Democrat tars Lummis
By Thomas Dewell, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: June 5, 2010
The Democratic challenger for Wyoming’s lone House of Representatives seat has criticized the state’s incumbent Republican congresswoman for having the former director of a disgraced federal mineral management agency on her staff.
In a letter dated Friday, Wilson resident and candidate David Wendt asked Rep. Cynthia Lummis to explain why she employs Johnnie Burton as an aide. When Burton was director from 2002 to 2007, the Minerals Management Service was rife with a wide-ranging “culture of ethical failure” and a “culture of substance abuse and sexual promiscuity,’’ the Inspector General for the Department of Interior found, Wendt said in a statement.
“I call on you to explain to the citizens of Wyoming why it serves the public interest to have ... Johnnie Burton as a member of your staff,” Wendt wrote in the letter to Lummis.
Lummis responded with a vehement criticism of Wendt’s tactics.
“Representative Lummis’ opponent has decided to start his campaign for Congress by making a baseless attack on a member of her staff,” a release states. “It is a classless and slanderous tactic that is beyond the pale. His tactless attempt to politically gain from attacking a private citizen who has faithfully served her state and her country is unbecoming of someone seeking to represent Wyoming and our values.”
Lummis did not answer Wendt’s request to explain why Burton worked for her.
“[T]his attack is a hypocritical, nasty campaign tactic that is a smack in the face to our traditional Western values and ethics,” the campaign release states. “The blame-Bush rage in liberal quarters is really quite disturbing and that Representative Lummis’ opponent should try to profit from the Gulf oil disaster is indicative of a person with nothing constructive to contribute to the debate.’’
In the Friday letter, Wendt cited government findings that point to Burton’s mismanagement of the Minerals Management Service.
“A series of reports of the Inspector General have charged that the MMS was riddled with conflicts of interest, mismanagement, unprofessional behavior and an anything-goes atmosphere during Ms. Burton’s tenure,” Wendt stated.
Wendt also criticizes Burton for being a proponent of the agency’s Royalty-in-Kind program, which let companies pay for oil and gas pumped from public lands by giving the government a stake in commodities rather than cash. Current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar terminated the program.
Wendt cited reports stating the government employees that oversaw the Royalties-in-Kind program in Denver were engaged in a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” Reports of cocaine parties and sex between staffers and lobbyists dogged the agency.
The Mineral Management Service also was guilty of failing to own up to a mistake made in the negotiation of more than 1,000 offshore leases, Wendt said. Wendt said Burton did not fix the problem soon enough.
“This negligence allowed the companies to avoid millions of dollars in royalty payment at the expense of U.S. taxpayers,” Wendt said.
The Democratic challenger goes on to link Burton to the current British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“In April 2009, two years after Ms. Burton’s departure from the agency, MMS allowed BP to proceed with its drilling operation at the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf without con-ducting an analysis of environmental consequences in the event of a spill,” the letter from Wendt stated. “This lapse is symptomatic of the unethical environment perpetuated at the agency beyond Ms. Burton’s tenure. Ms. Burton left her imprint on the MMS, and it was not an ethical imprint.”