Saturday, September 30

The Problem with Voting for Judges: Campaign Cash Mirrors a High Court’s Rulings

Campaign Cash Mirrors a High Court’s Rulings
NYT October 1, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the fall of 2004, Terrence O’Donnell, an affable judge with the placid good looks of a small-market news anchor, was running hard to keep his seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. He was also considering two important class-action lawsuits that had been argued many months before.

In the weeks before the election, Justice O’Donnell’s campaign accepted thousands of dollars from the political action committees of three companies that were defendants in the suits. Two of the cases dealt with defective cars, and one involved a toxic substance. Weeks after winning his race, Justice O’Donnell joined majorities that handed the three companies significant victories.

Justice O’Donnell’s conduct was unexceptional. In one of the cases, every justice in the 4-to-3 majority had taken money from affiliates of the companies. None of the dissenters had done so, but they had accepted contributions from lawyers for the plaintiffs.

Thirty-nine states elect judges, and 30 states are holding elections for seats on their highest courts this year. Spending in these races is skyrocketing, with some judges raising $2 million or more for a single campaign. As the amounts rise, questions about whether money is polluting the independence of the judiciary are being fiercely debated across the nation. And nowhere is the battle for judicial seats more ferocious than in Ohio.

An examination of the Ohio Supreme Court by The New York Times found that its justices routinely sat on cases after receiving campaign contributions from the parties involved or from groups that filed supporting briefs. On average, they voted in favor of contributors 70 percent of the time. Justice O’Donnell voted for his contributors 91 percent of the time, the highest rate of any justice on the court.

In the 12 years that were studied, the justices almost never disqualified themselves from hearing their contributors’ cases. In the 215 cases with the most direct potential conflicts of interest, justices recused themselves just 9 times.

Even sitting justices have started to question the current system. “I never felt so much like a hooker down by the bus station in any race I’ve ever been in as I did in a judicial race,” said Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, a Republican member of the Ohio Supreme Court. “Everyone interested in contributing has very specific interests.”

“They mean to be buying a vote,” Justice Pfeifer added. “Whether they succeed or not, it’s hard to say.”

Three recent cases, two in Illinois and one in West Virginia, have put the complaints in sharp focus. Elected justices there recently refused to disqualify themselves from hearing suits in which tens or hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. The defendants were insurance, tobacco and coal companies whose supporters had spent millions of dollars to help elect the justices.

After a series of big-money judicial contests around the nation, the balance of power in several state high courts has tipped in recent years in favor of corporations and insurance companies.

In the 2002 Ohio judicial election, for example, two candidates won seats that year on the seven-member court after each raised more money than one of the candidates for governor that year.

Corporate Giving Increases

Judges are required by codes of judicial ethics to disqualify themselves whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned over financial or other conflicts. Even owning a few shares of stock in a defendant’s company or seeing a relative’s name on a brief generally requires automatic disqualification.

But there is an exception to this strict rule: campaign contributions. Very few judges in the states that elect the members of their highest court view contributions as a reason for disqualification when those contributors appear before them.

Many judges said contributions were so common that recusal would wreak havoc on the system. The standard in the Ohio Supreme Court, its chief justice, Thomas J. Moyer, said, is to recuse only if “sitting on the case is going to be perceived as just totally unfair.”

Duane J. Adams, a plaintiff in one of the class-action suits heard by Justice O’Donnell, concerning defective cars, said he questioned the impartiality of the justices who ruled against him. Mr. Adams had sued DaimlerChrysler under the state’s lemon law, and he grew angry when told that the company’s political action committee had given money to justices in the majority.

“At the very least, it’s a conflict of interest,” Mr. Adams said. “These gentlemen, they should be prosecuted for what I consider is taking a bribe.” He and the other plaintiffs did not contribute, but their lawyers gave to the campaigns of five of the justices.

Precisely what contributors want or get for their money is unclear. Some contributors say they have no agenda beyond ensuring that able and independent judges are elected. Others surely hope to influence the justices’ votes in particular cases.

The middle ground, advanced by groups representing business, labor and plaintiffs’ lawyers, is to support justices who hold views similar to their own. “Various interests see voting patterns,” Chief Justice Moyer said. The alignment between contributions and votes, he said, is a matter of shared judicial philosophy.

If that is right, contributors are not trying to buy votes in particular cases. But they are trying to buy seats on the court.

And they are succeeding. Not long ago, the Ohio Supreme Court was controlled by liberal justices whose campaigns had been financed in large part by plaintiffs’ lawyers and unions. Now that business groups are outspending their adversaries, the court has become dominated by more conservative justices. And the court’s decisions are no longer markedly sympathetic to people claiming injuries.

Justice O’Donnell, a Republican, won his seat with the help of big contributions from the insurance, finance and medical industries. He is running for re-election this year, and his opponent, Judge William O’Neill, is making contributions an issue.

“We have to stop selling seats on the Ohio Supreme Court like we sell seats on the New York Stock Exchange,” said Judge O’Neill, a Democrat on the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren, in northeast Ohio. He says he will not accept contributions.

Justice O’Donnell, who has raised more than $3 million since 2000, refused to be interviewed for this article despite more than a half-dozen requests to his campaign, his chambers and the court. In a statement, he said, “Any effort to link judicial campaign contributions received by a judicial campaign committee for major media advertising to case outcomes is misleading and erodes public confidence in the judiciary.”

“A judge,” the statement said, “may fairly and impartially consider matters despite receipt of the campaign contribution by the campaign committee.”

Interest groups play a powerful and generally accepted role in races for legislative and executive positions. But their increasing role in identifying and supporting judicial candidates is at odds with the traditional concept of what judges do.

“The role of the judge and the role of the legislator are completely different,” said William K. Weisenberg, an Ohio State Bar Association official. “You want a legislator to vote the way you would vote. When you go into court, you want someone to listen to the facts and decide the case on the facts and the law. We don’t want the umpire calling balls and strikes before the game has begun.”

Influencing the Bench

Many judges concede that sitting on their contributors’ cases creates the perception that their votes can be bought. But in public, at least, most insist the perception is wrong.

“All the surveys I’ve seen indicate that generally 75 percent of the people believe that contributions influence decisions,” said Chief Justice Moyer, a Republican. But when asked if contributions played a role in courts’ decisions, he said: “I don’t believe they do. I know they don’t for me.”

That view is not universally held.

“It’s pretty hard in big-money races not to take care of your friends,” said Richard Neely, a retired chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. “It’s very hard not to dance with the one who brung you.”

Indeed, according to a survey of 2,428 state court judges conducted in 2002 by Justice at Stake, a judicial reform organization, almost half said campaign contributions influenced decisions. And more than half agreed that “judges should be prohibited from presiding over and ruling in cases where one of the sides has given money to their campaign.”

The Times study explored the influence of money on judicial decision-making by asking two basic questions about the Ohio Supreme Court. How often did it hear cases involving major contributors? And how did justices vote in those cases?

The study considered only cases that were both significant and difficult. It excluded procedural decisions, including whether to hear or reconsider a case. And only divided cases — those in which there was at least one dissent — were considered, because those presented the most contentious legal issues. In the 12 years ended this spring, there were about 1,500 such decisions.

The study looked at contributors who gave $1,000 or more in the six years preceding the decision, the term length for justices.

It also considered, for the most part, only the contributors most directly affected by a ruling: the parties themselves and groups that filed supporting briefs urging the court to rule a certain way.

Contributions from lawyers were excluded from the study’s main findings. Lawyers are far more likely than other contributors to give to judges across the ideological spectrum, and — because their firms often handle a wide variety of cases — they generally do not have the intensely focused interest in the outcome of a particular case that their clients do. More than 200 times, moreover, justices sat on cases after receiving contributions from lawyers on both sides.

The court’s decisions, the study found, were rife with potential conflicts. In more than 200 of the 1,500 cases, at least one justice cast a vote after receiving a significant campaign contribution. On scores of occasions, the justices’ campaigns took contributions after a case involving the contributor was argued and before it was decided — just when conflicts are most visible and pointed.

Contributors did well with those whose campaigns they had financed. Of the 10 justices in the Times study, 6 sided with contributors more than 70 percent of the time. Justice O’Donnell, who has been on the court for only three years and has participated in fewer decisions than most of the justices studied, had the highest rate — 91 percent.

Lawyers who gave money were not nearly as successful. Five justices voted for the positions represented by these contributors half of the time, and the average rate was 55 percent. Recusals in cases involving contributors were all but unheard of.

Six of the seven sitting justices — all except Justice O’Donnell — agreed to interviews for this article, and all said contributions had not affected their decisions.

“There is a lot more to the story than the cold numbers suggest,” said Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who voted for her contributors 74 percent of the time. Some cases are more significant than others, she said. Similarly, she and other justices criticized the decision to omit from the study the court’s terse rulings on whether to hear a case at all. Many of these decisions are routine or trivial, however, and the rulings themselves do not contain sufficient information to be readily categorized.

In his statement, Justice O’Donnell said that “selectively screening a limited number of case decisions results in a skewed outcome.” He did not elaborate.

But Justice Pfeifer, who voted for his contributors 69 percent of the time, backed the study’s methodology. “I quite frankly can’t think of another way,” he said. “You’re using the only yardstick that I’d know of that you can use.”

