Sens. Wyden and Smith should be alarmed by Sen. Stevens' business dealsEven within a political culture that is corrupt, the story of Sen. Ted Stevens raises eyebrows. Published by The Los Angeles Times in December, the story details how Alaska's senior senator has built a private fortune through connections with businesses whom he's rewarded as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Businesses who were about to benefit from appropriations that were engineered by Stevens would cut the senator into their business. One Stevens investment of $50,000 turned into $750,000 in six years.

These businesses have also rewarded Stevens' wife, son and brother-in-law.

Stevens has responded to the Times article by saying that he is only doing the bidding of Alaskan constituents.

Senators are reluctant to look this reality in the face. Senate Ethics Committee Chairman George Voinovich of Ohio would not talk to the Times about issues raised in its article.

Senators such as Oregon's Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith should recognize that Sen. Stevens' deals make the Senate look very bad. There is a growing gulf between rich and poor in America, with the middle class vanishing. A powerful lawmaker who amasses huge profits from the business of lawmaking compounds the suspicion that the fix is in - that Congress is one giant protection racket in which the well connected get rich and the rest of America can just go away.

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