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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Deep Doolittle - Abramoff Bought Doolittle Chief of Staff Trip to Puerto Rico

As Erica Werner reports for the Associated Press, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for a trip to Puerto Rico for California Congressman John Doolittle's chief of staff, David Lopez. The House of Representatives has a rule prohibiting lobbyist-paid travel by representatives or members of their staff.

Doolittle signed the travel form, which clearly listed Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's employer at the time, as the organization paying for the trip.

Doolittle was getting cash from Abramoff as far back as 2000, when Abramoff cut a personal $10,000 check to Doolittle's Superior California State Leadership PAC, and kept getting campaign cash from Abramoff clients and associates right up through 2005.

Doolittle returned the favor, writing at least three letters on behalf of Abramoff's Indian gaming clients. When the first letter, which opposed a tribe's request for a casino license, was uncovered, Doolittle insisted that he signed the letter because he was anti-gambling. Abramoff represented a different tribe, whose casino would be in direct competition with the tribe whose casino Doolittle opposed.

Then the AP's Werner found two more letters, one of which took the Bush Administration to task for interfering with a tribe's efforts to open a casino. Oops. Money for nothin', but the checks for free . . .

Doolittle is also neck deep in the Duke Cunningham scandal. Former congressman Cunningham resigned in November 2005 after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from four alleged co-conspirators, one of which was Brent Wilkes. Wilkes, his employees, and business associates contributed more than $100,000 to Doolittle's political committees at the same time Doolittle was steering $37 million in defense contracts towards Wilkes company PerfectWave Technologies.

To make matters worse, Doolittle's wife Julie has handled the fundraising for her husband for the last few years, meaning that 15% of every donation to Doolittle goes into the family bank account.

Doolittle's protestations appear flimsier by the day. And yet, he has a virtual lock on winning his district, in part because the district was drawn to protect him for electoral challenge, in part because of his prolific fundraising.

Those two came together last year, when Doolittle joined LA Congressman Howard Berman, a Democrat, in asking the Federal Elections Commission for the green light to raise unlimited cash to fight Prop 77, the redistricting reform initiative championed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The FEC, toothless watchdog and handmaiden to the national political parties that it is, gave the pols the go ahead. They went on to raise millions from billionaires around the country, helping to torpedo Prop 77.

You get the idea.

As Doolittle's many connections to his campaign contributors were revealed, Doolittle stayed silent, choosing to hide behind his spokesperson's robotic assertions that Doolittle had done nothing wrong. He broke his silence on Tom Sullivan's show, a fairly conservative talk radio show based in the Central Valley of California. The questions were pattycake, the protestations from Doolittle rang hollow.

They continue to do so.

The many examples of questionable behavior and unsatisfactory explanations have now piled up quite high around Mr. Doolittle. As deep in it as he is, the rest of us are far worse off, facing the juggernaut of campaign cash and gerrymandered districts that have all but taken American government out of the hands of average Americans.

Until Americans demand campaign laws from our representatives that permit the accountability that representative democracy requires, we will all be in deep Doolittle.

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