Jack Abramoff was on the fast track to become the Democrat’s poster boy for Republican influence peddling. Well, guess what.
But Abramoff didn’t work just with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. Moreover, the campaign contributions that Abramoff directed from the tribes went to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.
Among the biggest beneficiaries were Capitol Hill’s most powerful Democrats, including Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.), the top two Senate Democrats at the time, Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), then-leader of the House Democrats, and the two lawmakers in charge of raising funds for their Democratic colleagues in both chambers, according to a Washington Post study. Reid succeeded Daschle as Democratic leader after Daschle lost his Senate seat last November.
Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff’s activities and from the embattled lobbyist’s former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Yet, many Democratic lawmakers also benefited from Abramoff’s political operation, a fact that could hinder the Democrats’ 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.
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. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee that frequently deals with Indian matters, received the largest amount from the tribes as well as from the Greenberg Traurig lobbyists who helped direct those donations: $141,590 from 1999 to 2004, the study showed.
But Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) ran second, with $128,000 in the same period. From 1999 to 2001, Kennedy chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which solicited campaign donations for House candidates.
Democratic lawmakers sought to distance themselves from Abramoff.
A spokesman for Kennedy said the congressman’s donations from the tribes “have nothing to do with Abramoff.” Kennedy traces the money’s genesis to his family’s long-standing commitment to Indian causes, to the fact that he co-founded the Congressional Native American Caucus in 1997, and to his personal relationship with Mississippi Choctaw Chief Philip Martin, whom Kennedy met in 1999 on a fundraising trip for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “They just became close friends,” said Kennedy spokesman Sean Richardson.
The reality of lobbying is that they spend money on both sides. It’s called hedging your bet. Pun intended.