie Hawkins
Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
Gary Leupp
Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants
Jill Richardson
Climate Change was No Accident
Josh Hoxie
Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race
David Barsamian
Iran Notes
David Mattson
Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle
Christopher Brauchli
The Pompeo Smirk
Louis Proyect
Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists
Martha Burk
Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?
John W. Whitehead
The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America
Binoy Kampmark
The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet
David Rosen
Florida’s Sex Wars: the Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work
Ralph Nader
Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark
Brett Haverstick
America’s Roadless Rules are Not Protecting Public Wildlands From Development
Alan Macleod
Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing
Binoy Kampmark
Modern Merchants of Death: the NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights
Kim C. Domenico
Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II
Peter LaVenia
Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)
Manuel E. Yepe
The Options Trump Puts on the Table
Renee Parsons
The Pompeo/Bolton Tag Team
David Swanson
Where Lyme Disease Came From and Why It Eludes Treatment
Cesar Chelala
Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Problems are Deeper than “Capitalism” (and “Socialism” Alone Can’t Solve Them)
Chris Zinda
Delegislating Wilderness
Robert Koehler
War’s Unanswered Questions
Robert P. Alvarez
Let Prison Inmates Vote
Barbara Nimri Aziz
A Novel We Can All Relate To
David Yearsley
Carmen’s Mother’s Day Lessons
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ziya Tong’s “The Reality Bubble”
Elliot Sperber
Pharaoh’s Dream
Elizabeth Keyes
Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail