According to ThinkProgress, HUD Inspector General Kenneth M. Donohue, Sr. has opened an investigation into Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s possible illegal patronage scheme. Jackson and his people are denying that he ever cancelled a contract like he told a group of realtors he had. I'll get to the denials in bit, but first let's round up some of the interesting points that other bloggers and commenters have brought up.
For quick reference, here's what Jackson told the Dallas Real Estate Executive Council on April 28:
According to the Dallas Business Journal, Mr. Jackson was talking about contract opportunities when he told the audience about a potential advertising contractor who had sought a deal with the Housing and Urban Development department for 10 years.
"He made a heck of a proposal ... so we selected him," Mr. Jackson said. But then, he said, the man told him, "I don't like President Bush."
"He didn't get the contract," Mr. Jackson reportedly said. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."
First, why is he telling this story to this audience. The Real Estate Executive Council is a national trade group for minority real estate professionals--business men and women who might conceivable be interested in getting government contracts in the future. He seems to believe that funds given in contracts will be used for political campaigning. Put together, it sounds like he is warning the room full of potential contractors that they had better reinvest that money in supporting the Republican party or the contracts will dry up. Whether or not that message was his intention, how many of those realtors do you think heard that message?
Some people have mentioned the oddness of a cabinet-level secretary involving himself in the minutiae of the contracting process. Others have mentioned how odd it sounded for the contractor to have volunteered the information about disliking Bush. TPM Reader PHB suggests a context that answers both of those problems.
There is only one circumstance I can think of where that reply would come up in a sales call - IF THE CEO WAS ASKED FOR A CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION.
I certainly would never bring up politics with any customer unless I knew what their politics were in advance and that they were compatible.
The politics issue has to have come from Jackson.
That is why he is making this peculiar statement, what he is really doing here is repeating his internalized self-justification for demanding a bribe and being rebuffed.
Late yesterday, the denials began. Twice in the last week, Jackson's spokeswoman, Dustee Tucker answered questions by Texas newspapers by giving additional details about the cancelled contract. Yesterday afternoon, she suddenly denied that the incident had ever happened. "It’s not a true story. It’s a made-up story," she told the Dallas Morning News, essentially branding her boss a liar. The story was "anecdotal" she told the Dallas Business Journal.
Today, Dustee Tucker is nowhere to be found. Callers at HUD are told she went on vacation and can't be reached. Jackson has taken over his own defense, but it's no different than Tucker's.
I deeply regret the anecdotal remarks I made at a recent Texas small business forum and would like to reassure the public that all HUD contracts are awarded solely on a stringent merit-based process. During my tenure, no contract has ever been awarded, rejected, or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient.
I wonder, is "anecdotal" really the word that Jackson and Tucker intended to use? An anecdotal story is a true story; it's just not necessarily indicative of a pattern. But whether the story is true or not, what would be the point of telling it except to pressure potential contractors into supporting the Republican machine? Of course, that would be nothing more than business as usual for the modern Republican Party.