Buying Votes in Florida

From Holden:

We all saw this happening at the time. Four hurricanes hit Florida prior to the November election, prompting Dear Leader to fly down and look concerned among the rubble while passing out bundles of cash.

Now our worst fears are confirmed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency made $31 million in questionable payments to residents of Miami-Dade County for damage from Hurricane Frances last September even though the storm caused only minimal damage in that area of Florida, government investigators said yesterday.

More than $8 million of that amount was given to 4,300 people to rent temporary housing even though they had not asked for the money, and in many cases their homes were almost completely undamaged by the storm, according to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.


FEMA paid to replace thousands of televisions, air conditioners, beds and other furniture, as well as a number of cars, without receipts, or proof of ownership or damage, and based solely on verbal statements by the residents, sometimes made in fleeting encounters at fast-food restaurants, said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“It was a ‘pay first, ask questions later’ approach,” Collins said. “The inspector general’s report identifies a number of significant control weaknesses that create a potential for widespread fraud, erroneous payments and wasteful practices.”


Homeland Security sources said FEMA’s efforts to distribute funds quickly after Frances and three other hurricanes that hit the key political battleground state of Florida in a six-week period last fall were undertaken with a keen awareness of the coming presidential election. They also noted that politics has had a role in disaster relief activities in various administrations.

J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America who was a top federal flood-insurance official in the 1970s and 1980s, said that in the vast majority of hurricanes other than those in Florida in 2004, complaints are rife that FEMA vastly underpays hurricane victims. The Frances overpayments “are questionable given the timing of the election and Florida’s importance” as a battleground state, said Hunter, who was Texas insurance commissioner in the 1990s under then-Gov. Ann W. Richards (D).

Homeland Security sources said after the hurricanes that [Michael Brown, who runs FEMA as DHS’s undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response] and his allies promoted him as a successor to Tom Ridge as Homeland Security secretary because of their contention that he helped deliver Florida to President Bush by efficiently responding to the Florida hurricanes.