citydesk (12/24) 

Keep shoveling

With almost $200 billion in federal bank bailout funds out the door and another $47 billion approved as of Dec. 22, the official U.S. Treasury Department position remains "trust us."

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, that $700-billion bill that Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed in October, was intended to encourage banks to start extending credit again. But no one has tracked what the banks are doing with the money.

"Each financial institution's circumstances are different, making comparisons challenging at best, and it is difficult to track where individual dollars flow through an organization," said Treasury official Neel Kashkari earlier this month, according to Propublica.org, an investigative news site that is tracking bailout funds.

But that's more than Curt Hecker, CEO of Intermountain Community Bancorp, is saying.

Hecker, whose Sandpoint-based bank is the only Idaho bank to receive bailout funds to date—$27 million—did not return repeated phone calls from BW over the course of a week.

Intermountain, a holding company for Panhandle State Bank, the largest locally owned state bank in Idaho, applied for the TARP money. The $27 million was approved Nov. 7.

"Our concern in this is: What are we getting for the money? There's no requirement for the banks to lend the money," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which is researching each of the banks that has taken bailout money.

So where's your TARP money going, Hecker?

Newbie pols 1

In 2005, Stephen Hartgen left the publisher's chair at the Twin Falls Times-News. He got out just in time.

As Hartgen tells it, he left the newspaper holding stock valued at $44 per share, and promptly cashed out. Lee Enterprise stock is plummeting well below $1 this month, hovering just above the 25 cent range.

Perhaps Hartgen will bring his investment intuition to bear on the state as he slips into a new chair on Jan. 12 when the Idaho Legislature convenes; Hartgen was elected to represent part of Twin Falls and Owyhee counties as the new District 23 representative.

In recent years, Hartgen has served as a business and political consultant in the Twin Falls area. He said in an interview that he considers the names of his clients a private business matter.

But according to Idaho Secretary of State expenditure records, in 2006 and 2008, Steven Hartgen & Associates did consulting work for Reps. Fred Wood, Jim Patrick, Bert Stevenson, Sharon Block and, not surprisingly, Stephen Hartgen. He was paid for advertising, media relations, advice and general campaign expenses by several of his newest colleagues.

"The clients—it's a one time thing—it's people that I helped, but once the campaign is over, and I would tell you that they all won, it's not an ongoing relationship," Hartgen told citydesk.

This is the first in a series on Idaho's newest class of legislators. Visit citydesk.boiseweekly.org for more on newbie pols and bank bailouts.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 4,213 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,397 in combat and 816 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 30,879. In the last week, two U.S. soldiers died.

Since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 4,063 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 89,959 and 98,218.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $582,020,706,877

Source: costofwar.com

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