Just how much has the Republican culture of corruption oozed across the aisle? Are Democrats implicated, too? That's what the Republicans want you to believe. Here's a brief timeline on this question.
June 3, 2005
The Washington Post reports that Democrats received tribal donations.
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate famously collected $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes and devoted a lot of their time to trying to persuade Republican lawmakers to act on their clients' behalf.
But Abramoff didn't work just with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. Moreover, the campaign contributions that Abramoff directed from the tribes went to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.
Among the biggest beneficiaries were Capitol Hill's most powerful Democrats, including Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.), the top two Senate Democrats at the time, Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), then-leader of the House Democrats, and the two lawmakers in charge of raising funds for their Democratic colleagues in both chambers, according to a Washington Post study. Reid succeeded Daschle as Democratic leader after Daschle lost his Senate seat last November.
Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff's activities and from the embattled lobbyist's former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Yet, many Democratic lawmakers also benefited from Abramoff's political operation, a fact that could hinder the Democrats' efforts to turn the lobbyist's troubles into a winning partisan issue....
...According to documents and tribal officials familiar with the Abramoff team's methods, the lobbyists devised lengthy lists of lawmakers to whom the tribes should donate and then delivered the lists to the tribes. The tribes, in turn, wrote checks to the recommended campaign committees and in the amounts the lobbyists prescribed. The money went to incumbents or selected candidates in open seats.
Because of the makeup of his team and the composition of Congress, the Abramoff lobbyists channeled most of their clients' giving to GOP legislators, according to a review of public records. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee that frequently deals with Indian matters, received the largest amount from the tribes as well as from the Greenberg Traurig lobbyists who helped direct those donations: $141,590 from 1999 to 2004, the study showed.
But Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) ran second, with $128,000 in the same period. From 1999 to 2001, Kennedy chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which solicited campaign donations for House candidates.
December 3, 2005
On Common Dreams, John Nichols of The Nation writes how Democrats stand to gain from the Republican-branded Abramoff culture of corruption:
To be sure, Democrats have a sorry history of running as reformers. The party's inability to exploit the Enron debacle--at least partly because some Democrats accepted Enron-linked donations--shows there's more to hanging a scandal around your opponents' necks than merely watching it unfold. But because of Abramoff's long and close ties to the GOP establishment, the scandal of this particular lobbyist presents a unique opening. Indeed, while the primary focus should be on House and Senate races, one of the most interesting playouts of Abramoff's troubles may come in Georgia, where his pal from college Republican days, Reed, is running for lieutenant governor. Reed's most aggressive Democratic foe, former State Senator Greg Hecht, has created a model for Democrats seeking to make hay from the scandal by banging away at what he refers to as the Abramoff-Reed scandal. It appears to be working. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Republicans are worried about polls that show Reed's negatives beginning to move ahead of his positives. If Democrats are smart, they'll recognize that these trends can apply well beyond the borders of Georgia.
December 8, 2005
Non-partisan beltway paper The Hill reports Republicans seek to link Democrats to Abramoff:
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is planning a public-relations offensive tying leading Democrats to lobbyist Jack Abramoff in an effort to neutralize accusations that Republicans have been embroiled in a â€œculture of corruption.â€?
The campaign will zero in on Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, both Michigan Democrats; and the Democratic Senatorial Committee (DSCC), among others, for taking money from Abramoffâ€™s former clients....
Republicans have spent months trying to blunt Democratic ethics charges. But the new communications blitz â€” which will include disseminating talking points to Capitol Hill Republicans and flooding local media with information linking Democrats to Abramoff â€” marks a more coordinated effort to halt the anti-GOP tide.
NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said the campaign committee would â€œbe getting the resourcesâ€? not only to senators up for reelection but to all members of the Republican Conference â€œso that they can offensively message that Democrats are playing partisan politics with an issue that involves all of Congress.â€?