Several justices said they found Ohio’s money-fueled judicial elections distasteful and troubling. They pointed out, though, that Ohio law has mechanisms to limit contributions and to insulate justices from contributors, including a ban on personal solicitations by the justices. Some said they tried to avoid learning the identities of their many contributors, though they conceded it could sometimes be unavoidable. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, for instance, said she had attended 50 fund-raisers during her last campaign.

None of the justices interviewed suggested that more frequent recusals from contributors’ cases would be a positive step rather than a recipe for havoc. Last year, though, five justices did recuse themselves from a case involving a Republican fund-raiser, Thomas W. Noe. They had taken $23,510 from Mr. Noe and his wife. Appeals court judges filled in for the justices.

“It is not necessary for a judge to recuse himself just because an attorney or party has contributed to his campaign,” Chief Justice Moyer said in a statement at the time. “However, this is a high-profile case with political implications and with potential personal consequences for the campaign contributor in question.”

Some legal experts say that recusal should be the rule and not the exception. Indeed, in 1999, the American Bar Association revised its Model Code of Judicial Conduct to require judges to disqualify themselves if they received campaign contributions of a certain amount from a party or its lawyer. But the bar association did not name an amount, leaving it to the states should they adopt the code. No state has adopted it.

Unlike campaign contributions, direct gifts to judges, even relatively small ones, almost always require disqualification.

In 2002, for instance, the Ohio Supreme Court reprimanded a lower-court judge for accepting football tickets from Stuart Banks, a lawyer who had appeared before the judge. Yet three of the justices who issued the reprimand had accepted at least $1,000 each in contributions from Mr. Banks in the previous 10 years. Those same justices also sat on several cases in which Mr. Banks appeared before them.

Ruling on a Lemon Law

From the day he leased it in 1996, when it leaked transmission fluid all over the garage, Duane J. Adams’s Dodge Caravan was nothing but trouble.

“My wife went to start it at the grocery store, and the battery blew up,” Mr. Adams said. “We didn’t feel safe in it.”

Mr. Adams invoked Ohio’s tough lemon law, which calls for a refund for defective cars. DaimlerChrysler took the car back after an arbitration found the car defective but deducted a $6,000 “mileage fee.”

Mr. Adams and other Ohio car buyers filed a class-action lawsuit against three car companies that routinely imposed such mileage fees in settlements and arbitrations. Drawing on a 1996 appeals court decision that banned the fees and the fact that the Ohio Legislature had rejected such fees when it enacted the law, an appeals court allowed the case to go forward in 2003.

In the first week of November 2004, while the case was pending in the Ohio Supreme Court, the political action committee of DaimlerChrysler, a defendant, gave $1,000 each to the election campaigns of Chief Justice Moyer and Justice O’Donnell. Two months earlier, the committee of a second defendant, Ford, gave those same justices $500 apiece. From 2000, when the suit was filed, to 2004, when it was decided, the affiliates of the three companies gave $15,000 to four of the justices on the case.

Still, all four of the justices continued to sit on the case, and all of them were in the majority in the 4-to-3 decision issued on Nov. 10, 2004, just days after the last set of DaimlerChrysler contributions.

The justices ruled that the plaintiffs had voluntarily accepted settlement offers or arbitration awards with the mileage fee deducted. The ban on the fees applied only to lawsuits filed in court and not disputes resolved less formally, the majority said.

The three dissenting justices said the majority’s ruling gave the plaintiffs an impossible choice: to pursue a lawsuit that could cost more than the car itself or to accept the reduced sum.

Elaine Lutz, a spokeswoman for DaimlerChrysler, defended the company’s actions. “The contributions that companies’ PAC’s make are driven by the campaign calendar, not the judicial calendar,” Ms. Lutz said. Candidates for the court may accept contributions for about a year before an election and four months afterward.

Lawyers for Ford also said it complied with Ohio law. “By definition,” said one of the lawyers, John Beisner, “if you have an elective system, the judges are going to go to those with the greatest interest in the system to get their contributions.”

Car company lawyers said the contributions were merely an effort to level the field against plaintiffs’ big-spending firms. In the lemon-law case, though, the overall contributions were tilted heavily in favor of the companies and their own lawyers.

Mr. Adams and the other named plaintiffs gave no money to the justices. While the case proceeded, their lawyers contributed about $12,000 to five of the seven justices in the case, dividing their money roughly evenly between a justice who voted for them and several who voted against them. The law firms representing the companies gave only to the justices in the majority, for a total of more than $115,000.

That was consistent with national trends. “The current wars are epic battles between businesses and trial lawyers,” said Bert Brandenburg, the executive director of Justice at Stake. “Over the past half-decade, business groups are outraising and outspending trial lawyers.”

A week after the lemon-law case was decided, the court announced another ruling in favor of a business. This one halted a class action to support the medical monitoring of workers who had been exposed to beryllium, a potentially toxic substance. The vote was 5 to 2. Employees and the political action committee of the parent company of the defendant, Brush Wellman, gave a total of $5,700 to four justices, more than $2,600 of it after the case was argued and before it was decided. All four were in the majority.

Patrick Carpenter, a spokesman for Brush Wellman, said its political action committee “contributes to deserving candidates in the interest of advancing good government” and noted that the workers’ lawyers had also given to the justices. The lawyers gave about $20,000 to several justices, though most voted against the workers. Mr. Carpenter also said the company had lost a 2002 decision by a 4-to-3 vote, before the court’s conservative wing took over.

Michael Fincher, a 48-year-old roofer who was a plaintiff in the beryllium suit, said the contributions meant he had not received impartial justice. “I don’t think it’s appropriate, period,” Mr. Fincher said.

Screening the Candidates

Business groups have turned picking potential justices into an art.

“They study very carefully the field of potential candidates, really studying their backgrounds and what makes them tick, and picking a person who is liable to be leaning their way,” said Justice Pfeifer, who has shown an independent streak in his 14 years on the court. He did not name names.

Justice O’Donnell’s campaign materials say he is “rooted in law enforcement” as the son of a Cleveland police officer. They also note that he served as a law clerk and taught elementary school students and paralegals. In 20 years on lower courts before his appointment to the Supreme Court in May 2003, he created a long paper trail of conservative decisions. On the Supreme Court, he has helped consolidate its transformation from a court that routinely ruled against corporations and insurance companies to one quite friendly to business interests.

In 2004, running to complete the six-year term to which he had been appointed, Justice O’Donnell had a million-dollar advantage over his opponent that led to an Election Day rout.

Now that same opponent, Judge O’Neill, is back for a rematch. His campaign slogan: “No money from nobody.”

Contributing to candidates for states’ highest courts can be money well spent in at least one sense: the courts are very powerful. They have the last word on most of the issues that come before them. The United States Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over cases that present pure questions of state law, and in any event it hears only about 80 cases a year.

The states use various methods to choose their judges. The approaches are often some combination of nominating commissions, governors’ and legislative action, and popular voting, including partisan contests and retention elections. Political machines still play a role in some states. In the federal system, by contrast, judges are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and awarded lifelong tenure.

“Although there may be no good method of selecting and retaining judges, there is a worst method, and Ohio is among the states to have found it,” Paul D. Carrington and Adam R. Long wrote in a 2002 study of the Ohio Supreme Court in the law review of Capital University here in Columbus. “That worst method is one in which judges qualify for their jobs by raising very large sums of money from lawyers, litigants and special interest groups, and retain their offices only by continuing to raise such funds.” The problem, the authors found, is not a new one, but one that grows with the sums involved.

Ohio started electing judges in 1851, and the system seems unlikely to change. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed return to an appointive system in 1987. In the 1980’s, a campaign for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court cost $100,000, compared with the $2 million a candidate may raise and spend these days.

Much of the recent spending came from business groups furious with what they called a liberal “Gang of Four” on the court after a pair of 1999 decisions. One of the decisions struck down a law revising the treatment of injury cases. The other interpreted employers’ insurance policies broadly to cover some off-the-job injuries.

In 2000, business groups mounted a multimillion-dollar campaign to unseat Justice Alice Robie Resnick, a Democrat who wrote the first decision and joined the second. One advertisement showed a female judge switching her vote after someone dropped a bag of money on her desk.

Her opponent was Judge O’Donnell. He refused to denounce the attack advertisements, which seemed to backfire with voters. Justice Resnick won the election with 57 percent of the vote.

From that election on, “Ohio became a poster child for everything that was wrong with judicial elections,” said Mr. Weisenberg, the Ohio State Bar Association official.

Money poured in, from political parties, from trial lawyers and especially from business interests. Contributions from people and entities affiliated with the finance and insurance industries totaled more than $800,000 in 2004. Doctors and the health care industry contributed more than $440,000.

The Balance of Power Shifts

Interest groups on the other side give, too, and the justices they support overwhelmingly vote their way. But Justice Pfeifer says the balance of financial power has shifted to business groups.

“I don’t care how well a trial lawyer does or how big a pot a labor union has,” he said, “they can’t begin to match the business corporations. It’s not a fair fight.”

Justice Stratton, a Republican, said the recent contributions from business groups were a predictable consequence of a series of rulings “very strongly in favor of trial lawyers.”

“You only have the big money coming out,” she said, “when the court has swung too much to the left or to the right.”

In 2002, Lt. Gov. Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, won a seat on the court, replacing a more liberal Republican justice and altering the balance. Her campaign took more than $330,000 from affiliates of insurance companies and medical groups. Not long after she joined the court, Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion that overruled the 1999 insurance decision. Only four years after the court ruled that employers’ insurance policies covered many off-the-job injuries, it reversed course. “It serves no valid purpose to allow incorrect opinions to remain in the body of our law,” Justice O’Connor wrote for the majority. The vote was 4 to 3.

