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November 17, 2005
Haven't Heard About Abramoff In A While?

If the name Jack Abramoff hasn't come up in quite a while, it shouldn't surprise anyone. After having had a turn as the favorite Democratic bogeyman on Republican corruption, the issue inexplicably slid off the radar as the Democrats instead talked more generically about the "culture of corruption." Now we know why -- it turns out that Abramoff took much more of an equal-opportunity approach to spreading the wealth on Capitol Hill than Democrats initially let on:

Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found.

Want to hear some familiar names? These lawmakers may have some 'splainin' to do:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, held a fundraiser at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant in Washington on June 3, 2003, that collected at least $21,500 for his Keep Our Majority political action committee from the lobbyist's firm and tribal clients.

Seven days later, Hastert wrote Norton urging her to reject the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians' request for a new casino. ...

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002 ... The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004. ...

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the former Senate GOP leader, wrote Norton on March 1, 2002, to "seriously urge" she reject the Jena casino. Lott received $10,000 in donations from Abramoff tribes just before the letter and $55,000 soon after. Lott's office said he sent the letter because his state's Choctaw tribe and a casino company were concerned about losing business.

Then-Sen. John Breaux (news, bio, voting record), D-La., wrote Norton on March 1, 2002. Five days later the Coushattas sent $1,000 to his campaign and $10,000 to his library fund, tribal records show.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., wrote Norton on June 14, 2001, one of the first such letters. Cochran's political committee got $6,000 from Abramoff tribes in the weeks before the letter, and another $71,000 in the three years after.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who was engaged in a tight re-election race in 2002, sent her letter March 6, 2002. That same day, the Coushattas sent $2,000 to her campaign and she received $5,000 more by the end of that month. By year's end, the total had grown to at least $24,000.

The money involved totals to over $800,000, far more than the cash output involved in the Keating 5 savings-and-loan scandal in the 80s. Unlike the Keating scandal, where John McCain was the only Republican involved in the cash-for-influence scandal, Abramoff made sure that he worked both parties in depth to maximize his ability to influence the bureaucracy at Interior.

The next time a Democrat talks about the culture of corruption, ask him or her when Harry Reid will step down from his leadership role in the Senate. The culture unfortunately pervades DC politics without regard to the R or D after the name; it relies on human nature and greed, one of our least partisan and most unfortunate impulses. Talking about it as a partisan issue may well be the rankest and most foolish demagoguery found in our political debate.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 17, 2005 6:11 AM

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