Thursday, November 17, 2005

Abramoff's Corruption Circus Crosses Party Lines

The Associated Press has broken new ground in the saga of the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, Indian Casino Licensing Division. An Indian casino license request by a tribe in Louisiana is at the center of the latest revelations, and so, too, is the fact that Abramoff's influence (i.e., "money") reached across party lines to influence action on the license.

In an article appearing in papers across the country today, the AP reports that 33 senators and congressmen who wrote letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton in opposition to the Jena Choctaw's license request received contributions from Abramoff's clients or were the direct beneficiaries of Abramoff fund-raising operations. The total money distributed, according to the AP, was $830,000 between 2001-2004.

Abramoff's favorite ATM, the Coushatta Indian tribe of Louisiana, was the primary donor, the AP reports.

The list of 27 lawmakers who were recipients of Abramoff's operation extends into the leadership of both parties. The AP reports congressional leaders did quite well by doing Abramoff's bidding: House Speaker Dennis Hastert ($100,000), Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid ($66,000), former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ($57,000).

Louisiana lawmakers of both parties got in on the dealing, too. Representative Jim McCreary got $36,000 in Abramoff-related contributions; Senator Mary Landrieu got $24,000; former Senator John Breaux got $1,000 in campaign contributions and $10,000 "for his library fund."

Senator David Vitter, the AP reports, took money from Abramoff and used Abramoff's restaurant for a fund-raiser for his Senate campaign. He later returned the contributions and the money from the fund-raiser. Apparently that does not get him out of hot water:
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff's fundraising influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration, and whether anyone tried to conceal their dealings with Abramoff.
The AP includes Senator Vitter as one of those whose activities are being scrutinized.

Does all this money in response to cooperation with a lobbyist constitute corruption? The politicians say no. One watch dog group thinks it does:
Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said lawmakers' denials of a connection rang hollow.

"Special interests do get more and they do get what they pay for despite the constant denial that lawmakers can't be bought," said Sloan, who now runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that monitors public officials' conduct.
It's clear that the high cost of running campaigns and the huge growth in size and influence of the lobbying industry in Washington in recent years have opened new avenues for corruption. The result is that expensive campaigns have created an addiction to campaign money that leads politicians to replace the interests of their constituents with the interests of their contributors.

If you want to know in whose interest government works, in the words of Watergate's Deep Throat, follow the money.

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