Tom Davis and the Washington Post

By Too Conservative

The Washington Post today ran a puzzling article about Tom Davis that leads on the front page and covers approximately two entire back pages with, well, I’m not really sure what. I suppose if you spread ink thin enough, it can go a long way, but I kept trying to find the core of the story and concluded that there was very little there there.

The article (“Wife, Friend Tie Congressman to Consulting Firm”) relates that Congressman Davis has a close and long-standing relationship with Donald Upson, an executive with ICG Government. ICG provides consulting services to goverment contractors. Beyond the personal relationship between Davis and Upson, a relationship that pre-dates Davis’s Congressional service, ICG also employs Jeannemarie Devolites, the Congressman’s wife.

The article’s thrust is that ICG uses the Upson/Davis relationship to assist its clients when they encounter problems with the federal government procurement system. Jeannemarie, according to the Post,  makes a high 5-figure salary for approximately half-time work on behalf of ICG.

What is glaringly absent from the Post article is even an allegation, let alone a provable fact, that either Mr. or Mrs. Davis have in any way acted unethically or improperly. The anecdotes related are fairly commonplace examples of Members trying to be alert to constituent needs. To the extent the article implies that something is amiss (and that implication permeates the article) it never puts its journalistic finger on precisely what the problem is. Â

Maybe I’ve become jaded from too much time in Northern Virginia, but I kept looking, with no success, for where the story was going. If the story is that Davis is an influential Congressman who has friends of long-standing who have access to him on issues involving government contracts (Davis is Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee),  I’m left yawning. There is no allegation that Davis has ever used his office to do harm to the public interest on behalf of others. The story recites that Mrs. Davis does not lobby Mr. Davis on matters that are related to her employment at ICG. Unless the Post plants a 24/7 monitor on the couple, I guess we can never know for sure, but there is no recitation of any instance that casts doubt on the Davises’ claim that they keep their business and personal dealings separate.

Over the years, I’ve known a lot of Members of Congress and their wives and I know a lot of people who know a lot of MCs and their wives. In my work, I and everyone else in similar circumstances have sometimes relied on these personal relationships to gain information or access on issues that affect clients. At the end of the day, the best I get from this is access. I still have to make a cogent argument that what is concerning me or my clients should concern the Member of Congress in his or her official capacity. Nothing in the article even hints that Tom Davis has ever put his name to something that he does not believe or that would not be within his normal scope of official interest.Â

The congressional spouse issue is one that has come up fairly frequently. It probably is the case that these people sometimes get hired and paid because of whom they married. But putting a halt to that would require a lot of intrusive policing and subjective standards about when particular employment is related to a Member of Congress’s position as opposed to the capabilities and merits of the spouse.

A point that the Post fails to pursue, having apparently exhausted themselves with a lot of breathless prose about very little of substance, is employment relationships of members of the General Assembly (Jeannemarie Devolites Davis is, of course, a Virginia State Senator). I would love to see the Post or the RTD do a thorough survey of what our part-time legislators do for what they get paid and by whom.  There may be a story there.  Â

PS: The Post acknowledges that the House Ethics Committee has cleared the Devolites/ICG relationship as long as no personal benefit is received for official acts.


Comments

  • James Young says:

    For a change, I agree with virtually everything you say here. And lest we forget: Pravda-on-the-Potomac said ‘nary a word about the relationship between Puff Daschle’s wife’s work as an airline lobbyist when he was Senate Majority Leader.

    This is just another example of Pravda-on-the-Potomac’s desire to trash anyone with the temerity to have an “R” next to his name, even an “R” perceived as a “moderate.”

    The only surprise is that this would surprise anyone.

  • James Martin says:

    Because Corruption and Cronyism are the ideal features we look for in public officials, right Vince?

  • Jean-Charles says:

    Msr. Martin-
    Ou est la coruption? Je ne le vois pas.

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    Scout, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Will the average person have some lingering doubts about the legitimacy of Sen. Devolites’ job, given who she’s married to? Yes. That’s human nature. But there was very little of substance in that article, save for the “allegation” that Upson’s boys ghost-wrote a letter that eventually went out to the Defense Department on Davis’ letterhead. That’s not even a story fragment, even among most Woodward and Bernstein wannabes.

