Friday, December 11, 2009

Max Baucus's sleazy lovelife

While Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus's love life hasn't reached Tiger-like proportion, it still is appearing that the Senator has been quite busy with the ladies, at least those ladies who worked for him. When the story broke that the Senator had nominated a woman to be a U.S. attorney who was actually his mistress, it was basically a one-day story. The media wasn't going to make a big deal out of a leading Democratic senator's ethical lapses, not when that senator was key to the whole debate over health care.

Only the Washington Examiner saw fit to remind the public about other stories about Baucus's treatment of women on his own staff and how those stories had been buried.
In 1999, Baucus fired then-Chief of Staff Christine Niedermeier, who in turn accused Baucus of sexual harassment. Baucus, who has served in Congress since 1975, said at the time that Niedermeier did not work well with the rest of the staff.

Niedermeier then accused Baucus of sexual harassment. She said at the time that Baucus pursued her, asking her jealously about other boyfriends and suggesting the two take a trip to Disneyland or move to Montana together. Niedermeier said she had no interest in him and that his unwelcome overtures, which were seen by the rest of the staff, made it difficult for her to run the office. Niedermeier sought help from staff in the office of then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a close friend of Baucus. Soon after she was fired.
Hmmm, why didn't we hear about these allegations of sexual harassment against a leading Democratic senator when that party was the one whose female politicians were united in their disgust over the allegation that Clarence Thomas had made a few off-color comments to Anita Hill? It turns out that they have quite a system up there on Capitol Hill to protect their own.
As for Niedermeier, her subsequent court case against him was tossed out because it exceeded a special 90-day filing deadline for suits against members of Congress.

Niedermeier said senators are protected in ways that workers in the private sector are not.

For instance, Niedermeier had to take her complaint to a special Senate panel made up mainly of staffers, but none of the information was ever released publicly. She said U.S. Capitol Police blocked her from retrieving e-mails from Baucus that she said would have backed her claim.

"If you make it transparent and you mirror it against the process that is in effect in the private sector in America, I think it would significantly deter this kind of conduct," said Niedermeier, who is now an attorney in Fairfield, Conn.
Remember the outrage that the Democrats raised about the Supreme Court decision that didn't allow Lily Ledbetter to file her gender discrimination suit against Goodyear because she had waited past the legal deadline for filing a sexual harassment case. The Democrats raised a big fuss and proudly passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But now it turns out that Max Baucus's bacon was saved by that 90-day deadline in the Senate. They have put in place a deadline that is half the time allowed in the private sector. Quite cozy, isn't that?

And now we find out today that Baucus was using the federal Treasury to funnel more money to his girlfriend.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, gave a nearly $14,000 pay raise to a female staffer in 2008, at the time he was becoming romantically involved with her, and later that year took her on a taxpayer-funded trip to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, though foreign policy was not her specialty.
That's quite a clever trick when senators can use taxpayer money to romance the women they're interested in.

And when the story broke that Baucus had nominated her to be a U.S. Attorney, Baucus tried to claim that they had been the ones to realize how iffy that was for him to nominate his own girlfriend and they'd retracted the nomination. It turns out it wasn't a sudden "Oops! This is wrong" epiphany that got them to retract her nomination. There's a bit more to that story.
Jodi Ravi, a former reporter for the Missoulian revealed over the weekend that the paper informed Baucus in March that it was poised to publish a story about Hanes’s relationship with the senator and the fact that he had nominated her for the U.S. attorney job.

The next day, Hanes withdrew from consideration. According to the Missoulian, Baucus’s office never acknowledged a relationship between the two, and the paper did not run a story.
Our nation's solons had cleverly created lower ethics rules for themselves than for the rest of the nation concerning dating between bosses and employees. And such romancing is a bipartisan affair.
Unlike many private corporations, there are no congressional rules barring a lawmaker from having a romantic liaison with an employee. In several cases, members have married staffers. For instance, Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) became involved with his wife when she was still his chief of staff. Former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) first hired his wife, Judy, as a staffer and later married her.

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) became involved with a House staffer when he was speaker of the House. He later divorced his second wife and married the staffer.
Given the long hours that they all work together, it is not surprising that romances develop. What is sleazy is how he has used the tighter rules for reporting sexual harassment to escape charges by his former aide and how he's used the federal Treasury to give his girlfriend a raise and then a nomination to a prominent position as US attorney. Let's see if he faces the kind of obloquy that would be thundering down on a Republican who had behaved similarly.