In October 1995, California congressman Norm Mineta, one of the most prominent Asian American politicians in the country, shocked his constituents by resigning from the U.S. House in midterm to take a high-paying job with Lockheed Martin, the nation's No. 1 defense contractor.
Critics blasted the San Jose Democrat for not waiting until the end of his term to retire and simply walking off his jobnot to mention his going to a company almost completely dependent on government contracts. But they spoke too soon. It seems that, in one respect, Mineta hasn't left Congress: His campaign committee is still active, having handed out nearly $15,000 to various politicians in just the past three years. And on May 2, the Mineta for Congress Committee sent $1000 to Hillary Clinton. Great timing for Clinton that Mineta still hands out money. But Mineta's the one who's had impeccable timing.
Nine days before he left Congress, he voted in favor of a road projects bill that included a 30-year, $600 million California tollway contract for the division that he was going to head up for his new employer. "Even by cynical Washington standards, this is extraordinary," Charles Lewis, director of the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity, told the Associated Press at the time. "It is not just extraordinary, it is disgusting. He should have bent over backwards to avoid the slightest appearance of conflict of interest with his prospective employer."
In addition to his Lockheed salary, which he refused to reveal when he took the job, Mineta pulls down a $75,420 annual congressional pension. Now, he's about to be named secretary of commerce for the last six months of the Clinton administration.
None of this was talked about by Hillary during her recent tour of a Lockheed plant in upstate New York, according to press accounts. Meanwhile, Mineta's timing is still great. He's about to leave Lockheed just before the company wades into a monumental lawsuit filed against Lockheed in Georgia by black employees who are charging racial discrimination.