by Bill Berkowitz
(IPS) -- On Jan. 7, Tom DeLay became the biggest political casualty thus far of L'Affaire Abramoff, as he was forced to resign his post as House majority leader amid mounting evidence of widespread corruption and influence-peddling on Capitol Hill.
While not specifically named in that ongoing investigation, DeLay is facing his own legal troubles. In September, he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for allegedly violating campaign finance laws to help the Republican Party win control of that state's legislature in the 2002 elections.
DeLay will retain his House seat and declared his intention to run again in the fall elections. But the timing of his resignation as majority leader coincided with the guilty plea last week of a close associate -- high-powered Republican Party lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who over the years has forged relationships with dozens of powerful politicians, most Republicans, but a smattering of Democrats as well.
If convicted on felony charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion, Abramoff could face up to 30 years in prison. However, since he has agreed to cooperate with an ongoing Justice Department investigation, which could ultimately corral dozens of lawmakers, the government will reportedly recommend a 10-year sentence -- depending on the usefulness of his information.
To say that Abramoff had a full plate would be a bit of an understatement. The Abramoff story has touched dozens of top-shelf politicians, and involved a number of Indian tribes, a gaggle of political consulting firms and consultants -- including Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition and who is now running for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- as well as what now appears to be a number of phony charities.
According to several reports in the Washington Post, Abramoff established an organization called the Capital Athletic Foundation (CAF). During a four-year period, it took in six million dollars which was to be earmarked for "needy and deserving" sportsmanship programs.
In reality, CAF used "less than one percent of its revenue on sports-related programs for youths." Several of Abramoff's tribal clients -- the Choctaws, Coushattas, and Saginaws -- "contributed a total of $2.02 million to the foundation."
The Washington Post reported that in 2002, CAF "reported it had given away more than $330,000 in grants to four organizations," but these organizations "said they never received the money."
It appears that Abramoff used the organization for his own pet projects, which included a $4.03 million Jewish school, and $248,742 for a house in Silver Spring, Maryland. Abramoff also used the money to fund sniper training in Israel.
Abramoff apparently tried to cover all of his bases. Late last month, BusinessWeek Online revealed that the lobbyist had paid Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the fiercely libertarian Cato Institute and a columnist with Copley News Service (now resigned from both), and Peter Ferrara, of the Lewisville, Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation, to produce op-ed pieces in support of issues of interest to Abramoff and his clients.
While many of these columns were related to Indian gambling, they also celebrated the free-market system, especially as it involved Abramoff's interests in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Some are calling the Abramoff Affair the biggest political scandal in the nation's history. Democrats have tried to link Abramoff's cushy relationship with the George W. Bush administration with a "culture of corruption" that Democrats see pervading the White House.
For his part, during a Dec. 14 interview with the Fox News Channel, Pres. Bush tried to deflect the criticism of Republicans by claiming that Abramoff was "an equal money dispenser."
According to numerous press reports, however, Abramoff raised at least 100,000 dollars for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, earning the honourary title "pioneer" from the campaign.
And while some in the media have accurately pointed out that politicians on both sides of the aisle were involved with Abramoff, federal records show that between 2001 and 2004 Abramoff gave over 127,000 dollars to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats.
"At the same time," Bloomberg.com reported, Abramoff's "Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats."
According to Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, "Abramoff's big connections were with the Republicans."
"It is somewhat unusual in that most lobbyists try to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but we're already seeing that Jack Abramoff doesn't seem to be a usual lobbyist," Noble said.
In the pre- and now the post-plea period, some politicians who had received money from Abramoff and his clients have settled on two tacks -- they have denied any wrongdoing, and they have rushed to either return the tainted money, or pawn it off on some charitable organization. On Jan. 4, Pres. Bush, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his potential successor Roy Blunt joined the latter group.
Given, as longtime Republican political consultant Rich Galen has acknowledged, that there is "the smell of blood in the water," what's next?
It will likely take a fair amount of time to ferret out all of the seamy details that encompass this monumental scandal. Who, if anyone, in the Bush administration will be implicated is anybody's guess. In a few weeks, despite buzz from the Abramoff Affair in the background, an already wounded president must stand before Congress and deliver his State of the Union Address.
It is clear that the Bush administration and its surrogates will continue to try and spin the Abramoff Affair as a scandal that has touched both political parties. And the administration will likely refuse to comment on any of the details while the matter is still under investigation, as it did with the scandal surrounding the "outing" of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.
January 10, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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