Trusting Feinstein

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You may recall the allegations that surfaced earlier this year regarding California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein and charges that she may have used her position on a Senate subcommittee to benefit contractors in which her husband had a financial interest. (The Sunlight Foundation mounted a defense of Feinstein at the time noting that the senator only had an appearance of a conflict of interest.)

It’s taken a couple of months, but my employer, The San Diego Union-Tribune has done what it appears no other California or national media organization has bothered to do — investigate the allegations.

The verdict:

A Copley News Service review found no evidence that Feinstein had intervened in any clearly meaningful way on behalf of the two companies.

But it also found that the Senate appropriations and military procurement processes are so opaque there is little the public can do but trust Feinstein when she denies helping her husband’s companies. Secrecy and a lack of documentation make independent confirmation impossible.

I encourage you to read the entire article, because there are some observations about the way things work in the Capitol that are sure to feed your inner cynic.

Let me make a few observations on the bigger picture.

First, here’s hoping that stories like this, and those of Duke Cunningham and others really put pressure on Congress to open up to the American people about what goes on in Washington, D.C. I can almost guarantee you that the Union-Tribune wouldn’t have even looked into this if it wasn’t for the buzz on talk radio and the blogosphere. Alliances like Porkbusters and the blogosphere in general can have a real effect on the way our government works.

Second, I will once again echo my complaint made months ago that the media handled these allegations differently than just about any others. Today’s story on the Feinstein investigation appeared on page A3 — but the initial allegations that prompted the investigation never made the paper. Still, it thus far appears that the Union-Tribune is the only paper that even bothered to investigate.

Third, the fact that skilled and experienced reporters who just two years ago sparked the investigation bringing down Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and won themselves the Pulitzer Prize can’t penetrate the murky subcommittee process tells us two things. The process needs a lot more light applied by blogs, the media and the general public.

It also tells us that Cunningham had to have been one of the most stupid, corrupt politicians in U.S. history to get caught so easily.

In the end, what this comes down to is you’re simply going to have to trust Feinstein.

If you don’t, your alternative is the ballot box.

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