- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

By the time Rep. Nancy Pelosi promised “the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history,” a partial picture of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s penchant for questionable real-estate deals was already public, including the fact that Mr. Reid last year hung up on an Associated Press reporter who had the temerity to ask. A lot more is available this week.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Reid bought a tract of desert in rapidly developing northern Arizona in 2002 for less than one-tenth the assessor’s value from a pension fund controlled by a friend of 50 years, Clair Haycock, a Las Vegas lubricants distributor on whose apparent behalf Mr. Reid has sponsored multiple unsuccessful tries at lubricants-distribution legislation over the years.

Mr. Reid, partial owner of the 160-acre tract for more than 20 years, purchased the equivalent of 60 acres for $10,000, yielding him full control of the parcel. Mr. Reid can now recoup anywhere from $50,000 to $290,000 on that $10,000 investment, estimates show.

Mr. Reid’s spokesman insists that the transaction does not constitute a gift. But the sale was almost certainly below fair-market value, probably significantly so. The price works out to $166 an acre.

The context of Mr. Reid’s relationship with the Haycock family raises more questions. Since the mid-1990s, Mr. Reid has tried on multiple occasions to push a bill protecting lubricants distributors from contract cancellations by suppliers. Mr. Reid — who is not known for his acumen on petroleum products — cited the cancellation of Haycock Distribution Co.’s contract with Mobil Oil Co. on the Senate floor more than once as he pushed the legislation, including two times since the land sale. It was “grossly unfair,” Mr. Reid said, that a constituent’s “franchise agreement to sell lubricating oils to car dealers in Las Vegas was arbitrarily canceled with 30 days’ notice,” he said in 1994, the gist of which he repeated on the Senate floor again in 2002 and 2003, after the land deal in question.

This comes on the heels of the October revelation that Mr. Reid failed to disclose to Congress a 2001 transfer of land in Las Vegas to a limited liability corporation created by his friend Jay Brown, the sale of which would net Mr. Reid $1.1 million three years after the transfer. Asked about the sale by the Associated Press last year, Mr. Reid hung up on the reporter.

At minimum, we had better not hear Mr. Reid ever presume to lecture others on ethics again. The rest, at least in theory, is a matter for Senate ethics investigators.

A question: Where are the ethics scourges who mau-maued then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay during his own ethics imbroglio? This is the Senate majority leader, in what was supposed to be the “most ethical Congress in history.” That’s more serious than a freezer-stuffing Rep. William Jefferson here or a glad-handing Alan Mollohan there.

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