Monday, March 05, 2007

Jim Nicholson: The "Brownie" of the VA

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

I haven’t seen this angle discussed in the story of Walter Reed and the horrible conditions that our veterans are being subjected to as they seek the care they desperately need and deserve. And while it isn’t surprising, this is something that should be noted – the Secretary for Veteran’s Affairs is none other than long-time republican party official and former RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson.

Now, Nicholson does have some level of qualification in that he did serve in the military during Vietnam and was in the Army Reserves for over 20 years. But, this looks more like a position that was awarded to a man whose prior two decades was spent serving the republican party. From his bio on the White House website:

Mr. Nicholson earned a master's degree from Columbia University in New York, and a law degree from the University of Denver. He practiced law in Denver, specializing in real estate, municipal finance and zoning law. In 1978 he founded Nicholson Enterprises, Inc., a developer of planned residential communities, and in 1987 he bought Renaissance Homes, which became an award-winning builder of quality custom homes.

In January 1986, Mr. Nicholson was elected committeeman from Colorado for the Republican National Committee (RNC). In 1993 he was elected vice-chairman of the RNC, and in January 1997, he was elected chairman of the RNC, where he served for four years, through the elections of 2000.

Not much in terms of qualifications to run an organization the size of the VA and serve the needs of multiple hundreds of thousands of veterans – especially at a time when there would be a significant expansion of the requirements and need for care of veterans who were returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. A comment made by murrayewv in testvet6778’s diary contains the following quote from Paul Krugman regarding the level of care at the VA under the Clinton Administration:
What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans’ health care — like the Federal Emergency Management Agency — became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America....

But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration’s misgovernment became obvious to everyone.

Regarding Nicholson, just what are his qualifications that would allow him to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs? Well, raising gobs of money in a quid-pro-quo for favorable legislation after the 2000 election. Take a couple of these examples:
Team 100 Call Sheet from Jim Nicholson to former ConAgra Chairman: A 2000 "call sheet" prepared for a call by then-RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson to Phil Fletcher, former Chairman and CEO of ConAgra. The memo notes that Fletcher has told Clayton Yeutter, a former Republican Secretary of Agriculture, "in confidence that he may be interested in an ambassadorial position in the Bush administration." The memo instructs Nicholson to ask Fletcher to join Team 100, which requires an initial $100,000 contribution and $25,000 in every subsequent year of membership.

A former Chairman and CEO of a large corporation may be interested in an ambassadorship, so a request is made for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the RNC.

Team 100 Call Sheet for U.E. Patrick of Patrick Petroleum: 2000 "call sheet" prepared for a call by then-RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson, instructing him to ask U.E. Patrick of Patrick Petroleum to join Team 100, which requires an initial $100,000 contribution and $25,000 in every subsequent year of membership. The memo notes that Patrick is waiting to decide whether to give the expected contribution because of "pending questions about the estate tax, as he feels the proposed bill is not aggressive enough." Before considering joining Team 100, the memo says, Patrick expects to be "informed on what the party's goals are with the estate tax, as it personally affects him."

If it walks like a bribe and smells like a bribe…..consideration given to donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the RNC depending on what can be done with the estate tax.

Letter to Chairman and CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb: A 1999 letter from then-Republican National Committee Chair Jim Nicholson to the chairman of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, a major pharmaceutical house, noting the need to "keep the lines of communications open" if Congress is to "continue passing legislation that will benefit your industry," and suggesting that the company contribute $250,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Now, I’m not saying that this doesn’t go on all the time, and doesn’t go on from both sides of the aisle. But these are three of many examples where Nicholson, in his role as RNC Chairman was involved with donations-for-legislation or other favors – none of which make him qualified for running the VA.

Another of Nicholson’s “qualifications” includes the 1999 establishment of the Republican Attorneys General Association which was to raise money from large corporations who were seeking to avoid litigation or who were involved in litigation with states. According to the Washington Post article linked above, this even raised some concerns among Republican Attorneys General:

So far, RAGA has enlisted seven of the 15 Republican attorneys general in the nation, and some have told colleagues they joined reluctantly, urged by GOP officials in their states. Besides Pryor and Cornyn, attorneys general in Delaware, Nebraska, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming have signed up.

Asked why he did not join the group, Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher said, "I'm a Republican and I try to keep politics out of my business as attorney general."

"We're a family, and families can disagree," Grant Woods, former Republican attorney general of Arizona, told the National Association of Attorneys General during a discussion about RAGA at its spring meeting here last week. "But don't do this."

Companies that made contributions included Microsoft (when it was involved in antitrust litigation with 19 states), SBC Communications (whose acquisition of Ameritech was being questioned by state officials) and Aetna (who was accused of fraud) were all contributors. Interestingly, in the Aetna case, the investigation by former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales slowed down significantly when is successor (and current Senator) Jon Cornyn.

Since being appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2004, things, shall we say, have not gone too smoothly for Nicholson. An article in The New Republic late last year touched on his stellar performance:

After drastically underestimating the number of veterans who would need medical care in 2005, former Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson tackled 2006 with gusto. With the veteran population aging rapidly, Nicholson had the dubious honor of presiding over what he called the biggest graveyard expansion "since the Civil War."

Then there were the Wiccans. This May, Nicholson's agency found itself entangled in controversy over its decision to forbid a Nevada widow from placing a Wiccan pentacle on her slain husband's memorial plaque. Veterans Affairs (VA), which recognizes 38 other emblems of faith--including the "Humanist Emblem of Spirit"--now faces litigation from numerous Wiccan families.

And then, this spring, a VA analyst's laptop--which contained the personal information of 26.5 million veterans--was stolen. But we can't fault Nicholson for the ensuing mess, since no one in his office bothered to tell him about it until two weeks after it happened. Some might ask why Nicholson didn't do more to improve the department's "F" rating for computer security, which it received in four out of the last five years. But at least one fan doesn't mind: As Press Secretary Tony Snow put it, Bush still has "full faith and confidence" in the VA chief.

The only thing to say here is “hey Jimmy, you’re doin’ a heckuva job.”


Anonymous said...

I'm still amazed that Jimmy is getting a pass on this. I've been Googling his name in the news since the military resignations broke, and it appears Brownie II, the Sequel is not getting any airplay. Clearly, Jimmy is still some kind of protected class.

It is shocking how this administration gets away with so much disrespect for the military, while protecting unqualified civilians from accountability at every turn. Bush sacrificed a lot military careers to keep Rumsfeld, and look where those decisions have put us. We are fighting a phony war, with benchwarmer generals willing to kiss the boots of their appallingly incompetent political bosses. At least the "retired" generals are speaking up, and showing they still have some backbone.

Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your interesting post!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related publication interesting to you:

Aging of Population