    NJH

  • NoVA Scout says:

    James: My point was that the Post did not allege corruption, nor did it make the case that personal relationships should have no place in politics. You can pass laws to make these guys monks and tell them they should shun knowledgeable friends whose judgments they have come to trust over years of experience, but I reckon the quality of govenrment would not be increased by such restrictions.

  • James Martin says:

    Excuse me, i confused authors:) As for Mr. Davis, clearly he used his position in the government to help award contracts that benefited him and his wife personally… That is the definition of corruption. Mrs. Devolites Davis must resign immediately or Mr. Davis must resign immediately, take your pick.

  • Harry Landers says:

    The real story isn’t with any real or imagined ethical shortcomings on the part of Congressman Davis or Senator Devolites. What I find both interesting and disturbing is the whole political/business culture that allows for firms like ICG to thrive.

    I’m far outside the Beltway and I suppose the insiders would say I’m just naive and that’s “just the way things are done”, but I find it shameful to see the extraordinary amounts of money being made by the “War on Terrorism” profiteers. If there’s one reason why I’d like to see Democrats regain control of Congress, it’s the hope that they’ll have the courage to conduct Truman-style hearings. I don’t like seeing our national security concerns being used to finance Ferraris and McMansions for these Beltway Bandits. Shame.

  • Dave Richardson says:

    Be carefull Harry, you may get what you wish for. I too would love to see a reincarnation of Sen. Truman’s 1943 hearings on war profiteering if only to see how many former Clinton Administration officials, now in the private sector and needing to pay for their Ferraris and McMansions in Chevy Chase, Potomac and the Gold Coast (you don’t find former Democrats in Virginia), along with the Landon, Holton, Visitation and Gonzaga tuition bills.

    If you think firms like ICG rely on just Republicans then you are very far outside the Beltway. Take it from someone who’s been financing these firms since the Carter Administration.

  • John C. Cook says:

    The Davis article is a new low for the Post. What is the point of the article? I took a journalism class in college, and we learned that the first paragraph of a news story should clearly make the point. Here, there is no point. There is no allegation of illegal conduct. The article itself says the House Ethics Committee cleared things. Senator Davis’s pay? At $78,000.00 per year for 10-20 hours (average it to 15), that’s a bit over $200,000.00 per year full time – not high by Fairfax standards. To dredge up an old phrase – where’s the beef?
    But the Post clearly tries to make it seem like there is something there. The only time an article starts on page one, and then gets a two-page spread inside, is where there is some great revelation. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monika Lewinsky, Bob Woodward’s latest book. No such revelation here. Heck, Jim Moran’s many misdeeds (and they are true misdeeds) never got this treatment. These journalists should be ashamed, and the Post’s editors ought to fired, for so obviously trying to damage a good man with nothing.

  • Jean-Charles says:

    Mon Dieu Msr. Cook. Je suis d’accord avec votre reponse! Ze wisdome you give in zat post rivals some of ze great discourses zat have been give by ze great Molleur himself! Allez le Cook!!!!

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    James, there is no fact in that article that lends itself to your conclusion that Davis “used his position in the government to help award contracts that benefited him and his wife personally.” The writers did not even attempt to say that. In fact, Davis has zero contracting authority – that’s right – zip. Awarding procurement contracts is the job of the executive branch, not the legislature. Davis only has oversight.

    You could say that Davis’ influence helped a local satellite company keep a contract worth 70% of its business, but if I were you I wouldn’t make any value judgments on that without first looking at the benefit of that contract to both the federal government and the local economy.

    NJH

  • Actually elected officials, political appointees, government civil service employees are held to a higher standard than simply what is allowable by law. That standard is “would a reasonable person conclude from the facts that there is a conflict of interest.”

    I think that Davis and his wife may have failed that standard. A reasonable person could conclude that, while nothing illegal occurred, they have used their influence and the perception of influence to help a friend win clients.

    And considering that a great many contracts, especially at Homeland Security, are no-bid single source contracts that are never bid on competitively, I think there is a perception problem. Not a legal problem, but certainly a problem for Davis’ political career.

    If it doesn’t hurt him it’s because he is so much better known and is much better funded than his opponent Andy Hurst. Davis is also very well liked and has a history of providing excellent constituent service.

