In the spirit of the New Year, ProPublica is trying out a new feature, Quick Picks. Every afternoon, we'll write a quick post about the day's top stories from "Breaking on the Web," putting them in context and explaining why they're editors' picks, etc. And if a reader has recommended one of them, he or she will get a special shout-out. We're hoping you'll send us stories from your local paper, your favorite blog or magazine, etc. (Today's Quick Picks is unusually long because we've included stories from over the holiday.)
- It's Scandal Watch's perfect storm: AIG and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) collide. The New York Times, the millstone around Rangel's neck, reports that Rangel solicited AIG for a contribution to his foundation in April, and less than a month later the company asked him to support a tax measure that would save it millions of dollars a year. Back in July, when the Washington Post first reported that Rangel was soliciting funds from companies with business before his committee, Rangel said about AIG: "I can't think of one piece of legislation that impacts them, and there has never been a time that they've raised any legislation to me." Luckily, AIG never ended up making a donation. Could it be that the insurance giant was strapped for cash? AIG Responds â In response to the story, an AIG spokesman told ProPublica that the company made neither a pledge nor a contribution to Rangel, and its letter to him was part of a broader letter-writing campaign made in conjunction with a number of other companies. Rangel Responds â A spokesman for Rangel also emphasized that the letter was generic and "most major American multinationals were lobbying in favor" of the tax measure.
- The Forest Service has been busy during Bush's waning days: It is poised to tweak its agreements with companies in order to allow roads on Forest Service land to be paved, thereby opening up millions of acres of forest to housing development. The Forest Service elicited much criticism by negotiating with Plum Creek Timber, the nation's largest private landowner, behind closed doors and bypassing the public-comment period. "Why do it in the 11th hour of this administration?" asks Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Well, probably because Obama opposes the rule.
- Listen up, felons. The New York Times has figured out the trick to getting your clemency request fast-tracked through the system. Don't be a chump and go through the Justice Department; drum up some personal connections to the White House. The Times reports that at least four of the 20 people to whom Bush granted clemency on Dec. 23 had special access to President Bush. Three were represented by his former associate counsels and one called in a special favor from the governor of Iowa.
- Those pesky foundations keep getting lawmakers in hot water. The Times also reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped save a New York developer millions of dollars around the same time that he donated $100,000 to her husband's foundation. Both the developer and a spokesman for Sen. Clinton deny any connection between the legislation and the donation. Bill Clinton released his foundation's donor list last month to facilitate his wife's bid for Secretary of State.