- - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In a just world, no politician would leave office wealthier than on the day he takes the oath of office. We don’t live in a just world, alas, and the rags-to-riches life stories of more than a few U.S. senators strain credulity.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, once an officer of the Capitol Police, joined the ranks of multimillionaires during his four decades on the public payroll. He says he’s a good investor, and no doubt he is, but the watchdog group Cause of Action wants the Senate Ethics Committee to inquire as to whether and how he used his office to pad his campaign war chest.

The Senate’s code of conduct stipulates that a senator may not “permit any compensation to accrue to his beneficial interest” as a result of “influence improperly exerted from his position.” It prohibits petitioning executive branch agencies for financial benefit for the benefit of immediate family.

Cause of Action accuses Mr. Reid of attempting to influence the Obama administration to overrule career bureaucrats at the Department of Homeland Security to “expedite” visa applications for nearly two-dozen foreign nationals who were investors in a Nevada casino. Mr. Reid’s son, Rory, was a lawyer for the casino.

The facts are clear enough. Career officials at the Department of Homeland Security turned down an expedited EB-5 visa application by the SLS Hotel & Casino in 2012 because agents were concerned over “suspicious financial activity.” Mr. Reid called Alejandro Mayorkas, who was then the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to ask him to reverse the decision. Mr. Mayorkas cheerfully obliged.

Mr. Reid then changed Senate rules so that Mr. Mayorkas could be promoted to the No. 2 position at the Department of Homeland Security, even though he was the subject of an investigation by the inspector general.

In a letter to the ethics committee, citing an investigation by this newspaper, Daniel Z. Epstein, the executive director of Cause of Action, said, “the American people deserve better. It is unfair for politicians to attempt to influence the enforcement of our laws, especially when they — or their close family members — stand to benefit.”

The EB-5 visa program grants temporary or permanent residence to foreigners who invest in a business in the United States. The program has tripled in size under Mr. Obama and essentially sells U.S. citizenship to the highest bidder. The scheme invites corruption.

Mr. Reid has a long history of scratching the backs of his friends. Green-energy companies that donated to Mr. Reid, including BrightSource Energy, Nevada Geothermal, Ormat Nevada and Solar Reserve, were then showered with taxpayer dollars.

Allegations of corruption in these cases are easily brushed aside since these companies are saving the planet by lowering the Earth’s temperature. (Anyone who braves the below-zero wind chill to inspect the snowy landscape this week might say they’ve gone too far.) Mr. Reid’s intervention in this casino caper will be difficult for him to explain. It ought to be even more difficult for the Senate to ignore.

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