The shift in personnel had a prompt impact on other cases, too. Since then, law firms that work mostly for plaintiffs have fared poorly in the court. A look at a sample of 14 big plaintiffs’ firms showed that they won 64 percent of the cases in the study before 2003. In the next three years, after the rise of the court’s conservative wing, their success rate dropped to 17 percent. Since 1995, Ohio has imposed campaign contribution limits. They are $3,000 from individuals and $5,500 from organizations for each judicial election. Primary and general elections are counted separately.

A Critic Takes On the System

But, depending on how donations from individuals and political action committees are counted, the limits do not stop some businesses from making very large aggregate contributions. Affiliates, employees, officers and directors of the Cincinnati Insurance Company, for instance, gave more than $200,000 to Ohio Supreme Court candidates from 1998 through 2004.

Joan Shevchik, a spokeswoman for the parent company of Cincinnati Insurance, Cincinnati Financial Corporation, cited the effort to overturn the 1999 decision as a reason for the contributions, but emphasized that the corporation itself gave nothing. “As insurance professionals,” she said, “each of us sees up close the immediate impact that the Ohio Supreme Court has on the industry, our company and our policyholders.”

There is a small printing press in the garage of Judge O’Neill. In the evenings, he and his children produce fliers for a long-shot no-money campaign for Justice O’Donnell’s seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We’re going to do a million pieces for $4,000 from my pocket,” Judge O’Neill said, explaining that he will not accept a penny in contributions. Even some of his supporters view his effort as quixotic, notwithstanding the higher ratings Judge O’Neill gets from many Ohio bar associations.

“They’re out soliciting the next million dollars to beat me,” he said. “The insurance industry, the manufacturers and now the doctors treat the Ohio Supreme Court as a personal piece of property.”

Justice Resnick, the last Democrat on the court, is retiring this year, and her seat is also open, making an all-Republican court next year a distinct possibility.

Marc Dann, a Democratic state senator running for attorney general, said Judge O’Neill’s strategy might have been driven by necessity as well as principle.

“Best case,” Mr. Dann said, “maybe he goes to the plaintiff’s bar and labor unions, and maybe he raises $300,000. To do a good week of TV in Ohio is $750,000.”

Judge O’Neill’s assertion that seats on the Supreme Court are for sale infuriates many in the legal establishment in Ohio, and in July 2004 the Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court began an investigation into whether Judge O’Neill had violated judicial ethics by making similar statements in the last campaign.

Judge O’Neill laughed when asked if the investigation worried him.

“I am a Vietnam veteran, and I lost my wife 10 years ago,” he said. “I raised four kids by myself. When you talk about fear, I fear big things in life. Being hauled before a disciplinary counsel does not qualify.”

For the time being, a federal judge has suspended the investigation on First Amendment grounds. If the Ohio Legislature is troubled by Judge O’Neill’s conduct, the federal judge, Ann Aldrich wrote, “the proper solution is to stop electing judges and make state judgeships appointed offices.”

Judge O’Neill disagreed. He likes elections, he said.

“We have more authority over people’s lives than anyone else in elected office,” he said. “We decide who goes to jail and who gets out of jail. We decide what happens to your life savings after you die. We decide whether or not you will be permitted to finish raising your child. I can’t think of any other industry that has a more profound impact on people’s lives. And it is arrogant at best that some committee should make this appointment.”

But Chief Justice Moyer said the flaws in Ohio’s approach were the product of elections.

“In a perfect world,” he said, “you would have justices being selected not based on the amount of money their campaign committees can raise from various interests, but on their character and record — and somewhat on judicial philosophy, certainly, but in a more abstract way.”

Adam Liptak reported from Columbus, Ohio, and New York, and Janet Roberts reported from New York. Mona Houck contributed reporting from New York.

Friday, September 29

crusader against sexual predators was one himself

Lawmaker Quits Over E-Mail Sent to Teenage Pages

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — In six terms representing a wealthy swath of southern Florida, Representative Mark Foley, a Republican, became well known for his ardent efforts to safeguard the young and vulnerable, leading the House caucus on missing and exploited children and championing laws against sexual predators.

On Friday, Mr. Foley resigned abruptly after being confronted with a series of sexually explicit Internet messages he is reported to have sent to under-age Congressional pages. He is thus accused of being the very kind of predator he had denounced.

“I am deeply sorry,” Mr. Foley, 52, said in a three-sentence statement released by his office, “and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent.” The statement did not refer specifically to the Internet messages.

The first e-mail messages to one male page, sexually suggestive but not explicit, were reported by ABC News on Thursday. Mr. Foley, a member of the House Republican leadership, dismissed them as “overly friendly” but not inappropriate.

But by Friday, other pages had come forward with more blatant instant messages. “What ya wearing?” Mr. Foley wrote to one, according to the network. “Tshirt and shorts,” the teenager responded. “Love to slip them off of you,” Mr. Foley replied.

ABC News said it had read him several other messages that were far more graphic. Within hours, Mr. Foley resigned in a one-sentence letter to Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, and he left the Capitol without answering questions.

The resignation threw Congressional Republicans off stride on the day they were breaking to campaign for the midterm elections just five weeks away. It also gave Democrats hopes of capturing another seat in November. Even by the standards of Washington, this revelation stunned Mr. Foley’s colleagues for how openly he had courted danger.

According to ABC, he exchanged instant messages with the pages using his initials and year of birth: “MAF54.” And he might have known he would be watched; the pages, young teenagers in navy blue uniforms who open doors and carry messages and water to members on the House and Senate floors, are closely guarded, not only for their vulnerability, but because they have been the object of past Congressional scandals.

The page who received the first e-mail messages told ABC News that people in the program had warned his class to watch out for Mr. Foley.

The page worked for Representative Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, and sent the messages to a colleague in the office with a note saying they had “freaked me out.”

Mr. Foley’s rise in Florida politics had been striking. He told interviewers of getting hooked on politics after he moved to Florida from Massachusetts as a small child, watching people flock around the local congressman as he shook hands at a shopping center in southern Florida.

He started a small family restaurant at age 20 and by 23 was elected to the city commission in Lake Worth, a working-class town south of West Palm Beach. He was known as a tireless campaigner and was elected to the State Legislature in 1990, and to Congress in 1994, at age 40. He was appointed to the powerful Ways and Means committee and was named one of the party’s deputy whips by Tom DeLay, then the House Republican leader.

“He had a meteoric rise,” said Al Cardenas, a former leader of the Florida Republican Party who described himself as a longtime friend of Mr. Foley’s. “In a span of six years he went through an incredible ascension in our party. He worked real hard, he had a very engaging personality, and people took him very seriously at a young age.”

As a moderate Republican in Congress, Mr. Foley proved a good ideological match for his district, centered in the wealthy northern end of Palm Beach County. He was fiscally conservative but more moderate on social and environmental issues.

He spoke vehemently about the need to protect children against pedophiles. “We track library books better than we do sexual predators,” he said, arguing the need for the Children’s Safety Act, passed by the House in 2005.

Questions about his sexuality swirled beginning with his first run for Congress, when his opponent in the Republican primary sent out mailings saying Mr. Foley was gay.

He was single and seemed to be uncommonly focused on politics. He sometimes referred to his sister, Donna, who often served as his campaign manager, as his “surrogate wife.”

In 2003, when he was considered the front-runner in a crowded primary race for the Senate seat being vacated by Bob Graham, Mr. Foley gave a news conference to denounce rumors that he was gay but refused to say whether he was. A few months later, he dropped out of the race, saying he needed to spend more time with his father, who had prostate cancer.

Many believed he had stepped away from the race to avoid questions about his sexual orientation.

“There were accusations made that he was gay, and clearly that had an impact on him deciding not to run for Senate,” said Jim Kane, the chief pollster for Florida Voter, a nonpartisan polling organization. “He knew the scrutiny was clearly going to be much different once he stepped up a notch.”

Mr. Foley reportedly sent the messages to the first page in August 2005. Mr. Alexander told a Louisiana newspaper this week that he had told the page’s parents and the Republican House leadership about them “10 or 11 months ago.” But House leaders said Friday that they had not known about the incident until the day before.

Although his race was considered competitive, Mr. Foley had been favored to win re-election; President Bush won his district in 2004 with 54 percent of the vote.

But the campaign between Mr. Foley and his Democratic opponent, Tim Mahoney, had been combative. Mr. Mahoney, a businessman and former Republican, sued Mr. Foley this month, saying Mr. Foley had defamed him in campaign advertisements.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had included the campaign in its list of “emerging races,” or the 50 seats most primed for takeover. Mr. Mahoney, Democrats said, was a good candidate even before the scandal, with $1 million in his campaign chest.

State Republican Party leaders said they would meet with officials from each of the counties in Mr. Foley’s district to nominate someone to replace him.

But an election official in Florida said Friday night that Mr. Foley’s name would have to remain on the ballot. Any votes for him will be counted for his replacement, the official said.

Kate Zernike reported from Washington, and Abby Goodnoughfrom Lake Worth, Fla.

A Gay Scholar Confronts the Harshness of the Heartland


Choosing career over lifestyle, I packed my Honda on the blue shores of the Pacific and pointed it to the red heart of America. Before then Oklahoma had entered my consciousness as a concrete place only twice: when I read The Grapes of Wrath in high school, and in the wake of the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Neither produced many positive associations with the state I was about to call home. Neither signaled a welcoming place for a gay man.

