By JOHN SOLOMON and SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writers
(spell checking for headline possibly outsourced [my comment])
WASHINGTON - Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.
Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found.
Lawmakers said their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff, and the timing of donations was a coincidence. They said they wrote letters because they opposed the expansion of tribal gaming — even though they continued to accept donations from casino-operating tribes.
Many lived far from Louisiana and had no constituent interest in the casino dispute.
Congressional ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in performing their official duties and accepting political money.
That requirement was made famous a decade ago during the Keating Five scandal when five lawmakers were criticized for intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Charles Keating while receiving money from the failed savings and loan operator.
The Abramoff donations dwarf those made by Keating. At least 33 lawmakers wrote letters to Norton and got more than $830,000 in Abramoff-related donations as the lobbying unfolded between 2001 and 2004, AP found.
"This is one of the largest examples we've had to date where congressional action was predicated on money being given for the action," said Kent Cooper, who reviewed lawmakers' campaign reports for two decades as the Federal Election Commission' name=c1>SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3>Federal Election Commission's chief of public disclosure.
Cooper, who now runs the Political Money Line Web site that tracks fundraising, said "the speed in which this money was turned around" after the letters makes the Abramoff matter more serious than previous controversies that tarnished Congress.
Lawmakers contacted by AP said their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff's fundraising, and instead reflected their long-held concerns about tribal gaming expansion.
"There is absolutely no connection between the letter and the fundraising," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "The only connection was Senator Reid has consistently opposed any effort to undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act."
Hastert ultimately collected more than $100,000 in donations from Abramoff's firm and tribal clients between 2001 and 2004. His office said he never discussed the matter with Abramoff, but long opposed expanding Indian gambling off reservations and was asked to send the letter by Rep. Jim McCrery (news, bio, voting record), R-La.
McCrery sent his own letter as well, and collected more than $36,000 in Abramoff-connected donations.
"We've always opposed these things, in our backyard, in our state, someplace else," said Michael Stokke, Hastert's deputy chief of staff.
Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said lawmakers' denials of a connection rang hollow.
"Special interests do get more and they do get what they pay for despite the constant denial that lawmakers can't be bought," said Sloan, who now runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that monitors public officials' conduct.
Abramoff's spokesman, Andrew Blum, declined comment. The lobbyist has been indicted on fraud charges by a federal grand jury in Florida stemming from his role in the 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff's fundraising influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration, and whether anyone tried to conceal their dealings with Abramoff. For instance:
This issue reaches deep into the political muck to unmask the ethical hypocrisy that stains every member of Congress. Is it any wonder that corporate lobbyists write most of the legislation that ultimately reaches the floor of the Senate and House? Congressional action in the interest of the common good of the people simply does not take place any longer.
Read the entire article above by clicking the link, and take notice of the entire list of names implicated in this scandal.