You can't envy the Republicans on this, when their best PR tactic is to say, "But the Democrats are as bad as we are!"
December 15, 2005
Despite Bush's views, the scandals in Washington have touched Republicans so far. In addition to the indictments of DeLay, Cunningham and a former White House official who represented tribes, Michael Scanlon, a former Republican aide to DeLay, pleaded guilty last month in a scheme to bribe another Republican congressman and defraud tribes out of tens of millions of dollars.
And the majority of Abramoff's money went to Republicans, not Democrats. According to a Washington Post analysis, Republican politicians and political action committees received 63.7 percent of the $5.3 million in contributions made by Abramoff's former tribal clients and associates from 1999 through 2004.
News reports also indicate the Department of Justice is looking at the actions of a half of dozen Republicans in the House and the Senate who accepted money from Abramoff, whose former aides went to work for Abramoff or whose spouses received work as a result of their connections to Abramoff.
Two top GOP operatives -- Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Ralph Reed, a key Bush fundraiser -- took millions from Abramoff's tribes as well, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation has shown.
The article finishes with reports on how Republicans are turning on John McCain, and Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell's putting it all in perspective:
Some Republicans have turned their sights on Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the committee chairman who initiated the Abramoff probe. They have accused him of using the investigation to go after people who opposed him in the 2000 presidential primary against Bush. McCain has ridiculed the charges and has since said he expects "lots" of indictments of people who were involved.
The committee held five hearings on the matter, four of which were held with McCain as chairman and Dorgan as vice chairman. The first occurred under former chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), who was equally hard on Abramoff and his associates before retiring at the end of 2004.
"For 400 years, people have been cheating Indian tribes, so you're not the first one," Campbell told Scanlon at a November 17, 2004, hearing. "You're the problem, buddy, with what is happening to American Indians."
December 19, 2005
Media Matters examines factually inaccurate statements made by New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut on Hardball.
New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut falsely stated that Democrats accepted campaign contributions from indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In fact, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (here and here), only Republicans received contributions directly from Abramoff.
Appearing on the December 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Kornblut falsely claimed that Abramoff had given contributions to Democrats. Yet a Media Matters for America search of the Center for Responsive Politics database of campaign contributions did not find any contributions from Abramoff to Democrats or Democratic leadership political action committees.
Although Kornblut amended her statement to claim that Abramoff "had his clients donate to Democrats," her comment falsely suggests that Republicans and Democrats are equally enmeshed in the scandal surrounding Abramoff. In fact, while Democrats have received contributions from Abramoff's lobbying groups and his clients, Kornblut's statement ignores the difference between accepting contributions from groups linked to Abramoff, which is legal and proper, and taking contributions in exchange for official actions, which is illegal, and which is at the heart of the ongoing investigations.
A November 25 Washington Post article identified four lawmakers under investigation in connection to Abramoff -- former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Rep. Rob Ney (R-OH), and Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA) -- all Republicans.
December 21, 2005
Bloomberg.com analyzes President Bush's repetition of the Republican defense tactic of trying to implicate Democrats in the Abramoff-GOP "culture of corruption."
Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats, federal records show. At the same time, his Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats.
Bush's comment about Abramoff in a Dec. 14 Fox News interview was aimed at countering Democratic accusations that Republicans have brought a "culture of corruption" to Washington. Even so, the numbers show that "Abramoff's big connections were with the Republicans," said Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
"It is somewhat unusual in that most lobbyists try to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but we're already seeing that Jack Abramoff doesn't seem to be a usual lobbyist," Noble said....
... Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff joined with his former partner, Michael Scanlon, and tribal clients to give money to a third of the members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, according to records of the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service. At least 171 lawmakers got $1.4 million in campaign donations from the group. Republicans took in most of the money, with 110 lawmakers getting $942,275, or 66 percent of the total.
Apparently tribal donations to Democrats actually decreased once Abramoff was guiding their contributions.