When I arrived in 2002, I heard news that confirmed my impression. A local gay-rights group had sued Oklahoma City after municipal officials rejected the group's request to display rainbow banners from city-owned light posts. Earlier the mayor had defended his position by saying that if the city could not hang banners with a religious message, then it should not be required to promote an "irreligious message." A federal judge disagreed, ruling the rejection an infringement of free speech and ordering the banners replaced in time for gay and lesbian history month.

Even with legal protection, gays and lesbians in Oklahoma have to contend with continuing harassment, I learned. Protestors set up pickets along a strip of gay nightclubs in Oklahoma City. Some teen-agers who come out to their parents are sent to coercive Christian-sponsored therapy programs to "cure" their homosexual urges. An openly gay candidate for county commissioner faced a ruthless campaign targeting his "values."

Ensconced at the university, I felt insulated from this assault. My colleagues always behaved professionally, and I developed a small network of other out faculty and staff members. Besides, I could camouflage myself easily. I was in my late 20s and unmarried, fairly common these days. My car bumper featured an array of stickers for Democratic candidates, but no rainbow symbols. Moreover, my research on evangelical Christianity in Mexico rarely touched on gay themes. Even though I never denied my sexuality and always included material on sexuality in general in my anthropology courses, being gay did not seem relevant to my academic role at the university.

That changed in the run-up to the 2004 elections. That year the Oklahoma Legislature considered 10 antigay measures, including some that sought to restrict same-sex marriage. Never mind that Oklahoma as well as the federal government had already passed so-called defense-of-marriage acts. Bill Graves, then a Republican state representative from Oklahoma City, was a cosponsor of a successful bill proposing a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

Mr. Graves has asserted that "in Western civilization and in all recorded civilizations of the world, marriage has always been viewed as a union between a man and a woman." By basing his opposition to same-sex marriage on anthropological evidence, the legislator presented an opportunity for me to defend gay rights on intellectual grounds. As any cultural-anthropology class will teach, marriage across time and space has more to do with status and alliances than romantic love between two individuals of the opposite sex. In fact, Mr. Graves had it exactly backward. Favoring the union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent and localized innovation in the history of marriage.

Before the fall elections, which included the proposed constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, a graduate-student group organized a panel discussion to examine the issue. The group invited me to give the social-science perspective, a political philosopher to provide an ethical context, and Mr. Graves to defend his legislation. The organizers blitzed the campus media and booked a room in the student union that held 200 people.

On the day of the event, the crowd overflowed the space. Before it began, I shook hands with Mr. Graves, a courtly, older gentleman sporting the American flag lapel pin that all politicians seem obligated to wear. As he pleasantly chatted about his memories of the university with me, I realized that he had no idea which side of the issue I was on or even that I was one of the sinful gays he ranted about on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

As it turned out, I spoke first, and Mr. Graves followed me. I had the advantage of knowing what he would argue, so I tried to pre-empt his logic by presenting examples of flexible marriage arrangements. I described the precedent for same-sex marriage in the anthropological record among some Native American groups. I closed by warning against the dangers of ethnocentrism — the tendency to hold the beliefs of your own culture as the norm. Anthropological evidence undermines, not upholds, the case for restricting marriage to a single form.

Mr. Graves spoke without notes and without acknowledging anything I had said. He began by repeating the assertion that marriage between a man and a woman constituted the bedrock of society's existence. Attempts to "redefine" marriage chip away at the core values underpinning this country, he said. To some hissing from the audience, he explained that Christian principles as reflected in the Holy Bible have guided lawmakers from the inception of the United States. Since the Bible makes clear that "homosexuality is an abomination in God's eyes," it is not bigotry to deny gays the right to marry; rather, he argued, it is defending the divine order.

During the question-and-answer period, I received the typical question about how allowing gays to marry could be a slippery slope to bestiality, but most of the audience targeted Mr. Graves. One young woman who identified herself as an Oklahoman and a Jew wondered how legislators could represent non-Christian citizens. That touched off a technical discussion between Mr. Graves and the philosopher about the founding fathers and the separation of church and state.

At the end of the event, Mr. Graves shook my hand again. I couldn't help feeling envious of his total self-confidence, his imperviousness to criticism.

He knew that as a grandfatherly, heterosexual, white Christian, he would never have to feel the sting of public denunciation for his "lifestyle." I, on the other hand, lived in a state where my elected representatives considered it acceptable to discriminate against me. I could take some consolation in the audience's negative reaction to the legislator, but I found it disheartening that no amount of reasoning could change his mind.

In my academic bubble, I would mark down Mr. Graves's presentation for failing to provide testable evidence to support his claims. The currency of scholarly exchange is argument and proof. By contrast, the political world operates on nebulous values and bold assertions. Since legislators like Mr. Graves do not gather and weigh evidence to arrive at their positions, exposure to contradictory examples has no effect on their thinking.

While academics expect their arguments to change over time as new evidence comes to light, politicians worry about accusations of weakness if they modify their stances. This attitude mirrors the logic of faith. As I saw while conducting research with Mexican converts from Roman Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism, fundamentalist religions favor obedience to doctrine over independent thought. Many churches use martial language to promote a sense of siege that only obedient, disciplined soldiers can overcome. At its root, the political attack on gays rests on a narrow interpretation of a religious text. Since that condemnation coincides with already deeply held fears of difference, Bible-believing Christians have no reason to question it.

In Oklahoma unreflexive Christianity receives constant reinforcement. On evenings throughout the year, Oklahoma City's skyscrapers light office windows to form a cross on the sides of buildings. The state's largest newspaper includes a prayer on its front page every morning. Every spring students at my university host a well-publicized Jesus Week to spread the Gospel to their "lost" classmates. Promoting Christianity need not spread intolerance, but it normalizes belief based on faith, not evidence.

Increasingly Oklahomans use Christianity to justify attacks on gays. This year state legislators threatened to withhold financing from public libraries that did not relocate gay-themed children's books to the adult section. Again, supporters did not base their decision on evidence of actual harm inflicted on young readers from these books, but on an abiding conviction that homosexuality must be denounced.

This preference for prejudice over proof baffles my circle of friends at the university. We thumb copies of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Metropolitan Books, 2004) and George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (Chelsea Green, 2004), seeking ways to frame our issues in a more palatable way. However, what these coastal thinkers miss is how Christianity saturates life here in a way unthinkable in California or New York. No clever argument in support of gay rights will silence the constant drumbeat of disapproval emanating from the churches.

Segregationists also used crude readings of the Bible to justify racist policies. Public protests helped win the last civil-rights struggle because courageous leaders valued careful thought over political expediency.

Nowadays such valor is scarce. In Oklahoma as in Washington, D.C., elected officials only foment the demonization of gays while seeking the cover of biblical purity. Mr. Graves is no longer a state legislator, having served the maximum time allowed in that office, but his successors show the same willingness to let a homophobic Christianity guide their actions. And Mr. Graves has put himself on the ballot this fall as a candidate for district judge.

Protected in my bubble, I did not perceive the connections between my sexuality and my academic role. By being outspoken about equality for gays and lesbians, I am not advancing a narrow personal interest; rather I am defending the fundamental principles of the university. Those principles promote intellectual conversation based on argument backed by evidence.

Claims without evidence, like those offered by Mr. Graves, impoverish the university because they forestall debate. How can I participate in a discussion over same-sex marriage or stem-cell research if the other side ignores my data? Like most biases, homophobia stems from unquestioned faith, not empirical knowledge. Sociological and cross-cultural studies counter every rational objection that opponents to same-sex marriage or parenting raise.

What's left is naked prejudice, a toxin that no state boundary can contain. To borrow the evangelicals' language, academic authority itself is under attack, and all scholars have a stake in defending it.

Peter S. Cahn is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma.

Sunday, September 24

Most Authoritative Assessment of US Spy Agencies Say Iraq War has Worsened Terror Threat

September 24, 2006
Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 — A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

More than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document. The officials included employees of several government agencies, and both supporters and critics of the Bush administration. All of those interviewed had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts. These officials discussed some of the document’s general conclusions but not details, which remain highly classified.

Officials with knowledge of the intelligence estimate said it avoided specific judgments about the likelihood that terrorists would once again strike on United States soil. The relationship between the Iraq war and terrorism, and the question of whether the United States is safer, have been subjects of persistent debate since the war began in 2003.

National Intelligence Estimates are the most authoritative documents that the intelligence community produces on a specific national security issue, and are approved by John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence. Their conclusions are based on analysis of raw intelligence collected by all of the spy agencies.

Analysts began working on the estimate in 2004, but it was not finalized until this year. Part of the reason was that some government officials were unhappy with the structure and focus of earlier versions of the document, according to officials involved in the discussion.

Previous drafts described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, and some policy makers argued that the intelligence estimate should be more focused on specific steps to mitigate the terror threat. It is unclear whether the final draft of the intelligence estimate criticizes individual policies of the United States, but intelligence officials involved in preparing the document said its conclusions were not softened or massaged for political purposes.

Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman, said the White House “played no role in drafting or reviewing the judgments expressed in the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism.” The estimate’s judgments confirm some predictions of a National Intelligence Council report completed in January 2003, two months before the Iraq invasion. That report stated that the approaching war had the potential to increase support for political Islam worldwide and could increase support for some terrorist objectives.

