Dennis Hastert’s Past Scandals
Imagine if his last name was Clinton.
…Hastert manipulated a series of complex land transactions in his home state of Illinois, in concert with wealthy patrons, to take his net worth from a negligible amount to many millions of dollars while he was serving as Speaker of the House—buying land at a low price while his associates purchased adjacent land at a much higher price, then merging the parcels and creating a trust that gave Hastert an inflated share. Hastert then used his clout as speaker to jam through a stalled transportation bill to which he attached an earmark to fund a highway interchange unwanted by the Illinois Department of Transportation and local residents that was a mile from his land. The earmark caused the land to skyrocket in value, and a portion was sold to a developer that resulted in a $3 million-plus payoff to the newly rich Speaker of the House, a 500 percent profit. Hastert retained his share in the remainder of the land—his net worth when he left office was estimated at between $4 and $17 million. While much of the value was in land, he had also netted a huge pile of cash. No ethics actions were taken against Hastert—which says more about the ethics process than it does about the individual—but by any reasonable standard this was dodgy behavior.
…Hastert presided over one of the worst moments for a deliberative body in modern times, the nearly three-hour vote in the dead of night to pass the Medicare prescription-drug bill—a vote that under the rules was supposed to last 15 minutes. The arm-twisting on the floor turned to something close to outright extortion, resulting in yet more admonitions for Tom DeLay. Under Hastert, amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike were squelched by a strikingly pliant Rules Committee; conferences were rarely held, and if they were, it was late at night and they were closed to input from all except loyal lieutenants; and provisions were sometimes added to conference reports that had never been in either House or Senate bills without notice to other lawmakers, among other indignities. And, of course, Hastert presided over the informal “Hastert rule,” doing whatever he could to avoid input from Democrats, trying to pass bills with Republicans alone. The House is a very partisan institution, with rules structured to give even tiny majorities enormous leverage. But Hastert took those realities to a new and more tribalized, partisan plane.