January 24, 2006
Democrats Want It Both Ways on Abramoff Scandal

By Jack Kelly

It was no way to treat a lady. Washington Post ombudswoman Deborah Howell wrote a column praising her paper for exposing crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff. She was deluged with so much obscene email from outraged liberals the Post had to shut down one of its Web sites.

Mr. Abramoff pled guilty earlier this month to defrauding his clients (indian tribes who owned casinos) and the Internal Revenue Service. Ms. Howell's critics were in high dudgeon over a distinction without a difference. In the 7th paragraph of her story lauding reporter Susan Schmidt, she wrote: "And (Abramoff) had made substantial contributions to both major parties."

"I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal," a stunned Ms. Howell wrote in her column last Sunday.

All of Mr. Abramoff's personal contributions went to Republicans. But the big money was what Mr. Abramoff directed his clients to contribute.

"Records from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff's indian clients contributed money to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats between 1999 and 2004," Ms. Howell noted. Still, Democrats are trying to portray this as strictly a GOP scandal.

On Jan. 18th, they held a news conference at the Library of Congress to denounce the "Republican culture of corruption."

They're getting help from the news media. It's been widely reported that Michael Scanlon, a business partner of Mr. Abramoff, was once an aide to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas. It is rarely mentioned that Mr. Abramoff also hired Eddie Ayoob, who until 2002 was legislative counsel for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Mr. Abramoff is front page news. But there was virtually no news coverage when one of Sen. Hillary Clinton's fund-raising committees agreed Jan. 5th to pay a $35,000 fine for failing to report $722,000 in contributions.

Last week Sen. Reid's staff issued a report accusing 33 GOP senators who received contributions from Mr. Abramoff or his clients of "abuse of power."

This is guilt by association. Mr. Abramoff is a crook. Therefore anyone to whom he gave money or socialized with must be a crook, too. But the steps Sen. Reid and other Democrats took on behalf of Mr. Abramoff's clients complicate their efforts to portray this as purely a GOP scandal.

Democrats received about a third of the money donated by Mr. Abramoff's clients and by employees of his lobbying firm. Among those receiving the most were Rep. Robert F. Kennedy of Rhode Island ($128,000, 2nd overall); Sen. Reid ($40,500), and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee ($67,000).

A day after he wrote a letter on its behalf to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the Coushatta tribe sent $5,000 to Sen. Reid's PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. Shortly thereafter, another tribal client of Mr. Abramoff's sent another $5,000.

Sen. Reid claims to have done nothing illegal, which is probably true. But if he is innocent, then so too are the overwhelming majority of Republicans who received money from Mr. Abramoff or his clients. Mr. Abramoff stole from his clients and cheated on his taxes. But there is on the public record no evidence to indicate any lawmaker -- Republican or Democrat -- was aware of, much less complicit in, those crimes.

There is so far nothing to indicate that in his relations with lawmakers, Mr. Abramoff behaved much differently than the other 34,750 lobbyists in Washington. All expect something in return for the favors they bestow and the campaign cash they give.

The system is corrupt. As long as government can enrich or impoverish special interest groups, they will offer large sums to politicians. And as long as politicians must rely mostly on special interests for campaign funds, they will be compromised.

Doubtless spurred by fear of reprisals at the polls, Republicans seem to be getting serious about a mess they did not create, but which they have made worse.

We will see how serious in the race to succeed Mr. Delay as majority leader, where reformer John Shadegg of Arizona is squaring off against two otherwise fine men who are too comfortable with business as usual in Washington.

Democrats just want to reap partisan hay. This may appease the moonbats who harassed poor Ms. Howell. But the pot calling the kettle black is unlikely to lead to meaningful reform.

Jack Kelly

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