Documents released by the White House timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks emphasized the successes that the United States had made in dismantling the top tier of Al Qaeda.

“Since the Sept. 11 attacks, America and its allies are safer, but we are not yet safe,” concludes one, a report titled “9/11 Five Years Later: Success and Challenges.” “We have done much to degrade Al Qaeda and its affiliates and to undercut the perceived legitimacy of terrorism.”

That document makes only passing mention of the impact the Iraq war has had on the global jihad movement. “The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry,” it states.

The report mentions the possibility that Islamic militants who fought in Iraq could return to their home countries, “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies.”

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a more ominous report about the terrorist threat. That assessment, based entirely on unclassified documents, details a growing jihad movement and says, “Al Qaeda leaders wait patiently for the right opportunity to attack.”

The new National Intelligence Estimate was overseen by David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, who commissioned it in 2004 after he took up his post at the National Intelligence Council. Mr. Low declined to be interviewed for this article.

The estimate concludes that the radical Islamic movement has expanded from a core of Qaeda operatives and affiliated groups to include a new class of “self-generating” cells inspired by Al Qaeda’s leadership but without any direct connection to Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants.

It also examines how the Internet has helped spread jihadist ideology, and how cyberspace has become a haven for terrorist operatives who no longer have geographical refuges in countries like Afghanistan.

In early 2005, the National Intelligence Council released a study concluding that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists, and that veterans of the Iraq war might ultimately overtake Al Qaeda’s current leadership in the constellation of the global jihad leadership.

But the new intelligence estimate is the first report since the war began to present a comprehensive picture about the trends in global terrorism.

In recent months, some senior American intelligence officials have offered glimpses into the estimate’s conclusions in public speeches.

“New jihadist networks and cells, sometimes united by little more than their anti-Western agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge,” said Gen. Michael V. Hayden, during a speech in San Antonio in April, the month that the new estimate was completed. “If this trend continues, threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide,” said the general, who was then Mr. Negroponte’s top deputy and is now director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

For more than two years, there has been tension between the Bush administration and American spy agencies over the violence in Iraq and the prospects for a stable democracy in the country. Some intelligence officials have said the White House has consistently presented a more optimistic picture of the situation in Iraq than justified by intelligence reports from the field.

Spy agencies usually produce several national intelligence estimates each year on a variety of subjects. The most controversial of these in recent years was an October 2002 document assessing Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. Several government investigations have discredited that report, and the intelligence community is overhauling how it analyzes data, largely as a result of those investigations.

The broad judgments of the new intelligence estimate are consistent with assessments of global terrorist threats by American allies and independent terrorism experts.

The panel investigating the London terrorist bombings of July 2005 reported in May that the leaders of Britain’s domestic and international intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, “emphasized to the committee the growing scale of the Islamist terrorist threat.”

More recently, the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group of respected terrorism experts, assigned a grade of “D+” to United States efforts over the past five years to combat Islamic extremism. The council concluded that “there is every sign that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking.”

Thursday, September 21

3.3 Million Years Later, Skeleton of Girl Found

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006; A01

Fossil hunters have unearthed the skeleton of a young girl who died 3.3 million years ago, marking the first time scientists have discovered the nearly complete remains of a child of an ancient human ancestor.

The girl, who was about 3 years old when she perished in what may have been a flash flood, provides an unprecedented window into human evolution, in part because she belongs to the same species as "Lucy," one of the most famous hominid specimens in paleontology, experts said.

That prompted some scientists to refer to the new skeleton as "Lucy's baby," even though they estimate that the child lived about 150,000 years earlier. The researchers who discovered her in an Ethiopian desert named her Selam, which means "peace" in several Ethiopian languages.

Although scientists have found bones and bone fragments of children from this and other species of human predecessors, and a few skeletons, the discovery represents one of the most complete individuals ever recovered and by far the oldest. Bones of young children are so small and soft that few survive.

"I'm very excited," said Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who led the international team reporting the find in today's issue of the journal Nature. "This is a unique discovery in the history of paleoanthropology."

Independent experts agreed, saying the discovery probably would lead to important insights into humans' evolutionary history.

"It's just an amazingly complete specimen," said Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who wrote an article accompanying the paper. "I have to keep picking up the photograph of it to make sure I didn't dream it."

Scientists are still painstakingly extracting the fossilized bones from the surrounding stone, but they have already made striking discoveries, dramatically reinforcing the idea that the creatures were a transitional stage between apes and humans. Although they had legs like humans that enabled them to walk upright on two feet, they also had shoulders like gorillas that may have enabled them to climb trees; although their teeth seem to have grown quickly, like chimps' teeth, their brains may have matured more slowly, like those of humans.

"This confirms the idea that human evolution was not some straight line going from ape to human," said Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution. "The more we discover, the more we realize that different parts evolve at different times, and some of these experiments of early evolution had a combination of humanlike and apelike features."

The child's species, Australopithecus afarensis , lived between about 3.8 million and 3 million years ago and is among the earliest known forerunners of modern humans. It has long played an important role for scientists studying evolution, in part because of the well-preserved remains of Lucy, an adult discovered nearby in 1974.

The youngster's fossilized remains, the first to fully exhibit the mixed ape-human characteristics in a child, were found in the remote, harsh Dikika area of northeastern Ethiopia in 2000 when an expedition member spotted the face of the skull poking out from a steep dusty hillside. The surroundings indicate that the child might have drowned in a flash flood, which immediately buried the intact remains in sand that hardened to encase the bones, the researchers said.

Over the next four years, researchers slowly recovered much of the rest of the child's skeleton, including the entire skull, with a sandstone impression of the brain, jaws with teeth, parts of the shoulder blades and collarbone, ribs, the spinal column, the right arm, fingers, legs and almost a complete left foot.

National Geographic magazine provided some of the funding for the project.

Until now, the only fairly complete skeletons of young children in the human evolutionary tree found by scientists were those of modern humans and Neanderthals, which date back only about 60,000 years.

"We've never had anything so complete before," said Donald C. Johanson of Arizona State University, who discovered Lucy. "This is going to allow us to have extraordinary insight into the growth and development of this species."

Zeresenay has been painstakingly etching away the sandstone, almost grain by grain, with a dentist's drill to protect the tiny vertebrae, ribs and other bones. One finger is still curled in a tiny grasp. High-tech scans of the teeth enabled researchers to identify the child's sex and approximate age.

Where the child's throat once was, Zeresenay found a hyoid bone, which is located in the voice box and supports muscles of the tongue and throat. It is the first time that bone has been discovered in such an old fossil of a human predecessor. It appears more primitive than a human hyoid and more like those in apes, suggesting that the 1 1/2 -foot toddler sounded more like a chimp than a human.

"If you imagine how this child would have sounded if it was crying out for its mother, its cry would appeal more to chimp ears than to human ears," said Fred Spoor of University College London, who is helping to study the remains. "Even though it's a very early human ancestor, she would sound more apelike than humanlike."

The child's lower limbs confirm earlier findings that the species walked upright like humans. But the shoulder blades resemble a young gorilla's. Along with the long arms, curved fingers and inner-ear cavity, the bones provide new evidence supporting those who believe the creatures may have still climbed trees as well.

"I see this species as foraging bipeds -- walking on two feet but climbing trees when necessary, such as to forage for food," Zeresenay said, adding that more research will be needed to be certain of that controversial conclusion.

The skeleton offers scientists the first opportunity to examine various parts of the body in a single specimen rather than looking at individual bones from different representatives.

"Before this, you didn't know if it was like you might have the arm of a Danny DeVito and the leg of a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," Potts said.

The discovery of a child also allows scientists to begin to study how the species developed. The child's brain size suggests that the species' brain matured relatively slowly.

"If the brain was developing slower, as in humans or similar to what you see in humans, here might have also been the beginnings of behavioral shifts towards being more human," Zeresenay said.

Our Indefensible National Security Budget

Our Indefensible National Security Budget

If you want a green light for government spending in America, just say the word defense.

It’s next to impossible to wrestle free enough federal money for education, health care, or rebuilding New Orleans. But when the Air Force says it needs tens of billions of dollars for newer model fighters or the Navy wants to upgrade destroyers - in an era when America’s most dangerous enemies have no ships or planes of their own - Congressional appropriators and members of the taxpaying public don’t even bother asking hard questions.

There is nothing wrong with a rich country like United States spending very large sums of money to make itself as secure as possible. But despite the roughly half a trillion dollars we now lavish on the military every year, Americans are not as protected as they ought to be - and as they easily could be at significantly lower cost.

The shocking truth is that year after year the Pentagon spends well over half of its investment budget on high cost, low value weapons systems that are designed to fight non-existent enemy superpowers — systems that have no immediate connection to the terrorists, jihadists, and other real foes confronting the nation.

The money lavished on these low-value systems could be used to shore up acute vulnerabilities like our sea ports, aviation system and highly explosive and toxic chemical plants, all of which are scandalously shortchanged and under-protected.

This squandered money could also be used to help our frontline soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are paying a high price for misdirected Pentagon spending. We could be paying for enough new back-up Army and Marine forces to shorten combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, put a stop to the ominous smirking in Iran and North Korea about overstretched American ground forces.

Diverting at least some of the mega-billions now locked up for decades to come in low-priority weapons production lines could also assure that all troops in today’s combat theaters are equipped with protective armor tough enough to withstand the increasingly sophisticated and lethal explosives they face on a daily basis.