    But if the economy slows down and it begins to affect people, if they lose job security or benefits, and if gas prices keep going up, all of that could cause problems for Davis’ campaign if he looks like he is part of the culture of corruption (which includes Democrats too).

    When people feel their careers and their security are threatened, they tend to focus on and resent the appearance of favoritism. If they are comfortable, they tend to ignore it.

    As for James Young’s largely irrelevant comment about Tom Daschle’s wife lobbying, wasn’t that part of the reason Daschle is now former Senate Majority Leader?

    Also all those pointing out that Democrats did it too is beside the point. That’s why they got voted out in Republican Revolution of 1994. Republicans promised to be different. And the fact that Republicans have celebrated themselves as the party of faith and values leaves them more vulnerable to corruption charges. It unfortunately makes them look like bigger hypocrites because they rode into office making that one of their big issues.

  • charles says:

    Whereas the BIG story is Davis trying to shunt 1.5 BILLION dollars to Metro from offshore oil leases, provided the people of virginia would just raise their own taxes more.

    This despite the fact that the people served by metro are among the richest people in the country, while the sales tax which would likely be used would disproportionately hurt poor people who probably don’t have cush government jobs to ride Metro to.

    And despite the fact that most states near offshore oil leases have many much poorer citizens who could benefit from money from those oil leases — but of course, they aren’t living near the seat of all government largesse.

    Of course, the Washington Post wouldn’t criticize Davis for this — because they SUPPORT his efforts for THIS particular piece of bacon.

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    Any reason you guys bumped my earlier comment? I don’t think I was any ruder than usual. :)

    NJH

  • NoVa Scout says:

    NJH: As far as I know the only comment that has been ejected in recent weeks was one by Molleur. Young came close when he called JD a vile name, but we left it up just as an example of how not to behave and to remind people about James’s issues and proclivities. Your comments are always welcome – you just fell into this annoying random moderation that we haven’t mastered yet. The place has really gone to hell since Vincent left for Texas. We’ll get it figured out, but Mitch, Loudoun Insider and I are muddling through as guest hosts. The only solace I can provide you is that it seems that NoVA Scout is the commenter who is most frequently getting hung-up in moderation. Charles seems to be a close second. Sorry about the delay.

  • James Young says:

    So, let me understand this: calling an admitted homosexual a “fag” (I suppose “queer” would have been OK, right?) when he insults your intellect is “an example of how not to behave and to remind people about [my] issues [yes, I confess: I oppose perversion] and proclivities,” but intimating that someone who opposes perversion is, in fact, a pervert (with that nonsense about “proclivities”), is acceptable?

    You never fail to amaze, NoVA Scout/Sean.

    And demonstrate why you have good cause to hide your identity.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    I don’t hide my identity, James. I just don’t use it in this context. It’s irrelevant.

    “fag” and “queer” (unless you’re talking about cigarettes and unusual things) are equally useless, tasteless and out of place in attempting to refute political arguments. If you live in a world where that kind of thing is commonplace and viewed as a substantive political response, please stay there.

  • Mack says:

    Back to the Post article–the problem with what Davis did has nothing to do with representing a constituent or helping them with an agency. It’s not even his 2d wife’s job, necessarily. That happens all the time. Many agencies have ombudsmen who do that. The problem occured when the Agency DIDN’T WANT the contract, and in fact determined it was ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money – and Davis threatened an investigation if te contract didn’t continue.Anyone who works at an agency knows investigations waste time and money and takes Agency personnel away from their core mission. Months of preparation and hundreds of hours can be required for them. He blackmailed them into continuing a contract that was a waste of your money, abusing his positon on the Reform Committee.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    Thanks for getting this back to substance, Mack. What you say is fair enough. The Post did very little to develop that point, though. If that’s what they were hanging the story on, they could have gone into the merits of the underlying agency determination. The truly feeble content/column inch ratio may have buried a story worth pursuing, but it sure didn’t emerge readily from the haze. If there’s more to it than they have indicated, I suppose we’ll see more stories. I continue to have a hard time seeing this as anything different than pedestrian constituent services stuff that comes out of virtually every Congressional office in some form. It may be, as some of our commenters suggest, that this is indicative of a larger rot in the overall government procurement/political process, but it is not unusual in any way.

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