By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
January 07, 2006
Now, the stench of corruption may become too pungent even for the most potent fundraising machine ever invented. The indictment of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff has shaken this party from the top down. Last week, the scandal literally had Republicans, led by President Bush, turning money Abramoff gave them over to charity, as if casting away their sins.
A couple of Democrats also got Abramoff's campaign contributions. But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said this was a Republican scandal and he would resist dragging Democrats into it by giving back money he got. Ah, the friendly bonds of principle.
At the root of this mess is a culture of corruption built on professional campaign financing, lobbying, pork barrel spending and influence-peddling that has been practiced over the years by both parties. But it has reached a hot boil under the Republican-controlled House of the new century.
Abramoff and former House Republican leader Tom DeLay built one of the most formidable lobbying and fundraising machines in congressional history, and it is being pulled apart by federal prosecutors one well-lubricated cog at a time.
The dry language of the Abramoff indictment makes it sound like this scandal is about a few expense meals and golf outings. But the fine print gives a glimpse at how corrupt this enterprise had been allowed to become.
U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia and Florida now have Abramoff's signed promise to cooperate with them. Prosecutors are promising to name names in what is said to be Washington's biggest and deepest bribery scandal in a generation and perhaps one of its broadest ever.
This isn't just about free lunches and cocktails, or even lavish all-expense-paid golf trips for congressmen to Scotland's best courses. This is about the systematic skimming of Indian casinos and other high-rolling clients who depend on Congress for favors - or think they do.
How much we learn about how this money reached the pockets of powerful patrons on Capitol Hill will depend on what Abramoff and others are willing to tell in exchange for reduced jail time. Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
What isn't clear is how many officials are involved.
Only one congressman was mentioned in the indictment - and not by name. Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, is widely identified as the mysterious Representative #1.
DeLay, who already is facing trial in Texas for violating campaign finance laws against illegal corporate donations, is so mixed up with Abramoff that he almost certainly will be forced to give up his fight to regain his majority leader post. And Ney, head of the House Administration committee, may be looking at the end of his career or worse.
The Republicans are so afraid of this impending storm that they are acting like they never heard of Abramoff. As Bush gave $6,000 to the American Heart Association that Abramoff donated to his 2004 campaign, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president did not recall ever meeting Abramoff, who had been to the White House three times and had reached coveted "Pioneer" status among top re-election fundraisers for Bush.
The charging document against Abramoff mentioned huge kickbacks out of supposed "grassroots" and public relations contributions that were made by various clients - $6.3 million in kickbacks to Abramoff concealed from a tribe in Mississippi, $11.45 million in kickbacks concealed from a Louisiana tribe and $1.85 million in secret kickbacks from a Texas tribe.
In Texas, he had worked first to close the tribal casino, then arranged to get it reopened for a $4.2 million payment to his front company.
In Miami, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conjuring up a false $23 million wire transfer that looked as if he and a partner had contributed huge amounts of cash into the $147.5 million purchase of the SunCruz Casinos. They admitted using the fake wire transfer to secure $60 million in loans to buy SunCruz from a Miami businessman who was later murdered.
This was very rough company DeLay and his friends were keeping in the People's House.
Now the country waits to find out what Abramoff did with the money.