As the mid-term elections approach, candidates are lining up to prove that they are the toughest on terrorism, but that isn’t the real issue. This is a question of competence, something we need a lot more of right now in our national security planning.

Wouldn’t it be great if somebody based a national candidacy on the real national security crisis facing America and demanded a radical reallocation of federal security spending toward the homeland and battlefield defenses we so desperately need?

I. A Unified View of Defense

America’s first war of the 21st century began not in Afghanistan or Iraq but here on American soil. Washington’s ideas about defense spending have simply not caught up with this new reality.

We still spend about eight times as much preparing for old-fashioned wars abroad as we do to protect Americans going about their lives here at home. And Pentagon mismanagement has let conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq cannibalize the forces and equipment of the National Guard, which ought to be our frontline homeland security force.

A meaningful way of commemorating the recent fifth anniversary of 9/11 would have been to finally recognize the need to integrate defense and homeland security planning and spending.

We spend nearly $500 billion a year on mainly overseas military defense (not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, which are paid for by supplemental appropriations). We spend roughly $55 billion more on homeland security. This is one pot of money with a single purpose, keeping the nation safe, and we should be thinking about it that way.

If we did, the public would see that we have the balance off, throwing money at remote military contingencies while leaving our ports, chemical plants and transportation networks needlessly vulnerable to attack.

The allocation of money within each of these two budgets is also grossly distorted.

Homeland security dollars are doled out by geographic and population formulas rather than actual vulnerabilities, so rural states that have little risk get as much or more money per capita in some programs as places like New York and Washington, D.C.

Pentagon dollars are divided between the services according to traditional formulas that build in waste and redundancy and fail to take account of changing military realities. The burdens of Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, have fallen disproportionately on the Army and the Marines. But long-term spending and investment plans have not been redirected accordingly.

II. Why The Pentagon Approaches Budgets Irrationally

In a rational world, top Pentagon officials would sit down each year to examine the current national security situation, and propose allocations accordingly. Unfortunately, the military budgeting process in Washington long ago got disconnected from timely assessments of America’s actual security needs.

The four military services jealously protect their traditional shares of the overall spending and investment budget, even when, as now, there are real wars going on whose requirements do not correspond to that traditional allocation.

One result is that the Navy and Air Force remain more than amply staffed while the Army and Marines are so strained for ground troops that their fighting readiness, career retention rates and recruitment programs have fallen into chronic crisis.

Another is that billions of dollars are wasted annually on duplicated missions and weapons systems so that the Army and Navy can have their own air forces. Worst of all, the huge streams of money allocated to each service for long term investments in future weapons are almost impossible to shift around between services or redirect toward non-weapons needs, like more ground troops.

III. Why Congress Isn’t Much Better

Congress has its own issues, starting with the unhealthy symbiotic relationship between major defense contractors, politicians and military procurement officials.

Almost every branch of federal defense and homeland security spending provide opportunities for private companies to make guaranteed profits, immune from the vagaries of the market. The really big money — even with the cold war now a distant memory — still lies in long-term deals for equipping the Air Force and Navy with ever newer models of technology laden aircraft, surface ships, and submarines suitable for superpower conflict.

The price tags are astronomical: the F-22A and F-35 jet fighters, at a combined cost next year of roughly $8.1 billion. The DDG 1000 destroyer, at $3.4 billion. The Virginia-class attack submarine, at $2.6 billion.

None of these planes, ships or submarines are of any obvious use against Qaeda terrorists, insurgents and sectarian militias in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Their only plausible use is against a rival superpower like the old Soviet Union. But that superpower rivalry ended a decade and a half ago.

Now they are mainly marketed on the theory that one day we may want to fight a war with China — a country with no visible territorial ambitions, underdeveloped military forces and with which the United States now has no obvious military conflicts.

Congress should be looking at these programs with a critical eye, but Congress is itself compromised. Military contractors are enormous contributors to political campaigns, and that gives their lobbyists tremendous clout on Capitol Hill.

It makes more sense to redirect a great deal of this spending to adequately arming and reinforcing our troops. But the men and women serving overseas cannot compete with the big defense contractors when it comes to making their case to Congress.

IV. The Pentagon Money Machine

It isn’t only about campaign contributions — it’s also about jobs. Defense contractors are large employers in the districts of many influential members of Congress, and they are not shy about reminding congressmen that cutting back on defense contracts will mean job losses — and political repercussions — back home.

It’s time to stop using the Pentagon as a corporate welfare program and employment agency and put America’s national security dollars where they belong - providing more relief and support for our frontline ground troops and better security for our endangered homeland.

With Republican majorities running the Senate and House, Congressional oversight of military budgets has been even laxer than usual. But both parties have long had a bad habit of awarding relevant committee seats to Senators and Representatives more interested in keeping weapons production lines in their district humming than in demanding serious reform.

That kind of mutual back-scratching, though reprehensible, is perfectly legal. But sometimes the collusion reaches criminal proportions. Last year, Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican who served on the House Intelligence Committee pleaded guilty to accepting millions of dollars of bribes from military companies to help them win Pentagon contracts.

V. Plugging The Holes In Homeland Security

Homeland Security spending is not immune from the same kind of politically driven distortion of priorities. But since this is a relatively new area of federal spending, with fewer long-time entrenched interests, the dollar amounts involved are significantly smaller.

And that too is a problem. Even if Homeland Security dollars were more rationally allocated, there would not be enough to meet some obvious and urgent national needs - like adequately scrutinizing the cargo coming into American ports, reducing the risk of catastrophic terrorism or accidents at chemical plants that could kill or sicken hundreds of thousands of Americans, or accelerating the development of the next generation of baggage and cargo screening devices to substantially reduce the risk of airborne terrorism.

The Bush administration prefers to leave the financing and implementation of these essential protections to voluntary corporate initiatives. Protecting the basic security of Americans at home is too important to leave to voluntarism. The unsatisfactory record of the past five years demonstrates clearly that only federal requirements and federal dollars will get the job done in an acceptable time frame.

Seaports and Shipping Containers Probably the single most dangerous hole in the nation’s security is our ports, where inspection of incoming cargo containers remains spotty. Most experts agree that the most likely way a nuclear bomb or other weapon of mass destruction would be smuggled into the United States is by sea. Current cargo scanning technology could completely miss a nuclear bomb shielded by lead casing or a similarly packaged dirty radiological bomb. Yet only 5 percent of the more than 10 million cargo containers annually entering the United States are more thoroughly inspected by hand.

That is an alarming and unnecessary risk, as Congress is finally beginning to recognize. All American-bound cargo containers should be adequately inspected for nuclear materials before arriving at American ports. Senator Charles Schumer of New York believes this could be done(PDF) for less than $150 million a year. Other needed improvements include more reliable identification systems for port workers and truck drivers and tamper proof seals for inspected cargo containers. The total bill would come to something less than $3 billion a year.

Securing Nuclear Materials Abroad There is still a shocking amount of potential nuclear bomb material lying around poorly guarded locations, particularly in the former Soviet Union. The most cost effective way to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists is to complete the process of securing these materials worldwide.

Under the first President Bush, a program was put in place to start this process, and it has been making steady but painfully slow progress ever since. But despite numerous expert recommendations, adequate money and political will have been lacking under the current Bush administration. . At current rates, securing the remaining loose nuclear material would take several more years at least. . That is a very foolish risk to run, when stronger leadership and an additional $2 billion a year could cut that interval down substantially.

Biological and Chemical Security Non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction include deadly biological and chemical toxins, like anthrax and nerve gas. Homeland security efforts in both areas have been badly lagging.

Project Bioshield, which was supposed to have created national stockpiles of effective drugs, vaccines and antidotes, hasn’t, mainly due to understaffing and poor management. The biggest domestic chemical threat, large and poorly secured chemical plants located near large urban centers, remains inadequately addressed. If one of these plants was attacked by terrorists, a realistic possibility, plumes of lethal gases would stream over nearby cities, sickening millions of people. Deadly chemicals carried by rail, which often move through densely populated areas, is another major area of vulnerability.

The slow progress in this area has been due to the extreme reluctance of the Bush administration to impose legal requirements on chemical and rail transport companies, relying instead on an uneven patchwork of voluntary actions.

Air and Ground Transportation Networks : The most notable homeland security gains have involved airline passengers. This is scarcely surprising, since the 9/11 terrorists used hijacked passenger jets as their deadly weapons. Yet even in this area, surprising gaps remain, as the recent alarms over explosive liquids in carry-on baggage have shown.

We may be making a mistake, though, in concentrating too much on the method the terrorists used the last time, rather than areas of even greater vulnerability. About one-fourth of all commercial air cargo travels in the holds of passenger jets. A bomb in a package carried on a commercial jet could cause hundreds of fatalities. Currently, less than 15 percent of the commercial cargo carried on passenger jets is screened by Transportation Security Administration inspectors.

Ground transportation is even more vulnerable. Terrorists demonstrated in Madrid and London that they can strike surface transportation to deadly effect. Amtrak, commuter rail lines and subway and bus systems in America are poorly protected, with the federal government doing far too little to coordinate and supplement local law enforcement and intelligence efforts. The T.S.A. has only 100 inspectors assigned to surface transit, compared to the 43,000 it has screening airline passengers and baggage.

VI. A Sensible Allocation

Politicians like to talk about their commitment to fighting terrorism. But an effective war on terrorism depends on making shrewd spending decisions. We are falling woefully short in this area, but it is not too late to shape up.

