Monday, January 16, 2006

Guest Post: Pombo's Chief of Staff - Steven Ding

(The following is a guest post by Randy J. Bull, the author of Words Have Power. RJB was a blogging dynamo when it came to the Duke Cunningham story, and he still writes a ton of great stuff relating to Congressional corruption. (I also read his blog to keep informed about Francine Busby, a courageous Democrat whose campaign for Congress in CA-50 I whole-heartedly support).

I’ve been reading Words Have Power off and on since August, and it never disappoints. So I am very pleased to have him guest-post on Say No to Pombo. For his part, RJB says that he used to live in CA-11 and so he’s going to keep an eye on Richard Pombo. I certainly welcome his involvement, as I hope he’ll allow us to post more of his stuff on this site. -Matt)

Sunday's Contra Costa Times breaks a story concerning Representative Dick Pombo's (CA-11) chief of staff, Steven Ding. Mr. Ding is more than just Dick Pombo's right hand man. Ding is also the chief of staff of Pombo's House Resource Committee. But, wait, there's more, Ding is also a political consultant who runs a California based political action committee that supports candidates that Dick Pombo likes.

"Despite being chief of staff to the Washington-based Resources Committee, and being paid more than $150,000 a year from the committee's budget, Ding works primarily from California and commutes to Capitol Hill at taxpayers' expense when the committee is in session.

Congressional observers called the situation unusual, a waste of public money and a questionable interpretation of house rules. Pombo and Ding insist the travel expenses, which include lodging and meals in Washington, are legitimate.

House rules on travel and spending prohibit using a member's district budget for committee expenses. They also state that "living expenses and commuting expenses are not reimbursable when they are incurred at the staff member's duty station."

Ding has a full time job in Washington as the chief of staff of a major congressional committee. His compensation for that job is $150,000 a year.

"In addition to his committee post, Ding is also listed in records as chief of the congressman's personal staff, a position for which Pombo pays him $100 a month from his district office budget. The listing allows Ding to bill taxpayers for his frequent travel between Washington and California.

Even though he describes Ding as his chief of staff who controls all aspects of both his personal and committee operations, Pombo pays another staff member more than $120,000 a year from his district budget as deputy chief of staff. The two jobs don't overlap, Pombo said."

Ding gets $150,000 per year for his full time job in WASHINGTON, DC. But, he is also Pombo's chief of staff, although another individual is employed in that function at the taxpayers’ expense.
Since Ding is on Pombo's California staff, his travel and expenses in WASHINGTON, DC, where his $150,000 a year job is located, are paid for by the American taxpayer.

"Ding's admission, in response to a Times investigation of his activities, raises questions about his outside work and a special arrangement under which Pombo has allowed him to spend more than $87,000 in taxpayer money on travel, meals and lodging during the past three years."

While living in California and working in WASHINGTON, DC, Ding has had a substantial income from political consulting. Consulting directly tied to his position with Pombo and the Resource Committee.

"...IRS documents show Ding is the director of a Sacramento-based federal political action committee, WestPac, that supports conservative congressional candidates and causes in Western states. Noble said Ding's outside work was troubling, in part, because many of Ding's payments come from people who receive political work from Pombo. In another instance, payments came from a candidate to whom Pombo gave money. That could lead to the impression that Ding is being compensated for steering work or money to them, rather than providing consulting services, Noble said.

In 2000, 2002 and 2003, Ding received fees from a state legislative candidate who had earlier received contributions from a state political action committee that Pombo controlled. According to state documents, Ding was in charge of that political action committee's expenditures, and it raised money from donors who also routinely gave to Pombo's federal re-election account."

In case you're having trouble keeping up with all of Mr. Ding's sources of income, the Times sums it up here:

"Documents show that Ding received $114,240 in outside income between 2000 and 2004, the last year for which records are available. (Disclosures for 2005 are due in May).

All the sources of that income are political campaigns and consultants with ties to Pombo.

Ding said Friday he would not have been able to continue that work after 2003 if he had moved to Washington when Pombo appointed him Resources Committee chief of staff.

Since then, records show he spent more than $87,000 from Pombo's district budget on travel, lodging and meals from January 2003 to July 2005. During that same period, he received more than $57,000 in consulting fees, according to documents.

