They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Funny, the things you come across on a Friday afternoon. Here's an article we stumbled across from the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, dated May 8, 2005:

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris made a bit of a killing in the local real estate market recently.

Her Myers Park home, a stately 1936 mansion that Harris lived in when she was secretary of state, was sold last month to a retired British educator and his wife for nearly $500,000 more than she paid for it in 1999. Public records at the Leon County Courthouse indicate Harris bought the former bed-and-breakfast, known as the Riedel House, for $269,000 when she joined the Cabinet six years ago.

Buyer Michael Reiser, who is moving from West Palm Beach, said the home at 1412 Fairway Drive needs some interior and grounds work but that he hopes to have it reopened as a B&B next spring. Reiser said he wasn't surprised by the near tripling of the price.

"Most people who have had property in Florida for five years have made a bundle off of it," he said. "It's a very good appreciation, I agree, but I'd imagine it's par for the course."

Reiser said he and his wife, Nafiseh, have been in the country about six months. He said they're not political people but he knew who Florida's most famous member of Congress was.

"Obviously, her fame had spread to England," he said.

Clearing half a million dollars in six years isn't unusual for some markets. But a 200 percent appreciation in six years is quite a killing. And the tone of the article implies it was steep for the area.

Perhaps Rep. Harris (R-FL), now running for Senate in Florida (we think), simply did well with a wise investment in real estate. It does have a subtle rhyme, though, with the shady real estate deal that eventually brought down former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). Anybody know what comps for her neighborhood have been?

EPA chief Stephen L. Johnson speaks at $300-a-plate GOP fundraiser in Colorado (hosted by former Abramoff employer Greenberg Traurig, natch). Flees out back door before reporter, photographer can catch him.

Federal laws prohibit officials' names from appearing in invitations for political events. But an emailed invite for the event read "Subject: Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA Stephen L. Johnson for Rick O'Donnell this Thursday."

Gumshoes in the EPA ethics office said to be investigating. . .

As Josh noted over at TPM, Gale Norton has resigned her post as head up the Department of the Interior. Before he fell from grace, Jack Abramoff worked to influence Norton by funneling half a million dollars from his clients into a group Norton co-founded called Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Abramoff called CREA "our access to Norton."

Norton has said she cannot recall "any particular influence" Abramoff had on decisionmaking at Interior.

As we noted, a woman who's central figure in most of the current GOP fundraising scandals disappeared from her D.C. lobby firm earlier this week.

High-powered campaign finance specialist Barbara Bonfiglio was treasurer or adviser to a broad range of Republican money operations, from campaign funds to political action committees. An unfortunate number of them seem to be turning up in headlines.

Here's a partial list of groups she's worked for: Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) ARMPAC; Sen. Conrad Burns' (R-MT) leadership PAC; Rep. Richard Pombo's (R-CA) RichPAC; Santorum's senate re-election campaign and leadership PAC; Rep. Jerry Lewis' (R-CA) Future Leaders PAC; and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R-CA)American Prosperity PAC. DeLay, Burns, Pombo and Lewis all had ties to Abramoff, mainly by taking his and his clients' money. Cunningham, he's his own kettle of rotting fish.

A managing partner at Williams & Jensen now tells Will Bunch she's got a new job - as senior compliance officer with a Fortune 500 company. (Thanks to reader BK for the tip.)

Bonfiglio was recently nicked by stories coming out of the Pennsylvania media about Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) so-called charity, Operation Good Neighbor, for which she was treasurer. The group raised hundreds of thousands of dollars promising to "break the cycle of poverty," but spent most of it on things unrelated to its mission, particularly travel and meetings.

In an old Public Citizen report, she's listed as working for 31 PACs from 1998 to 2001, more than anyone else. She's put her expertise, writing a book on the topic: How to Cross the Potomac Without Falling In, a guide on how politicians can take money and gifts and get away with it -- er, not run afoul of the law.

She's been subpoenaed at least once, in 2004, in connection with DeLay. What does she know? Who is she telling?

Has anyone read her book? Is it any good? It doesn't seem to show up on Amazon.

The Bush administration continues its fight for the rights of the inexperienced by appointing them to important positions in DHS. The most recent example is Douglas Hoelscher, a 29-year-old former White House staffer with no management experience who was recently tapped to run the Homeland Security Advisory Council. AT HSAC, he'll be managing 20 different panels, comprised of senior industry officials and other mucky-mucks, which advise the administration on homeland security issues.

