The big headline story recently has been Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s “play for pay” scandal relating to the president-elect’s vacant Senate seat. We’ve also been watching money scandals surrounding other Democrats such as Charlie Rangel and William Jefferson, to name but a few.
According to the Times, developer Robert J. Congel of Syracuse, New York, donated $100,000 to former President Bill Clinton’s library, and was also more recently a heavy contributor to Mrs. Clinton’s electoral efforts. The article says Hillary Clinton was responsible for herding legislation through the Senate which allowed Mr. Congel to use tax exempt bonds to finance the construction of “Destiny USA,” which is an expansion to his already existing Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse. The article, understandably, seems to suggest a connection between these two events.
Upon investigating, there isn’t much to contradict that notion. According to the Huffington Post (hardly a bastion of conservative thought), Congel donated $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $2,300 to Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign, $2,300 to Walsh for Congress, $2,100 to Mitt Romney, $2,000 to Rudy Giuliani, and $4,600 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Congel also donated $2,000 for the reelection of George W. Bush back in 2004.
Apparently, Congel is not someone who is given to supporting Democrats. Notice that Mrs. Clinton is the only Democrat to whom Congel has donated. Again, this is apparently not somebody who routinely donates large sums of money to Democrat campaigns, and yet he apparently makes an exception where Mrs. Clinton is concerned.
In researching the matter further, on campaignmoney.com we find that Congel’s wife Suzanne Congel (who is listed as an unemployed homemaker) also contributed a total of $6,900 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and $2,300 to Fred Thompson’s campaign. This is not an uncommon tactic for someone wanting to go over the amounts listed in campaign finance law and is perfectly legal.
But Mr. Congel’s political activity surrounding this development goes back at least to 2003, when he and his lobbyists were busy schmoozing with New York state legislators, then-New York Governor George Pataki, the Syracuse Common Council, and the Onondaga County Legislature.
As a result of all this stroking by Congel and company, in 2003 the locals passed legislation to forgive all the local property taxes on the mall for the next 30 years. The county government also asked Governor Pataki to put the entire project inside what’s called an “Empire Zone.” That’s New York political-speak for a “pet state project” which gets tax breaks, and what I will call for brevity, “smaller regulatory loading.” Pataki agreed, making it official in October of 2003. In other words, Congel is now operating the place pretty much tax free until 2033.
Mind you, in their original form, the Empire Zones here in New York State were supposed to be tax-reduced havens for struggling businesses. I have never seen the Carousel Mall with an empty parking lot. I can only assume they are not struggling. Thereby I can conclude that making the mall an “Empire Zone” is a special favor to Mr. Congel and company, outside the stated purpose of the program.
It should be pointed out that Governor Pataki was among those who were strongly in favor of the state guaranteeing that $1.5 billion worth of bonding for Destiny’s expansion project, saying that the project was “too important to not build it” even if it meant putting together a “unique financing mechanism.” Gee, in what bailout discussion have we heard that recently?
We could create volumes of discussion about all of this history, but the point I’m making in listing it is that Mr. Congel is somebody who is used to lobbying all levels of government for what he needs for pet projects, and he usually gets what he wants.
That established, let’s return to the Clinton portion of this. Again, Congel, by the records I’ve linked, tends toward supporting Republican candidates with his donations. And yet, we have this very generous and timely string of contributions to Hillary Clinton by someone who clearly spares no expense or effort to get political backing and government money for his pet projects. Being generous, one could assume that it was mere chance that Mrs. Clinton’s legislation benefiting Mr. Congel occurred so close in time of Congel’s donations. Such generosity is at least difficult to square, however, in light of the facts. Not only do the donations to Mrs. Clinton break the pattern created by the rest of his political donations, but they also come from people and from an organization that directly benefited from Mrs. Clinton’s exercise of power, and within weeks of such legislation becoming law.
Is it possible that Congel’s donation in this case marked his surrender to the rule that in the Democratic Party politics a little well placed cash can move mountains?