Also during that time, Ding received nearly all his congressional salary - $417,933 - from the budget of the Washington-based Resources Committee."

Representative Pombo is completely aware of his chief of staff's situation. He apparently sees no conflict in Ding's consultancy, nor does he think that stiffing the taxpayers for both Ding's expenses and a second chief of staff to do Ding's work is out of line.

The Republican congress of corruption isn't just a few bad apple congressmen and some shady lobbyists. It is a disease that infects every part of Congress and Washington itself.


Anonymous Used-to-b-anon said...

Matt, I thought this was an interesting story but the writer and others are still failing to make the connection between alleged corruption, greed, and unethical behavior to the plight of voters in the district.

Just screaming corruption will not do it. You have to find a way to use this information to suppress or pull support away from Pombo.

For example, why hasn't anybody talked about why small government Pombo has morphed into into overspending, eavesdropping, debt enlarging Big Government Pombo? Why aren't any of the Democrats trying to shake loose the deep connection to moderate conservatives who support Pombo in the Valley, which by the way is the only way to win?

If you are stuck in traffic each day for two hours, can't see your kids and your in danger of losing your job to a worker overseas, why should I give a shit your Chief of Staff is getting paid for side work? If he is doing his job, then what's the big deal?

Now before you jumb all over me, I know it makes a difference and it makes me angry. However, what is the connection to everyday voters, most of who will either ignore this story or don't read the newspaper in-depth enough to notice.

Morever, what about the majority of voters who read the first two lines of this article, put it down and say, "All those politicians are corrupt, their all the same."

Again, just an observation.

2:45 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

This is a good point, but I think part of the missing pieces you identified will come in time. I mean, I know that in my own mind I am making some of the connections you are suggesting I articulate (and you should read the end of the piece on the Lamorinda Club too to see where I am at on this).

Also, I hope the "before you jump all over me" line was not an accurate reflection of what you expected from me. I try to be fair and to allow disagreement that is not needlessly inflammatory. The last thing I want is Say No to Pombo to become one giant echo chamber. And honestly, your points are well taken.

I think sometimes people read a discrete blog post and judge it on its merits. As an author of a blog, especially since I write almost every day, it's sometimes hard for me to know how explicit I need to be about certain things.

In large part I view a lot of the current posts as preparation for more big-picture posts. I want to be sure that I put something online so that in three months, when I'm talking about Pombo's unethical dealings, I can link to a number of different posts. It's hard for readers to see (and I haven't exactly been perfectly articulate about this), but these type of things are often more case studies than the thesis argument. In other words, they form the fundament upon which the type of pieces you are looking for will be built.

Let me know if that addresses your concern.

3:02 PM, January 16, 2006  
Anonymous Used-to-b-anon said...

No, no, I was trying to be a bit sarcastic with the "don't jump all over me" line. No worries here, no expectations. I should have remembered that sarcasm is difficult to deliever with the written word, especially on a blog. :-)

I agree this is all building to a larger point, but many of us in the political field have been able to define this larger point for a year now, but the campaign's have, as of yet, failed to give their definitions, which makes me wonder what the hell they are all doing with their time.

I should come clean a bit and say that I have worked in Democratic politics for more than 5 years and am good at what I do, and paid well. I find these blogs entertaining and something with which to express streams of ideas without correction, over thinking or editing.

I appreciate your work Matt and will continue to post so that a grand discussion can take place, here and in other places, so that our eventual candidate and the voters he /she is trying to woo have ample evidence of Pombo's past and the possible Democratic future for the 11th CD.

3:13 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

Thanks for the reply. If you feel like you have a grand vision that makes Pombo's problems relevant to the CA-11 voters, by all means send me an e-mail and I'll guest post it.

3:31 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Dan Spomer said...

That was an excellent piece of work, and thank you for posting it. I have a feeling I won't be the only one linking to it.


6:43 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger J said...

OK, this is totally irrelevant, but I just saw Steve Ding's pic in today's Chronicle....and I thought, I know that guy. Did a web search, and found your blog. If it's the same Ding, and he LOOKS like he could be, I worked with him at Mr. Steak in Stockton, back in 1983/84. He was also into photography. He didn't make this kind of money back then, I can tell you that much. Oh...he was a jerk then, too.

5:22 PM, June 05, 2006  

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