Friday, June 03, 2005
Missing the Point
The Washington Post misses the point
then the Strib
removes all context. The result is mush:
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate famously collected $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes and devoted a lot of their time trying to persuade Republicans in Congress to act on their clients' behalf.
Abramoff didn't work only with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. And the campaign contributions that he directed from the tribes went to congressional Democrats as well as Republicans.
Among the biggest beneficiaries were Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Harry Reid of Nevada, the top two Senate Democrats at the time; Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, then-leader of House Democrats, and the two members in charge of raising funds for their Democratic colleagues in both chambers, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., according to a Washington Post study. Reid succeeded Daschle as Democratic leader after Daschle lost his seat in November.
Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff's activities and from his former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Yet, many of them also benefited from Abramoff's political operation, a fact that could hinder their efforts to turn the lobbyist's troubles into a winning partisan issue.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see the Abramoff controversy impact both parties," said Tony Raymond, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com, which gathers lobbying and campaign-finance information.
...Most D.C. lobbying firms are bipartisan to give their clients access to key Congress members of both major parties, and Abramoff's group was no exception. Although he was recognized as a Republican lobbyist who was close to DeLay and other party leaders, Abramoff was careful to add at least two Democratic lobbyists to his group during his five years at Greenberg Traurig. By the end, seven of his lobbyists were Democrats. [Note: GT has 1,350 lawyers worldwide]
"Lobbying shops typically direct contributions to both parties because they want contacts on both sides of the aisle," said David Hart, a public policy professor at George Mason University. "Lawmakers in the minority can also have a lot of clout."
Because of the makeup of his team and the composition of Congress, the Abramoff lobbyists channeled most of their clients' giving to GOP legislators, according to a review of public records.
The thing about political donations is that they come in what economists call "dollars". "Dollars" are a unit of exchange for political influence, and can also be used to purchase sundries. The Strib entirely excises these units from its report, leaving the reader with absolutely no context.
Worse, the entire article misses the point.
The problem with Abramoff and the Indian Tribes isn't the legal donations the tribes made. The two major problems are these:
- Abramoff screwed his clients. He worked with anti-gaming forces to close casinos, then billed the tribes to work to reopen the casinos. Abramoff, personally, is an unethical scumbag. He is an unethical scumbag with close ties to George Bush and Tom DeLay:
- Abramoff made illegal contributions, almost exclusively to Republicans, and largely to Tom DeLay. For example, DeLay received, but did not report, a trip to see the Three Tenors and a trip to golf at St. Andrews with Abramoff two months before voting against a bill Abramoff's clients opposed.
Regrettably, our government is elected through a system of legalized bribery. Republicans would like nothing better than for Democrats to stop raising money. Reporters like nothing better than to say "they both do it". In this case whether "they both do it" is utterly beside the point. The tribes made legal contributions to members of Congress to advance an agenda. That's a failing of American politics, but not a scandal. The scandal is personal to Abramoff, the major Republican donor and DeLay crony. DeLay took illegal contributions from Abramoff. Daschle didn't. Reid didn't. That's the difference. That's the scandal.
For those who are interested, here are the direct contributions from the tribes:
- Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (2000-2002): $95,000 to Democrats, $230,000 to Republicans.
- Agua Caliente Band of Cahulilla Indians (1998-2002): $57,500 to Democrats, $165,500 to Republicans
- Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (1998-2002): $233,500 to Democrats, $145,000 to Republicans
- Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana (2000-2002): $30,000 to Democrats, $0 to Republicans
- Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (2002): $2,500 to Democrats, $16,000 to Republicans
- Tigua Indian Reservation (2002): $0 to Democrats, $91,000 to Republicans