Some pols keep Abramoff’s dirty money

    In the two days since former lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted that
    campaign contributions were among his tools to win favors from elected
    officials, the number of politicians rushing to disgorge the money from
    their campaign treasuries has swelled to at least two dozen.

    Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., who reportedly could be caught up in the ongoing investigation, is not among them.

    Scandal's poster child: Jack Abramoff (AP Photo)

    Scandal’s poster child: Jack Abramoff (AP Photo)

    Doolittle believes that following the lead of President Bush, House
    Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt,
    R-Mo., would only make him look guilty of doing something wrong.

    “Congressman Doolittle refuses to give even the slightest appearance of
    something wrong by returning money that was accepted legally and
    ethically,” said the congressman’s spokeswoman, Laura Blackann.

    “Mr. Abramoff only contributed $4,000 to the congressman, so it
    wouldn’t cause much of a hardship to our campaign,” she said. “But this
    is a matter of principle to the congressman.

    “He has done
    absolutely nothing wrong and has no intention of returning any
    contribution from anyone that was made in an ethical and legal manner,
    regardless of how many of his colleagues do so out of political
    expediency or how much the media tries to irresponsibly distort the
    propriety of Mr. Doolittle’s actions,” she said.

    Doolittle is
    not alone in refusing, so far at least, to attempt to rid his campaign
    of any political stink from Abramoff money by shunting past
    contributions to charity.

    Some of those joining him are Democrats.

    For instance, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has received
    $47,000 from Abramoff associates and Indian tribes he represented and
    does not plan to give it away.

    Sen. Patty Murray’s office said
    the Washington state Democrat, who accepted $55,000 from the lobbyist,
    also doesn’t plan to return any of the money because it did not come
    from Abramoff directly.

    Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the
    Brookings Institution, said he doesn’t think there’s any clear-cut
    answer to the question of whether politicians tainted by Abramoff money
    should get rid of it.

    “Returning the funds or contributing them
    to charity will do nothing whatsoever for those politicians being
    investigated by the Justice Department for bribery,” Mann said.

    It’s not just a question of whether to shed Abramoff contributions, but of what constitutes an Abramoff contribution.

    Abramoff contributed to politicians directly, but not that much.

    Mostly he steered contributions to politicians from his clients,
    gaming-rich Indian tribes. In addition, there were contributions from
    Abramoff’s ring of lobbying associates.

    Hastert, for example,
    plans to shed as much as $60,000. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay,
    R-Texas, plans to send $57,000 to a charity. Those sums represent money
    from any Abramoff-connected source.

    Others, however, are planning to jettison only money that Abramoff or his wife gave directly to them.

    Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, for example, received tens of thousands of
    dollars from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff but has elected to
    donate to charity only $7,000 given directly to him by the fallen

    Doolittle received $4,000 directly from Abramoff, in
    four $1,000 contributions in 1999, 2000 and 2001. But he has received
    at least $130,000 in additional contributions since 1999 from Indian
    tribes associated with Abramoff, other Abramoff clients and associates.

    Some of those contributions flowed from Abramoff clients and associates
    to Doolittle’s political action committee, the Superior California
    Federal Leadership Fund, and a portion of that money has ended up in
    Doolittle’s family budget. Since 2002 the political action committee
    has paid a commission amounting to about 15 percent of total receipts
    to a company owned by the congressman’s wife, Julie Doolittle, and run
    out of the couple’s suburban Virginia home.

    The Abramoff money is likely to be an issue in Doolittle’s 2006 re-election.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Doolittle in November to give up his Abramoff contributions.

    “But what’s really important here is not the dollars and cents,” said
    DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg. “It’s the cost of this corruption,
    that this Republican Congress is so focused on the special interests
    that it has lost sight of the real issues important to people in
    Doolittle’s district.”