Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jack Who? Politicians Give Up Campaign Cash as Abramoff Pleads Guilty . . . Again

As Jonathan Weisman reports in the Washington Post, Jack Abramoff appeared in federal court in Florida yesterday to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy. Abramoff pleaded guilty in D.C. federal court the day before to charges of fraud, bribery, and tax evasion.

With Abramoff's guilty pleas, politicians who accepted campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients have begun a polluted cash dump to rival Love Canal. Yesterday, President Bush, House Speaker Hastert, former majority leader DeLay, and current majority leader Roy Blunt all disgorged contributions they received from Abramoff and his clients.

No word on whether the EPA has any plans to send in the clean-up squads.

The fallout from the Abramoff scandal has gone so far as to spur Congress into action. Lobbying reform is the cry of the day, with three separate drafts underway in the Senate alone (Senators McCain, Frist, and Feingold), and more in the House. As much of the quid Abramoff spread around the nation's capitol took the form of campaign contributions, some of the reform efforts may seek to limit lobbyist political contributions. In its recent campaign finance legislation, the state of Connecticut took similar action.

However, a better answer to this aspect of the Abramoff scandal is to ensure that any interest, whether lobbyist or their much deeper-pocketed employers, can't make contributions in amounts that give them more say in elections or the decisions of our government than the rest of us. But, an amendment to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 doubled the amount people can give to political candidates to $2,000, a level affordable by relatively few Americans.

The members of Congress most often mentioned in connection with the Abramoff scandal - Reps. Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, John Doolittle, and Richard Pombo (not to mention recently resigned in criminal disgrace Duke Cunningham) - all voted in favor of the amendment to increase contribution limits, but voted against the BCRA itself because of it limited "soft money" (unlimited donations) to political parties.

No surprise that the folks implicated in a money-for-power scandal are the same ones who fought tooth-and-nail against reforms limiting the influence of money in politics.

For those who think that Republicans are the only ones guilty of selling out the rest of us to satisfy their wealthy paymasters, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign agreed today to pay a $35,000 fine for underreporting its take from a 2000 fundraiser. Not to mention James Traficant, Robert Torricelli, Albert Bustamante, Carroll Hubbard, Carl Perkins, Dan Rostenkowski, etc. (Check out this report on congressional pensions by the National Taxpayers Union for a list of congressional crooks from the 90's for a more complete list.)

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