Thursday, June 23, 2005

Abramoff the Outrageous

I've mentioned the antics of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff several times before in the context of his relationship with the ethically-challenged House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay. But nothing I'd heard before about Abramoff's sleaziness compares with some of the statements revealed in yesterday's three-hour Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

The depravity of this man and some of his associates is little short of astounding. Abramoff, along with partner Michael Scanlon, bilked several Indian tribes (by whom he was hired to lobby for their interests) out of several millions of dollars. Some of that money (c. $4 million) was sent to Ralph Reed (former head of the Christian Coalition, now running for Lt. Gov. of Georgia) to set up "bogus Christian anti-gambling groups," according to a write-up in today's Washington Post. Some went to purchase "military equipment, including night-vision goggles and a jeep," for a high-school friend of Abramoff's to establish a 'sniper school' in the West Bank.

One million dollars of tribal money went to the National Center for Public Policy Research ... yes, that's right, the same group that funded a 2001 DeLay trip to England. The director of the Center told the Committee yesterday "she had agreed that her group would sponsor a trip to England so Mr. DeLay could meet members of Parliament, but she testified that she learned only later that a lavish golf outing in Scotland had been included. Ms. Ridenour said she had been misled by Mr. Abramoff, whom she considered a friend for nearly 20 years, as he funneled money through her organization," Anne Kornblut writes in today's New York Times.

And that's not even the worst of it. Much of the money went directly into the pockets of Abramoff and Scanlon, who repeatedly "padded" their hours and charged their clients exorbitant amounts of money for lobbying work they'd never done. In 2001 alone, the Times reports, Choctaws paid $7.7 million to Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon for lobbying work. But the pair spent just $1.2 million on the designated projects, keeping the remaining $6.5 million for 'gimme five' - themselves."

Thankfully, there's an upshot to this disgusting and indefensible behavior. Abramoff and Scanlon planned and carried out their maneuevers via e-mail, leaving a detailed written record of exactly what they were doing. In emails to Scanlon prior to his meetings with clients, Abramoff writes "Don't forget the gimme five aspects," and "So there is more gimme five coming on all these as well, right?" Told by his assistant he had nowhere near enough billable hours for what he intended to charge his clients, Abramoff replied "Add sixty hours for me." What unhinged greediness.

Senator McCain said yesterday "Today's hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed. It is simply and sadly a tale of betrayal." His colleague Senator Dorgan called the Abramoff corruption "breathtaking ... even by Washington standards."

It is breathtaking, and it's something none of us ought to put up with. McCain's committee plans more hearings into the matter, and a federal grand jury is investigating as well.

Alan at The Yellow Line posted some great commentary on this situation as well, ending by noting "Whatever the outcome, Jack Abramoff is living proof that power, greed and a casual relationship with morality can lead a man to commit truly reprehensible acts."


At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appalled as I am, my next thought is to find a financial remedy that might serve as a loud message to the next politcal flim flam artist.

Can Abramhoff et. al. be prosecuted under RICO, believe used implemented for conspiracy of mobsters?

Love to seem them have to pay back a bunch of the money to tribes or some worthy cause.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Anon: Not sure about RICO, but I know there are a number of ongoing federal investigations related to Abramoff's whole web of schemes. Stay tuned!


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