WASHINGTON -- A cadre of veterans from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are organizing an effort to pay down the legal debts taken on by Gregory Jaczko, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who stepped down amid a fierce industry-backed assault.
Jaczko, a former Reid staffer, racked up tens of thousands in legal fees defending himself. The thinking behind the fundraising effort is straightforward: High-level staffers for top senators can command high salaries in the private sector, many times more than can be earned in public service. So former Reid staffers who have spent their post-Senate years in more lucrative pursuits are coming to the aid of a colleague who made a different, and quite costly, decision.
"Greg could have left Capitol Hill to cash in on K Street but chose to continue public service, and he didn't burrow into a run-of-the-mill bureaucratic slot. Instead, he fought every day for the highest standards of public safety," Susan McCue, a former top aide to Reid who remains a confidante, told HuffPost. "He paid a price for it, and his friends are doing what we can to help him pay the legal bills he incurred."
In Washington, corruption is often described in terms of favors exchanged for policy actions that benefit a particular industry or company. But the system corrupts public servants in a mirroring way: Those who refuse to bend often face personal attacks, which both advance a particular objective and send a message to others who might be thinking of doing the same. The latter fate befell Jaczko.
Jaczko's former colleagues will gather Tuesday evening with Reid and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), another former boss of his, to thank him for his time on the nuclear panel. (No fundraising can legally take place while Reid and Markey are at the event, organizers said.)
Reid is a longtime and diehard opponent of using Yucca Mountain as a storage facility for nuclear waste. An early backer of then-Sen. Barack Obama's bid for the White House, Reid extracted a promise from Obama that as president, he would nix the project.
It was Jaczko's charge to implement the policy, but commissioners on the panel friendly to the industry, as well as the industry itself, fought back hard. Adding to the industry's list of grievances, Jaczko aggressively pursued nuclear safety as a top priority, against the industry's objections that such efforts were overly expensive.
The industry's two top representatives, Alex Flint and Marvin Fertel of the Nuclear Energy Institute, are planning to attend the event, said Karen Wayland, a former Reid staffer who, along with McCue, spearheaded the effort.
Tuesday's event will also co-hosted by Jimmy Ryan, Dayle Cristinzio and Kai Anderson, high-powered corporate lobbyists who were senior aides to Reid.
That two women who've worked closely with him are leading the the fundraising effort likely undermines one of the key charges leveled at the chairman. As part of their campaign, Jaczko's rivals accused him of treating women in the office in an abusive way, a charge that was never substantiated and was rejected by women who have worked with him.
Wayland, who's now an energy consultant, noted that for six months she and Jaczko shared extremely cramped quarters in the Capitol -- "and I mean next to him" -- after their Senate office was evacuated following an anthrax scare. "None of us who've ever worked with him have ever seen this," Wayland said of the charges.