Abramoff's tribal clients continued to give money to Democrats even after he began representing them, although in smaller percentages than in the past.
The Saginaw Chippewas gave $500,500 to Republicans between 2001 and 2004 and $277,210 to Democrats, according to a review of data compiled by Dwight L. Morris & Associates, a Bristow, Virginia-based company that tracks campaign-finance reports. Between 1997 and 2000, the tribe gave just $158,000 to Republicans and $279,000 to Democrats....
..."Republicans are bending over backwards to exaggerate the links" between Democrats and Abramoff, said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "This is a Republican scandal that involves Republican lawmakers doing favors for a Republican lobbyist."
Scanlon, Abramoff's former partner, has pleaded guilty to attempted fraud and corruption of public officials and is cooperating with the Justice Department's investigation. His plea agreement refers to efforts to corrupt U.S. lawmakers, including a "Representative No. 1," identified by lawyers in the case as Ohio Republican Robert Ney.
The other names most frequently mentioned in connection with Abramoff are both Republicans: DeLay, a one-time friend who has cut off contact with the lobbyist, and Senator Conrad Burns of Montana.
December 22, 2005
This week, President Bush said it seemed to him that Abramoff "was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."
Historically, tribal money had been going to Democrats almost exclusively. Abramoff changed that.
The lobbyist ordered one tribal client to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. A list, obtained by The Associated Press, earmarked $90,000 of the money for the Republican Party, none for Democrats.
Of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Abramoff directed the tribe to donate to congressional campaigns, the Republican-Democrat breakdown was 11-to-1.
Who benefitted from Abramoff's influence? Democrats? Hardly.
December 23, 2005
On far-right conservative website Free Republic, flattorney makes claims that Democrats received millions from Abramoff, while obfuscating difference between direct, illegal pay for play and legal donations from Abramoff's clients.
Incumbent Senate Democrat-Affiliated Campaign And Leadership Committees Received Over $729,000 From Indian Tribe Clients And Lobbying Associates Of Jack Abramoff*. (Campaign Finance Analysis Project Website, www.campaignfinanceanalysisproject.com, Accessed December 7, 2005; Political Money Line Website, www.tray.com, Accessed December 7, 2005; Internal Revenue Service Website, www.irs.gov, Accessed April 21, 2005)
40 Of The 45 Members Of The Senate Democrat Caucus:
* Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) Received At Least â€“ $22,500
* Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) Received At Least â€“ $6,500
* Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) Received At Least â€“ $1,250
* Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Received At Least â€“ $2,000
* Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Received At Least â€“ $20,250
* Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Received At Least â€“ $21,765
* Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) Received At Least â€“ $7,500
* Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) Received At Least â€“ $12,950
* Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) Received At Least â€“ $8,000
* Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) Received At Least â€“ $7,500
* Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) Received At Least â€“ $14,792
* Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) Received At Least â€“ $79,300
* Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) Received At Least â€“ $14,000
* Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Received At Least â€“ $2,000
* Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) Received At Least â€“ $1,250
* Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) Received At Least â€“ $45,750
* Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) Received At Least â€“ $9,000
* Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) Received At Least â€“ $2,000
* Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) Received At Least â€“ $14,250
* Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) Received At Least â€“ $3,300
* Senator John Kerry (D-MA) Received At Least â€“ $98,550
* Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Received At Least â€“ $28,000
* Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) Received At Least â€“ $4,000
* Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) Received At Least â€“ $6,000
* Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) Received At Least â€“ $29,830
* Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) Received At Least â€“ $14,891
* Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Received At Least â€“ $10,550
* Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) Received At Least â€“ $78,991
* Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) Received At Least â€“ $20,168
* Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) Received At Least â€“ $5,200
* Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) Received At Least â€“ $7,500
* Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) Received At Least â€“ $2,300
* Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) Received At Least â€“ $3,500
* Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) Received At Least â€“ $68,941
* Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) Received At Least â€“ $4,000
* Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) Received At Least â€“ $4,500
* Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) Received At Least â€“ $4,300
* Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Received At Least â€“ $29,550
* Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Received At Least â€“ $6,250
* Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) Received At Least â€“ $6,250
I'd like to see a similar list of Republicans. And I'd like to see an admission that only Republicans received money from Abramoff.
