In Business, It’s All About Three Things: Cronyism, Cronyism, and Cronyism
Something I became aware of via Josh Marshall is the path of cronyism snaking its way within the Bush administration, or at least one particular snake.
Bush hired cronies to run FEMA. FEMA is now contracting out to Kenyon, a disaster management firm from Houston. Kenyon is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SCI (Service Corporation International), a “death care” industry provider.
This is where the territory starts to become familiar. SCI has strong Bush links. So we have Bush hiring cronies who hire even more cronies. And this happening even after Bush has been criticized openly for cronyism. I guess its their nature, like the scorpion riding on the fox’s back.
But the kind of crony we’ve found underneath other levels of cronies is of interest. Remember back in the 1990’s, when Clinton was in office, and according to Republicans, his big crime was lying under oath? How that was an impeachable offense?
Well, guess what then-Texas-governor Bush did for SCI? I’ll give you a hint: he did it under oath.
That’s right. He lied. Under oath. Supposedly an impeachable offense, and then the GOP turns around and puts in place as their presidential candidate a guy who lied under oath as governor just recently.
And it was not lying under oath about sex, either. Here’s how it went down: SCI was run by Robert L. Waltrip, a long-time Bush family friend. Waltrip had donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to Bush Sr.’s presidential library, had paid the elder Bush tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, and had given at least $45,000 to Bush Jr.’s political campaign to be Texas governor.
In 1996, Eliza May was appointed as director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, and she didn’t fool around. She immediately started going after funeral homes that were committing illegal practices. The TFSC had been criticized for a decade for being lax on enforcement; in fact, May’s predecessor had been jailed on charges of aggravated perjury and witness tampering. May changed all that, cracking down on the funeral home industry. The problem was, she wasn’t supposed to do that: the funeral home industry was in tight with the Bushes. In early 1998:
… May’s staff uncovered evidence that some SCI funeral homes were using unlicensed or inexperienced embalmers. In March 1998 she issued subpoenas for documents to 23 SCI mortuaries, prompting the company to complain bitterly to state officials.
The details are incredibly gory, and I won’t recount them here; see the linked sources at bottom for that information. Soon after May did nothing but her job serving the public, Waltrip and an SCI lobbyist visited Governor Bush’s Chief of Staff Joe Allbaugh.
Remember Allbaugh? President Bush’s first crony pick as head of FEMA, before Allbaugh roomie Michael “Brownie” Brown got assigned? Yep, that’s the one. May was soon called into a meeting between Allbaugh, Waltrip, and others on that side of the Bush crony fence, demanding that May close the investigation. After May fined SCI for violations, Bush’s people started looking for dirt on her. The following February, May was fired because the commission “lost confidence in her.” SCI eventually never paid the fines, and more Bush cronies later set aside the charges.
May filed a whistleblower lawsuit. In that lawsuit, Bush would have been subpoenaed to testify, during which time he would undoubtedly be asked about his connections with SCI. Desperately wishing to avoid this, Bush’s lawyers had Bush sign an affidavit under oath, which read in part that Bush:
… had no conversations with Texas Funeral Services [sic] Commission officials, agents or representatives concerning the investigation of SCI by the Texas Funeral Services Commission or any dispute arising from it. I have had no conversations with SCI officials, agents or representatives concerning the investigation or any dispute arising from it.
Note the language: “no conversations,” with either SCI or TFSC officials. However, neither was true. Bush had, in fact, had conversations with both. Bush had spoken to Waltrip in Allbaugh’s office, and Bush had also met with Dick McNeil of the TFSC during a Bush campaign visit. While Bush’s people claimed that neither conversation was “substantial,” it was revealed that Bush had, at the very least, discussed the case in passing with McNeil. That in itself, no matter how Republicans play it down, was enough to demonstrate that Bush had, in fact, lied under oath–an impeachable offense, remember.
Not to mention the fact that the lying under oath aside, this case reeked of cronyism, bribery, and corruption. One would have to be hopelessly naive to think that Bush was not involved in the SCI matter, and even if the affidavit were true, it would be at best a weasel wording, because Bush’s Chief of Staff Allbaugh was deeply involved, and to imagine he was doing so without Bush’s knowledge or involvement strains credulity well beyond the limits. This might not be admissible as evidence against Bush in a court of law, but that does not lessen Bush’s corruption; he’s simply spent a long time engineering clever ways to break laws and get away with it.
The May case settled out of court in 2001, and long before that, after Bush was elected the news media lost all interest in the case. But now, even as Bush’s cronyism is proving to have cost hundreds if not thousands of lives, Bush and his cronies are still hiring yet more cronies and paying them off with taxpayer dollars.
Though Bush himself ran several businesses into the ground and never earned an honest dollar, it seems that the soundest investment of all was in giving Bush your money and joining the crony bandwagon. For SCI, it’s been paying off for years now, as it is paying off for other Bush cronies and financial backers.
Meanwhile, grieving families in Texas, gruesomely horrified by botched SCI embalmings, received no justice; Texas’ funeral commission presumably has slipped back into its quiet corruption; and in reward for taking care of Bush’s dirty work, Allbaugh got rewarded with a juicy government resume-padder and as a result hundreds and possibly thousands of people died in the path of Katrina.