The most obvious first step — and one Congress and the White House have utterly failed on — is allocating money based on risk. Nobody knows for sure where the next terrorist attack on American soil will take place, but that cannot justify the Homeland Security Department’s dartboard-plus pork approach to doling out urban security grants.

There is every reason to believe an attack is much more likely — because of past patterns, and potential impact — in New York or Washington than in Wyoming. It is inexcusable that the Department of Homeland Security and Congress’s funding formulas do not recognize this.

There are other obvious steps, and there are some thoughtful voices in Washington that have been pointing them out.

The bipartisan 9/11 commission has identified major shortfalls in Homeland Security preparedness and described what still needs to be done.

Congressional Democrats have been rallying support behind bills that would significantly strengthen port, container and chemical plant security. Sen. Joseph Biden this month proposed creating a homeland security trust fund of $53 billion over the next five years that would be used to implement the 9/11 commission’s homeland security recommendations. (It would be paid for by rolling back some tax cuts for those making more than $1 million a year.)

Last spring, two Washington research groups, the Center for Defense Information and Foreign Policy in Focus, went even further by publishing what they called a unified national security budget(PDF)

Their budget proposes a $24 billion increase in homeland security spending and shows how it easily could be paid for by cutting back unneeded or over-funded weapons systems like the F 22A fighter, the DDG 1000 Destroyer and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and trimming the size of the active duty Air Force and Navy.

Overall, the two groups found that more than $60 billion that could be safely shifted out of the next year’s military budget. That would leave more than $25 billion to spare, after the homeland security increases, which they would apply to such activities as nation-building, peacekeeping, and alternative energy which also make a vital contribution to America’s national security.

There’s plenty of room for debate about exactly which weapons to cut and by how much. For example, a good case can be made for protecting the Joint Strike Fighter, a promising step toward producing a single aircraft type that both the Air Force and Navy can use.

There’s also room to debate how the savings should be spent. But it is clear that the current spending priorities are deeply flawed, and are not making us as safe as we should be.

VII. How To Make It Happen

This kind of a rational reallocation of national security spending is not just a realistic goal. It is an urgent requirement. But it isn’t going to be easy to achieve.

The biggest obstacle is the military-industrial-political complex, which has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo. There is a pressing need for real lobbying reform to break this alliance’s ability to defend mistaken budgetary priorities.

That reform could open the way to better Congressional oversight - starting with more tough-minded appointees to relevant committees. Senators like John McCain of Arizona and Carl Levin of Michigan, along with Representatives like Ike Skelton of Missouri and John Spratt of South Carolina have shown what tough-minded Congressional oversight can look like. Committees in which such legislators formed a majority could work wonders.

More rational national security spending will also require a very different kind of defense secretary. Instead of responding to 9/11 with a reconceived national security budget, Donald Rumsfeld pressed ahead with a preconceived program of “defense transformation” that in practice boiled down to a disastrous campaign to try and force the army to do more with fewer ground troops and shortchanged post-war peacekeeping and nation-building operations.

From time to time, Mr. Rumsfeld did speak about the importance of freeing up billions of dollars flowing into costly and obsolete cold war weapons systems. But when it came time to draw up the Pentagon’s annual budget requests when actual budgets, he rarely fought to do so.

VIII. Starting Right Now

There is going to be a lot of talk between now and the November mid-term elections about keeping the nation safe. Unfortunately, much of it will be delivered in sound bites and 30-second TV ads.

Voters should demand that candidates go beyond the platitudes and talk about the real issues, like port security and a better prepared army, and about how they intended to pay for it.

Let’s have a real debate. And then let’s have real security.

Readers Respond to ‘Our Indefensible National Security Budget’

Aneil Mishra, Okemos, Mich.: David Unger's editorial is one of most important and cogent pieces I have read in years. It should be required reading for all of our national political candidates and national news broadcasters and writers. It is criminal how much money is being spent on too many defense appropriations that will do nothing to enhance our national security.

Mike Shor, Washington: Thank you for exposing the illogical and inefficient allocations within the defense budget. Your essay was a much needed start on focusing our defense spending on our defense priorities. I hope, however, that you will move on to examining our skewed spending on defense activities at the expense of areas that will build a better and more secure future for the country such as education and health care. With 54 percent of the country's budget being spent on defense, more than the total of the next 25 countries combined, we are left with precious little to maintain or improve the lives we purport to be defending.

Philip Rutter, Canton, Minn.: Until we have real limits on the profits available to [the makers of] high-tech secret weapons systems, this will continue. Why do our troops have trouble getting body and vehicle armor? Because those tools are not secret the profit level is controlled and it's not nearly as much as they can make building our New Maginot Line In Space, the highly classified and utterly useless, not to mention non-functioning missile defense, which will prevent Korea from nuking Anchorage. Stealing public money this way should be classified as treason.

Susanna Shapiro, Washington: This is a great point and a thoroughly documented article. The need for active pressure to change this antiquated, inappropriate spending pattern is clear. Now the real question: would anyone be interested in joining or forming a campaign to begin to change these habits? Another point that is arguably outside the scope of the article, but that I'd also like to raise is that no spending on security, even if it was appropriately reallocated as Mr. Unger suggests, makes up for our disastrous foreign policy and worsening immigration policy. These three areas are related and fundamentally linked with our increasing global vulnerability.

Charles Pellerin, Boulder, Colo.: During a recent trip to Switzerland, perhaps the most interesting insight was stimulated by a visit to a Swiss fortress, Fortress Furigen, inside a mountain just outside Lucerne built in 1940 when Hitler surrounded Switzerland. While America concentrates on offense with our troops and aircraft carriers trying to run the rest of the world, the Swiss concentrate on defense. This is why they have been able to remain neutral through two world wars without attack. In Switzerland, everyone joins the army for a year, then shorter service after. All homes have bomb shelters and weapons with people trained how to use them … Planes are stored in mountain caves near highways that quickly convert to airfields. All bridges and highways on major routes are built with explosives already in place to prevent a ground invasion. There is a lot of immigrant labor … trust me, nobody is there illegally. There is no sense of fear, no searches anywhere, no vehicle barriers, etc. It felt so comfortable like America used to be. The dialogue we should be having here is not about how many troops in Iraq, but whether a defense department or offense department better serves our national interest. Switzerland is clean, beautiful, hydroelectric, peaceful and with great infrastructure including education, transportation and lack of poverty. Perhaps we can learn something?

Barbara Matheson, Baltimore: Why be apologetic to the present administration with respect to the defense budget. It is wrong to spend large sums of money on defense. It may be alright to spend adequate, sufficient sums of money on defense. We should never forget the power of the military-industrial-gun complex and its influence on world and national life.

Lawrence Light, Mission Viejo, Calif: I agree with your article. The current administration has siphoned off the monies required to repair our infrastructure by spending on the Iraq war, agreeing to vast amounts of defense spending, creating an environment in which oil prices can rise as high as the oil companies would like, creating tax breaks for a very small segment of the population that must be made up by the rest if any money is to be raised. Sure, your piece raises a good point but I can see no way that the pigs who have been so accustomed to using the government trough will ever give up such a lucrative conduit for this kind of money. The amount of pork doled out in the name of Homeland Security is stupendous. Perhaps when the oceans rise six to twelve inches or a military draft is instituted or oil hits $200 a barrel will any action be taken and, by then, it may be too late. The only solution, which you do not state, is for the Democrats to take over again as a majority. I have no doubt, now that the public trough is open, that the Democrats will also begin to feed from it in prodigious amounts but in the immediate time frame, the only way to stop this feeding frenzy is to elect Democrats. Get your friends to elect them, work to elect them. Otherwise all of your articles, no matter how carefully documented and thought out, will be for naught.

Kenneth Rasmussen, Vienna, Austria: May this article kick off a nation-wide debate. The national security issues involved are coupled with questions about the whole direction that our government and economy should take. In a way, it is a call for a new American Revolution, one that would free us of the unhealthy tangle of business interests and government action that so bedevils common sense. … If we are a government of business, then the people are the bookkeepers. Here in Austria, the people are wondering why the government should spend millions on new fighter airplanes when there is simply no danger whatsoever of an air attack from anybody. Why should billions more than most countries spend on health care be spent on a new line of airplanes that probably consume more petroleum just test flying than you and I and Topeka, Kans., combined could consume in a life time?

Colter Rule, New York: If this country can't turn this morass called the military-industrial complex out to pasture, we will bury ourselves. No need for Al Qaeda to do the work. This country is sinking into a pit of self-created quicksand. Why, when we profess to want to spread it, does Democracy not work at home? I know: follow the money.! Maybe someday, before our education system dumbs us all down into the Stone Age, we will wake up and have some revolutionary change. Eisenhower warned us long ago. ...

Mike Byrne, Fort Collins, Colo.: Ironically, the ludicrous amount of money devoured by the Department of Defense has made us less secure. Iraq was in part a project of military-industrial complex think a quick victory made possible by wiz-bang technology leading to reshaping the Middle East. Also, many developed countries get a free ride on the military-industrial complex gravy train. Germany, France, and the U.K. get to spend less on defense and more on infrastructure, education, and health care. Who would pass on that deal? …Sadly, there are no Dwight Eisenhowers around. The standard U.S. politician is an enabler to the country's fear. A more virtuous country would spend less but require more from its citizens, like universal service. Is it any wonder the rest of the world views us as militarily strong, morally weak?

