Payback Time: Use House GOP Graft And Corruption Against Them In Next Year's Midterms
Hereís a story that got overlooked in the Christmas holiday week and Tsunami horror, and itís a story that would make Grover Norquist proud. With the GOP firmly in control of Congress and K Street lobbying houses, it now appears that ten years after claiming they wanted to reform House business practices, the GOP is just as corrupt as they claim the Democrats were. Some of the most pious GOP members of Congress are using sporting event skyboxes arranged by a shady GOP lobbyist with direct ties to Tom DeLay for their own fundraising.
The problem with this? The skyboxes are being paid for by Indian tribes who may not know that their lobbying money is not being used on their behalf, but in fact is being used to further GOP interests. The bigger problem? Both the Post and now the Times are on to the story.
For most politicians, fundraising is a dreaded chore. But until recently, Rep. John T. Doolittle of California and other members of the House Republican leadership had adopted a painless solution: fundraising events in luxury sports boxes leased largely with the money of Indian gaming tribes, where supporters snacked on catered fare in plush surroundings as they watched the Wizards, Caps, Redskins or Orioles.
Doolittle, a Mormon, is an ardent opponent of casino gambling, so it is somewhat ironic that he would invite supporters to watch the Wizards play the Sacramento Kings from an MCI Center suite paid for by casino-rich Indian tribes. But the plaque at the door to Suite 204 did not say Chitimacha or Choctaw. It said "Jack Abramoff," a name synonymous with largesse and influence in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Until the power lobbyist's downfall this year, Abramoff spent about $1 million annually in funds largely provided by his tribal clients to lease four skyboxes -- two at FedEx Field and one each at MCI Center and Camden Yards. Season after season, he kept them brimming with lawmakers, staffers and their guests, part of a multimillion-dollar congressional care and feeding project that even the brashest K Street lobbyists could only watch with awe or envy.
Lobbyists entertain lawmakers and their staffs routinely -- so much so that congressional rules limit the extent of it to avoid the appearance of impropriety. But Abramoff and the lobbyists who worked for him took spending for this form of hospitality to unprecedented heights. They used tribal money, records and interviews show, to pay for events that appeared to be designed more to help House Republicans' campaigns and Abramoff's overall lobbying effort than the Indians' legislative causes. Some members of Congress involved actively opposed Indian gambling.
A list of skybox fundraising events maintained by Abramoff at his former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, lists 72 events for members of Congress between 1999 and 2003. All but eight were put on for Republicans, many of them members of the House leadership. Some of the fundraising events, including Doolittle's, were not reported as required under federal election laws.
A few blocks from MCI Center, Abramoff also wined and dined politicians and their aides at Signatures, his expensive Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, billing tribal clients for hundreds of thousands of dollars in meals there, sources familiar with the billings said. The Agua Caliente tribe of California, for example, paid Greenberg Traurig as much as $20,000 a month in lobbyists' expenses, much of it for meals at Signatures, a person who has examined the bills said. In some months the tribe was billed for more than 20 luncheon and dinner events.
So we have campaign finance violations, and the misuse of Indian lobbying funds for GOP activities, on a scale that runs into the millions of dollars, in a scheme that would make Grover Norquist happy. Remember the days when the GOP got mad at Danny Rostenkowski for skimming from the Congressional Post Office? This makes Rosty look like an amateur. Even though the Justice Department is investigating this case, you can be sure that either John Ashcroft or an Alberto Gonzales will do nothing with this case. And although it is heartwarming to see that a slug like Doolittle is under the spotlight here for his ties to Abramoff, nothing will come of this either as long as the House is trying to amend its rules and install DeLay cronies to govern ethics so that criminals like DeLay can stay in GOP leadership posts. We are a long way from the Gingrich hype about cleaning up the House.
Democrats should use GOP graft and corruption as a campaign issue in next yearís midterm election, and especially use this example in their campaigns where Indian tribes are prevalent. Remember the TV ads a decade ago that the GOP did of Democratic officeholders stepping out of limousines as part of a cozy relationship with lobbyists?
Well, itís payback time.