HASTERT’S BONANZA….I made a brief, snarky reference to this a couple of days ago, but Norman Ornstein and Scott Lilly give Dennis Hastert’s shady real estate dealings the attention they deserve in the New Republic today.

Here’s the nickel summary: In 2002 Hastert bought some land for a house along with some adjoining fields. He paid about $5,200 per acre for the fields.

Eighteen months later, he formed a land trust with a couple of local Republican politicos. The trust bought 69 acres of land adjacent to Hastert’s for about $15,000 per acre (it was nearer a road and therefore more valuable) and Hastert then added 69 acres of his own land to the trust. Although his 69 acres had been worth only $5,200 per acre a year and a half earlier, the trust valued his land at the same $15,000 per acre as the new land, three times its original price. Sweet, huh?

Then, Dennis Hastert decided to enter the earmark hall of fame. A highway bill was wending its way through Congress at the time, and Hastert took a special interest in it:

There was no better object lesson in the case against earmarks than the Prairie Parkway Corridor, pushed by none other than Denny Hastert. This new highway, designed to connect the counties west of Chicago to the metropolis itself, had neither the support of the public nor the Illinois Department of Transportation….But the Prairie Parkway did offer one important convenience: It was located just over a mile from the property owned by Hastert’s trust.

….In December of 2005, four months after the signing of the new Federal Highway Bill containing the $207 million inserted by Hastert for construction of the nearby Prairie Parkway, the 138 acres held by the trust were sold to a developer as part of planned 1600 home housing development. The trust received $4,989,000 or $36,152 an acre for the parcel of which 62.5 percent or $3,118,000 went to Hastert. Klatt and Ingemunson also did well. Their profit equaled 144 percent of their original investment. Hastert, however, received six times what he had paid for his investment, a profit equal to 500 percent of his original investment.

What’s more, Hastert still has over a hundred acres left from the parcel he originally bought in 2002. That land is worth double, or maybe more than double, what he originally paid for it. Ornstein and Lilly finish up with this observation:

The speaker hasn’t exactly helped his case with his accounts of the transaction. His office has, for instance, described the Prairie Parkway as located over five miles from his property. But U.S. Geological Survey aerial photographs clearly show it to be about four miles closer than that.

We cannot say at this juncture whether the actions taken by the speaker are illegal. We can say that they do not meet the standards we expect ? or should expect ? from a member of Congress. And they certainly do not meet the standards we expect from the speaker of the House.

No, they don’t.

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