Dublin Popov, Denver, Colo.: Thank you for your excellent analysis of the gaps and needs in the country's national security policies. When the facts that you laid out are so indisputable and yet policymakers fail to take effective action, I'm left wondering what kind of impetus is required for American citizens to wake up and demand that their elected representatives to put an end to campaign contributions and lobbying by the industrial-military complex and other corporate entities. This could be a wonderful campaign for organized religion to embrace. Some of the billions saved from cutting out wasted dollars from obsolete/irrelevant weapons systems could then be invested in building up human security, i.e., eradicating disease, protecting the environment, and providing education and health care and eliminating poverty here and abroad, along with a wiser allocation of dollars for national security as outlined by Mr. Unger.

Former Auditors Say Bush Impeded Audits against Oil and Gas Industies

Suits Say U.S. Impeded Audits for Oil Leases

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 — Four government auditors who monitor leases for oil and gas on federal property say the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government.

The accusations, many of them in four lawsuits that were unsealed last week by federal judges in Oklahoma, represent a rare rebellion by government investigators against their own agency.

The auditors contend that they were blocked by their bosses from pursuing more than $30 million in fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The agency has lost its sense of mission, which is to protect American taxpayers,” said Bobby L. Maxwell, who was formerly in charge of Gulf of Mexico auditing. “These are assets that belong to the American public, and they are supposed to be used for things like education, public infrastructure and roadways.”

The lawsuits have surfaced as Democrats and Republicans alike are questioning the Bush administration’s willingness to challenge the oil and gas industry.

The new accusations surfaced just one week after the Interior Department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, told a House subcommittee that “short of crime, anything goes” at the top levels of the Interior Department.

In two of the lawsuits, two senior auditors with the Minerals Management Service in Oklahoma City said they were ordered to drop their claim that Shell Oil had fraudulently shortchanged taxpayers out of $18 million.

A third auditor, also in Oklahoma City, charged that senior officials in Denver ordered him to drop his demand that two dozen companies pay $1 million in back interest.

And in a suit that was filed in 2004, Mr. Maxwell charged that senior officials in Washington ordered him not to press claims that the Kerr-McGee Corporation had cheated the government out of $12 million in royalties.

On Wednesday, Interior officials denied that the agency had suppressed any valid claims and implied that the auditors simply wanted a share of any money recovered through their lawsuits.

“If these auditors believed there were fraud and or false claims on the part of the companies they were auditing, they should have followed the proper procedures,” the Interior Department said in a written statement. “Instead, they opted to pursue private lawsuits under which, if they prevail, they could receive up to 30 percent of the monies recovered from the companies.”

In defying their own agency, the Interior Department’s auditors sued the oil companies under a federal law, called the False Claims Act, that was created to allow individuals to expose fraud against the government. People who successfully recover money for the government in such cases are entitled to a portion. A losing company is required to pay triple the amount of recovered money as well as back interest — potentially more than $120 million in the cases brought by the auditors.

Destin Singleton, a spokeswoman for Shell, said the company had not seen the suits and could not comment. John Christiansen, a Kerr-McGee spokesman, said, “We believe the case is without merit and we are defending against it.”

In dollar terms, the suspected underpayments amount to a tiny fraction of the $8 billion in royalties that companies paid last year for oil and gas extracted from federal lands.

But the lawsuits come at a time when the Interior Department is already under fire from Congress, accused of covering up ethical lapses and managerial incompetence.

“These accounts, coming from the front lines, point a big red arrow at the large problem of taxpayers being stiffed,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who has been investigating the accusations.

“If it was one isolated instance, you could say that’s somebody who had a bad experience and was frustrated,” Mr. Wyden said. “But when you have three or four professional, nonpolitical, independent auditors all bringing the same message, that is too important to ignore.”

By any measure, the Interior Department under President Bush has placed top priority on increasing oil and gas production in the United States. Under its business-friendly agenda, the department has increased incentives for drilling in risky areas, has speeded approvals for drilling applications and has campaigned to open more coastal areas for oil exploration.

Lawyers who have specialized in lawsuits under the False Claims Act said they had never seen a group of government investigators use the law against their own agency.

“Most whistle-blowers are insiders at a company who spot something that government auditors have missed,” said James Moorman, president of Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund, a nonprofit organization supported by lawyers that specializes in the False Claims Act.

“But here you have auditors saying, ‘We did our job, we found the problems and our superiors don’t want to hear about it,’ ’’ Mr. Moorman said. “If it were just one auditor, you could dismiss it. But with four auditors, that’s a pattern of practice.”

In their suits, the auditors contend that they had no choice but to go outside the agency because their supervisors ordered them to “cease work” on five separate investigations and drop their claims.

Documents recently unsealed in Mr. Maxwell’s case against Kerr-McGee, which is scheduled for trial in November, show that federal officials abandoned his claims at almost the same moment that state auditors in Louisiana reached the same conclusions as Mr. Maxwell.

Under federal regulations, companies are supposed to pay the federal government a royalty of 12 percent or 16 percent on oil and gas they extract from federal lands or coastal waters.

Mr. Maxwell’s job was eliminated in 2004. He received a settlement from the government and is now living in Hawaii.

A much-praised auditor who recovered hundreds of millions of dollars over a 20-year career, Mr. Maxwell concluded in late 2002 that Kerr-McGee had used a clever marketing deal to reduce its apparent sales receipts and royalty payments.

Under the marketing deal, Mr. Maxwell contended, Kerr-McGee sold its oil at $1 to $3 a barrel below market prices to a company called Texon. Mr. Maxwell’s auditing team said that Texon was making up for Kerr-McGee’s shortfall by providing marketing and administrative services. In effect, Mr. Maxwell contended, Kerr-McGee was being paid in both cash and services but only paying royalties on the cash portion.

Interior officials initially encouraged Mr. Maxwell when he raised the concerns about Kerr-McGee in early 2003. “I am sure we can make the case,” wrote John Price, then head of the agency’s appeals division, in an e-mail message to Mr. Maxwell.

But a few days later, lawyers in the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office urged him to drop the case. “Although I did not understand the reasoning, it was made clear to me that the agency did not want the order issued,” Mr. Maxwell wrote in an affidavit for his suit. “The next day, Mr. Price telephoned me and reiterated to me that if I issued the order, the director would be very upset with me.”

But Louisiana auditors were investigating the same practices in connection with royalties on state-owned land, and had concluded that Kerr-McGee was lowballing its sales price by $1.50 to $3 a barrel. Louisiana officials demanded more than $1 million in additional state royalties from the company, and eventually settled for $600,000.

In two of the lawsuits that were unsealed last week in Oklahoma, senior auditors in Oklahoma City said they had been ordered to drop claims that Shell Oil had underpaid by $18 million.

The suits were brought by Joel F. Arnold, a supervisory auditor who oversees a team of offshore auditors based in Oklahoma City, and Randall L. Little, a senior auditor on Mr. Arnold’s team in Oklahoma City.

Like Mr. Maxwell, both of the Oklahoma auditors have more than two decades of experience in government and industry and have received numerous government awards for the money they have recovered.

In one suit, Mr. Little contends that he found evidence from his audit that Shell had reduced the sales value of oil from six leases by fraudulently inflating transportation costs. One practice, they said, allowed Shell to improperly escape $15 million in royalties. A second practice allowed Shell to save $3.8 million by claiming transportation costs for oil that was being delivered to the government at its own production site in the Gulf.

The Justice Department, which reviews such suits and sometimes joins them, declined to participate in these cases. But it did not urge the courts to dismiss the suits, as some senior Interior Department had wanted.

None of the Oklahoma auditors would agree to an interview. Elizabeth Sharrock, a lawyer for Mr. Arnold and Mr. Little, said both men had already been removed from their usual jobs and were afraid of being fired.

But according to their suits, the auditors presented their findings about Shell last October to their supervisor in Houston, Lonnie Kimball. Mr. Kimball, according to court papers, initially told the auditors to “go straight to Shell” with the complaints.

But in January, after meeting with a Shell executive, Mr. Kimball abruptly reversed course and told the auditors to “cease work on all false claims” against Shell.

In its statement on Wednesday, the Interior Department acknowledged that the auditors had been told not to send “issue letters” — an official notification that a company appears to have underpaid royalties.

But it said that other auditing offices had been investigating the issues and taken certain actions. “In fact,” it said, “our actions to date include: issuing late-payment interest bills; continuing an ongoing audit; and determining that an issue was not supported by the regulations.”

Interior officials did not say how much money they had recovered from companies named by the auditors. But the agency’s own statistics indicate that revenue from auditing and enforcement plunged after President Bush took office.

From 1989 through 2001, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, auditing and other enforcement efforts generated an average of $176 million a year. But from 2002 through 2005, according to numbers that the department provided lawmakers last May, those collections averaged only $46 million.

In another clash, frustrated federal auditors have complained that the Interior Department no longer allows them to subpoena documents from oil companies.

“Subpoenas are a very powerful tool to get the information you need, but I don’t think they’ve approved a single subpoena in years,” Mr. Maxwell said in an interview. “In the good old days when we were able to issue subpoenas on our own, each of us was able to recover millions of dollars a year.”

Agency officials acknowledged that they have not issued any subpoenas in the last three years. “Enforcement of subpoenas by the courts can take years and be very costly,” the agency said in a written response to questions. “We have not found them to be a very effective tool.”