The next real estate boom

As the housing boom recedes, the smart money in Washington profits from congressional pork.

Published June 22, 2006 2:56PM (EDT)

In most parts of the country, this is a lousy time for short-term real estate investing. Interest rates are rising, prices are falling, and Alan "What Bubble?" Greenspan has ridden off into the sunset.

But what if you could buy some rural land and then get the federal government to build a freeway interchange or otherwise improve the roadways a few miles away? Financial-market forces be damned, you would be sitting on a gold mine. So we come to the cases of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and two California congressmen, Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller. All three bought land, inserted pork-barrel spending for a nearby road, and then sold the land at a profit.

All three claim they did nothing improper, saying the earmarks and the land sales are just coincidences. Hastert's lawyer has even gone so far as to claim that allegations are "false, libelous and defamatory."

But there is no real argument against the American people knowing when their elected leaders may profit -- directly or indirectly -- from legislation. That is why I am a big fan of the recent call to action by Bill Allison, who dug up the Hastert deal over at the Sunlight Foundation. He wants online volunteers to work as investigative journalists. "There are still 539 congress members and delegates whose disclosure forms haven't been scrutinized," he writes. To volunteer, go here.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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