Shane Harris, who broke the story for National Journal magazine, noted that Hoelscher had a Friendster profile. Readers tell us it has since been taken down. But someone slipped us a hard copy, and -- surprise -- despite being a White House appointee, Hoelscher's surprisingly with-it!

He likes "reading in coffeeshops," "wine tasting," "watching college football" and "sleeping in on Saturdays," among other things. His favorite movies are Moulin Rouge and Best in Show (a TPMmuckraker favorite). He likes the Simpsons, along with Law & Order, Sex in the City and Will and Grace. Strangely, he doesn't mention 24.

He listens to Eminem and Offspring, but also Dolly Parton. (She was great at the Oscars.) And as Harris noted in his article, Doug says "I'm usually fairly quiet in a group setting -- I am not a talker but a pretty good listener."

Santorum: When Is a Lobbyist Not a Lobbyist?

Answer: When he's running Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) charity. At least three lobbyists are involved in running Santorum's non-profit Operation Good Neighbor, a local Pittsburgh TV station reports. The charity has been dinged recently for spending as much as 60 percent of its money on non-charitable expenses, including over $200,000 in travel and meetings.

One Gucci Gulcher among the charity's top brass is Barbara Bonfiglio, the GOP campaign finance specialist connected to groups run by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). As we noted yesterday, it appears Bonfiglio abruptly resigned from her job at Williams & Jensen, and also left her post as treasurer of Rep. Richard Pombo's poorly named RichPAC.

Another is lobbyist Rob Bickhart, whose Philadelphia offices are also home to Santorum's PAC -- and his re-election campaign.

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The future of lobbying reform in doubt, thanks to continued brouhaha over ownership of U.S. port operations, Roll Call reports.

Senators from both parties were unsure Thursday afternoon how and when they could resume work on a lobbying overhaul package. . . .

"Frankly, we've got the other side talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). "They're all onto this lobbying reform, pointing fingers and blaming people, but they're now the obstructionists blocking it. Harry Reid and the boys can't have it both ways."

A sleeper of a story came out a week or so ago that nonetheless caught our eye: The Government Accountability Office found the Department of Education was bending its own rules in awarding certain grants. There were three cases they singled out; two of those benefited folks with ties to the Bush administration.

The third case was largely ignored, even though it was the worst example of political manipulation the GAO found. In essence, a top appointed official turned a grant review process upside down on behalf of one company, America's Charter School Finance Corporation - literally reached in and made ACSFC a grantee even though experts agreed it wasn't deserved. Here's a taste:

[T]he deputy secretary asked his staff -- a senior political appointee -- to re-review the fifth and sixth ranked competitors. . . Program officials said that they had never before experienced a case where a senior political appointee selectively re-reviewed and rescored particular applicants[.]

Strong stuff, particularly from the normally snoozy GAO.

The report doesn't mention how much money was given to ACSFC, but a few calls around yielded the figure of $5 million.

What gives? Who were the political appointees involved? And why was it so important to them that ACSFC get so much money? Does anybody know anything more about this?

Barbara Bonfiglio, who was once treasurer to political action committees and other organizations for ethically challenged lawmakers Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and others, just quit D.C. superfirm Williams & Jensen. She also stepped down from her post as treasurer of Rep. Richard Pombo's (R-CA) RichPAC.

Bonfiglio's got a colorful past: She was subpoenaed in 2004 by Texas DA Ronnie Earle as part of his investigation into Tom DeLay. She may have been involved in the effort by DeLay crony Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) in sic'ing the IRS on the Texas watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. And she was listed as treasurer for Santorum's Operation Good Neighbor "charity," which used less than half of its money to do actual good deeds.

Or, as her bio -- still posted on the Williams & Jensen Web site -- puts it:

Her clients include the Leadership PACs and campaign committees of several prominent Members of Congress. She also advises the firm's clients on matters involving House and Senate ethics rules, as well as compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Needless to say, we will probably hear more about her sooner rather than later. (Thanks to reader LR.)

The Florida press are having trouble believing Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL), recipient of admitted felon Mitchell Wade's dirty money, is actually going to stay in her Florida Senate race. For good reason, I think.

She stated emphatically yesterday she was staying in -- although, reading her statement closely, she doesn't commit much further than the present: "I am out there. We are running hard. We think we have great momentum." (Her press secretary, however, said she was staying in until November.)

The Boca Raton News says this morning that "reliable sources" say Harris will be out in a week.

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