December 27, 2005
On semi-conservative Democrat-booster site Daily Kos, dengre presents reported evidence that "ZERO Democrats" took Abramoff money:
It is only true to say that some Democrats received donations from co-workers of Abramoff and/or his clients, but that is different than an direct donation or connection to Abramoff.
And all Democrats are auditing all their connections and purging any funds that they find to be connected to Jack by the thinnest of threads.
Let's stop this GOP Talking Points whenever it pops up. And it will be the talking point of the day when Jack makes his deal--which could come before the end of the year.
The Abramoff scandal is an entirely GOP owned and operated affair. The numbers in the LA Times story should make even the most partisan Republican weak in the knees, but it should encourage Democrats to go on the attack and end the GOP Culture of Corruption!
January 3, 2006
Abramoff faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and restitution bills topping $25 million as part of the plea agreement, although he will not be sentenced until after his cooperation with the Justice Department is complete. The Justice Department indictment refers to â€œRepresentative #1,â€? widely believed to be Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), with whom Abramoff admitted to setting up a bribery scheme trading lavish gifts for legislative favors....
...â€œHe intends to work with the Justice Department and others to fully resolve all matters of interest, to provide restitution to anyone he has harmed, and to seek absolution from all,â€? Lowell said.
While Ney is the only lawmaker to report receiving a subpoena in the Abramoff case, several other members of Congress are said to be under scrutiny. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was a guest on one of Abramoffâ€™s now-notorious golf trips to Scotland; Neyâ€™s Scotland trip is cited in the fraud charges against the lobbyist....
...Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) are among other lawmakers grappling with the political fallout from their ties to Abramoff.
Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) acknowledged that potential testimony from Abramoff raises the stakes for members and staffers fearing entanglement in the Justice Department probe but said it is too early to tell if the case will have any impact on the makeup of House leadership.
â€œIt certainly takes things up a notch,â€? Putnam said. â€œThe cloud hanging over us is still too vague for [members] to rally a majority of the conference behind an alternative to what we have now.â€?
Rest assured more is to come.
"This year still looks very much like a Democratic year, and the only question is how big a year it will be for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee," says veteran elections tracker Stuart Rothenberg.
"At this point, Democratic gains appear to be inevitable," Mr. Rothenberg told his newsletter subscribers last week.
Abramoff, a former $100,000-plus fundraiser for President Bush with close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud. That cleared the way for his cooperation with federal prosecutors in bringing charges against former business and political associates.
The investigation is believed to involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides and possibly several administration officials.
The timing couldn't be worse, politically, especially for Republicans. Lawmakers who may be indicted could find themselves coming to trial this summer, just ahead of the midterm elections. Around the same time, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case.
DeLay, who had to step down as majority leader in September after a grand jury in Texas indicted him in a campaign finance investigation, is awaiting a trial date. And former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., gave up his seat Dec. 1 after admitting he had accepted $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.
With so many trials and prosecutions in the works, speculation is swirling over whom Abramoff might bring down and on the possible fallout for others.
"Most seats in Congress are relatively safe this year. But they are not safe from a tsunami," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, author of a book on political scandals. "Iraq, plus economic problems, plus these scandals, could produce a tsunami. That's what every incumbent on Capitol Hill has to fear."
Most Americans are convinced that corruption reaching into all levels of government is a deeply rooted problem. According to an AP-Ipsos poll last month, 88 percent say the problem is a serious one, with 51 percent calling it "very serious."
People need to know "that government is not for sale," Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said in pledging to pursue the investigation "wherever it goes."
Get out the brooms and mops.