Big Money Mitch, Lobbyists and iPods for Afghans

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Mitch McConnell had a staffer, Hunter Bates, who left the senator’s office and became a lobbyist. A lucrative move, Bates began reeling in clients for his “boutique” firm, Bates Capitol Group, which catered to those who wanted and needed access to the powerful senator.

One such Bates client, Kentucky-based Voice for Humanity, wanted to pioneer a new tool it thought would spread democracy. McConnell went along and lined up an $8.3 million earmark to purchase iPod knock-offs made in China to deliver to Afghan tribesmen. The small group, which was run by two Lexington businessmen (and McConnell donors), thought the audio players would ‘promote democracy’ in advance of the 2004 Afghanistan presidential election[1].  McConnell at the time chaired the subcommittee that controlled funding for USAID, through which money for the project flowed.

Why would McConnell send $8.3 million off to purchase Chinese-made iPods? It turns out McConnell’s former staffer Bates had, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, raised more than $120,000 for the senator. Perhaps McConnell’s priorities were skewed toward the earmarks brought to him by former-staffers-turned-lobbyists-fundraisers.[2]

Here’s a stark comparison that shows how McConnell uses his so-called “clout”: He sent $8.3 million to make Chinese iPods for Afghanistan, but voted twice against body armor for our troops in Iraq.[3] Figure that one out.
Here’s an ad we made about it:

1. Nariwa Fariba, “Pink ‘ipods’ for Democracy!,” CorpWatch, March 15, 2006.
2. John Cheves, “A Lucrative Connection; Lobbyist’s close ties to senator pay off for them both – and clients,” Lexington Herald-Leader, October 22, 2006, p. A1, available online for fee.
3. U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 108th Congress, 1st Session, vote number 376, October 2, 2003; U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 110th Congress, 2nd Session, vote number 22 (H.R. 2707), February 29, 2008.