Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Did Wal-Mart & Detroit casino financiers influence Young's support for Barstow earmark?

The Desert Dispatch has reported an update on the plans to build a one-million square foot Wal-Mart Distribution Center is Barstow, CA. As disclosed in the Desert Dispatch, Wal-Mart's regional warehouse for both dry and frozen goods will be built along Lenwood Road north of Jasper Road and southeast of the High Desert Estates housing area in Barstow.

A review of a map provided in the Desert Dispatch illustrates the Wal-Mart project's proximity to the site of a railway bridge/grade separation project that's being funded with a $1.2 million earmark that Rep. Don Young included in the 2005 highway spending bill -- at the time, Young was chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. That construction project, "Lenwood Road Grade Separation," includes lowering the existing grade of Lenwood Road where it intersects with the BNSF Railway and building bridge across Lenwood Road to accomodate railroads.

Clearly such a project is necessary to accomodate all of the large truck traffic that will be coming and going from the Wal-Mart's planned distribution hub.

The "Lenwood Road Grade Separation" is one of Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale's two pet projects . The other is a casino resort project proposed for Barstow by Detroit-based Barwest LLC. Michael Malik and Marian Ilitch formed Barwest LLC in 2003 to promote their various casino proposals in Barstow. They would build and manage any Barstow casino resort.

Dale, a retired BNSF employee, has taken extreme measures to guarantee Malik/Ilitch exclusive rights to any future casino development in Barstow. His passion for Barwest suggest Malik & Ilitch have offered other incentives for Mayor Dale to back them exclusive -- like using their influence with Young to get $1.2 million for Dale's other pet project.

Malik and Ilitch family members are linked to Rep. Young and have influenced Young to back other projects like their proposal for an Indian casino in Port Huron, Michigan. Young attempted to advance that project for Malik/Ilitch using earmarks inserted in SAFETEA-LU 2005.

In 2005, BarWest paid nearly $6,000 to fly Young in a private jet. Malik (MJM Enterprises) has employed several of Young's "A-Team" of lobbyists (Rick Alcalde/Potomac Partners D.C. and Billy Evans, Kessler & Associates) and paid their firms nearly $1.5 million.

Malik and members of the Ilitch family were among Young’s top donors during the 2005/06 election cycle. They have personally contributed more than $23,000 to Young (and his Midnight Sun PAC) and helped raise thousands more in additional funds from their associates. They've contributed more than $95,000 to the two GOP committees responsible for re-electing GOP Members of Congress and at least $50,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Taxpayers for Common Sense previously reported that Young's 2005 bill (SAFETEA-LU 2005; so named in honor of Young's wife Lu) included a $34 million earmark for the widening and extension of a road in Bentonville, Arkansas, that is the main access point to the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. According to TPM Muckraker, Young collected $14,000 from Wal-Mart's PAC and executives around the time the 2005 bill passed.

On his own merit, Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale wouldn't have the juice to line up the $1.2 million Lenwood Road Grade Separation earmark. So the question is how much influence did Wal-Mart and/or Michael Malik assert with Alaska's Rep. Don Young?

And further, did BNSF Railroad rely soley on the volunteer lobbying effort's of a retiree, Mayor Lawrence Dale; or did BNSF lobbyists also weigh in? BNSF lobbyist Jack Ferguson -- another of Young's "A-Team" lobbyists -- joined a small group, that included Malik and Acalde, which contributed a total of $17,000 to Young on 3.31.08.
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