[Mb-civic] Purging Capitol Hill's oldest profession - Scot Lehigh -
Boston Globe Op-Ed
swiggard at comcast.net
Fri Jan 6 04:07:27 PST 2006
Purging Capitol Hill's oldest profession
By Scot Lehigh | January 6, 2006 | The Boston Globe
ROGUE LOBBYIST Jack Abramoff's plea bargain with federal prosecutors has
sent shivers through Washington akin to those that rippled through
Tinseltown when Hollywood madame Heidi Fleiss was arrested back in 1993.
There is a key difference, of course: This time, it's the man with the
money who has been busted, and not those who may have offered up, um,
personal services for cash or favors.
So far, only one congressman, House Administration Committee Chairman
Robert Ney, Republican of Ohio, has been specifically mentioned in court
papers as part of an alleged quid pro quo arrangement. Yet with Abramoff
now cooperating, the indictments of some congressmen and staffers seem
likely; according to some estimates, a half-dozen lawmakers may face
Certainly the whole scandal has Congress feeling sudden charitable impulses.
Having recently helped slice $40 billion in programs for the poor, House
Speaker Dennis Hastert said on Tuesday that he will donate to charity
the $69,000 in contributions funneled his way by Abramoff's firm and the
Indian tribes he counted as clients. On Wednesday, Tom DeLay, the former
House majority leader, and Roy Blunt, the man who now holds that post,
made similar announcements.
Senator Conrad Burns, the Montana Republican who chairs the Senate
Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Indian Affairs -- and whose
staffers got lavish favors and, in some cases, jobs, from Abramoff --
last month decided to return or give to charity some $150,000 he
received from Abramoff or his clients.
Those are some of the several dozen lawmakers trying to escape the taint
of the man who once showered congressmen with contributions, tickets,
drinks, and travel and golf opportunities.
Indeed, things have gotten so bad that former speaker Newt Gingrich, a
Republican once rebuked by the House for his own ethically challenged
behavior, is breaking ranks and sounding alarms.
''It's very important to understand that this is not one person doing
one bad thing," Gingrich said in a Wednesday speech. ''You can't have a
corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member or a corrupt staff. .
. . This is a team effort."
This latest scandal, of course, is not to be confused with that which
resulted in the perjury indictment of I. Lewis Libby, former chief of
staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Or the criminal-conspiracy indictment that forced DeLay to step aside as
House majority leader.
Or with the bribery conviction that should shortly complete former
Republican representative Randy Cunningham's transition from the House
of Representatives to the Big House.
Or, on a lesser scale, with the SEC investigation into Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist's curiously timed stock sale.
Now, there are still plenty of honorable Republicans in Washington. But
make no mistake, though some Democrats have also been the recipients of
Abramoff's largesse -- for appearance's sake, Senate minority leader
Harry Reid would do well to return Abramoff-related contributions --
this is mostly a Republican scandal, one that threatens the party's
Having the presidency and both houses of Congress under one-party
control has led to a politically rancid reality, one where policy is
drafted by K Street lobbyists and government often resembles a
special-interest feeding frenzy.
Abramoff is part of a web of Republican influence, fund-raising, and
favors that includes figures such as DeLay; former DeLay press aide
Michael Scanlon, who later became Abramoff's closest business associate
and who has also pled out on federal charges; and David Safavian, the
Bush administration's former top procurement official, indicted last
year on charges of lying to federal investigators about his dealings
with Abramoff. The lobbyist also has long, close ties to conservative
pillars such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform,
and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, among
other Republican movers and shakers.
Back during their long years in the minority, Republicans pledged lean,
honest, efficient, responsive government when and if they ascended to
power in Congress.
Instead, they've offered up a Roman orgy of arrogance, excess, and
''The Republicans came to Congress saying they would change Washington,"
says US Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Lowell. ''It is
obvious Washington changed them."
Meehan, sponsor of legislation that would require lobbyists to disclose
meetings with congressmen or congressional staff members, end
lobbyist-financed junkets, and slow the revolving door between Capitol
Hill and K Street, thinks that prospects for reform are now good.
If so, it will be only because the fear of electoral repercussions has
finally shamed the Republican-controlled Congress into cleaning up its
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