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.”