Different Republican, same corruption

The man who wants to replace scandal-scarred Tom DeLay as majority leader in the House of Representatives shares the same connections to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Blunt, R-Mo., wrote at
least three letters helpful to Abramoff clients while collecting money
from them. He swapped donations between his and DeLay’s political
groups, ultimately enriching the Missouri political campaign of his son

And Blunt’s wife and another son, Andrew, lobby for many of the same companies that donate to the lawmaker’s political efforts.

House Republicans worried about a budding corruption scandal tied to
Abramoff’s favors to lawmakers, DeLay, R-Texas, announced Saturday he
would not try to regain his majority leader’s post in upcoming party

DeLay was forced to step down last year under party
rules, after he was charged with Texas felonies in a state money
laundering investigation. Blunt has temporarily filled the position and
now is competing to be DeLay’s permanent replacement.

Blunt’s own
connections to Abramoff or his clients could complicate GOP plans to
distance its leadership from the corruption investigation before the
fall elections for control of Congress.

Abramoff pleaded guilty
last week to felony charges and is cooperating with investigators whose
bribery probe is now focusing on several members of Congress and their
aides. As the Abramoff investigation has developed, many lawmakers have
said they will donate to charity campaign contributions related to the
disgraced lobbyist.

The board of Blunt’s Rely On Your Beliefs
Fund has voted to contribute to charity an amount equivalent to
Abramoff’s personal contributions, $8,500, according to Blunt
spokeswoman Burson Taylor.

Blunt and DeLay and their aides
frequently met with Abramoff’s lobbying team and even jointly signed a
letter supportive of an Indian tribe client at the heart of the
Abramoff criminal investigation, according to records published by The
Associated Press over the past year.

Blunt’s office says all of his dealings were proper.

“Mr. Blunt has never been accused of engaging in any legislative activities on Jack Abramoff’s behalf,” Taylor said.

main competitor for the House majority leader’s post is Rep. John
Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House committee that oversees
education and labor.

Boehner in 1996 admitted he distributed a
tobacco political action committee’s campaign checks on the House
floor, but said at the time he would never do it again. He served in
the House leadership in the 1990s, but lost his post after the party
suffered losses in the 1998 elections.

Thomas Mann, who studies
congressional issues for the Brookings Institution think tank, said
Republican leaders’ hardball tactics in getting legislation passed and
their alliances with special interests during a decade of congressional
rule are now being scrutinized by voters.

“It’s been smash-mouth
politics,” Mann said in an interview. “They’ve been tough and effective
in enacting their polices and they’re paying a price right now for it.”

Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and author, said
Blunt’s name doesn’t have the same nationwide recognition as other GOP
leaders, and one way he could shed any ethical questions would be to
support lobbying reforms.

Blunt, in a written statement, pledged to do just that.

said that if elected leader, he would “move swiftly to enact new
lobbying reforms and enhanced penalties for those who break the public

Texas prosecutors recently subpoenaed records of a series
of financial transactions in 2000 between DeLay and Blunt that were
highlighted in a recent AP story.

DeLay raised more money than he
needed to throw parties at the 2000 Republican National Convention and
sent some of the excess to Blunt through a series of donations that
benefited the causes of both men.

After transfers between
political organizations, some of the money went to the campaign of
Blunt’s son, Matt, in his successful 2000 campaign for secretary of
state. Now the Republican governor of Missouri, Matt Blunt eventually
received more than $160,000 in 2000.

Taylor, the Blunt
spokeswoman, denied that DeLay raised excess money for the purpose of
transferring it to Blunt. Rather, she said, the convention fundraising
was a joint effort between DeLay and Blunt all along.

She said
Blunt’s Rely On Your Beliefs Fund contributes annually to the Missouri
Republican Party, but doesn’t specify how the money should be spent.

stands to reason that the party committee would contribute to a
Republican candidate for statewide office, in this case, Matt Blunt,”
Taylor said.

Both DeLay and Blunt forged strong connections with
corporate lobbyists, raising questions of whether the lobbyists
influenced legislation in return for their contributions. DeLay was
admonished in 2004 by the House ethics committee for creating the
appearance of connecting energy industry donations with legislation.

wife, Abigail Perlman, is a lobbyist for Kraft Foods, part of Altria,
the company that also includes Philip Morris. The parent firm and its
companies have contributed nearly $224,000 to Blunt’s political
organizations since 2001, according to figures compiled by a campaign
finance tracking firm, Political MoneyLine.

Blunt’s supporters
also included companies that have been clients of another of Blunt’s
sons, Andrew. He lobbies the Missouri legislature.

“He and Mr. Blunt have no contact on legislative issues,” Taylor said of the father-son relationship.

added, “Mrs. Blunt does not lobby the House of Representatives, and Mr.
Blunt would recuse himself from voting or working on any issue that
would impact Altria specifically.”

Shortly after Blunt became the
party whip in 2002, he tried to quietly insert a provision benefiting
Philip Morris USA into the bill creating the Homeland Security

Taylor said the provision would have cracked down on
the illegal sale of contraband cigarettes, a documented source of
funding for terrorist organizations. Bipartisan legislation to achieve
the same result has passed as part of the USA Patriot Act, she said.

his ties to Abramoff, Blunt was among nearly three dozen members of
Congress, including leaders from both parties, who pressed the
government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino. The
lawmakers received donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist,
Abramoff, around the same time.

Blunt received a $1,000 donation
from Abramoff and $2,000 from his lobbying firm around the time of a
May 2003 letter he wrote to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on the
casino matter. A month later he signed another letter on the issue
along with DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

responded that Blunt “has a long history of opposition to Indian
gaming. His district, which includes Branson, Missouri, is
fundamentally opposed to the expansion of gaming, and he reflects that
broad opinion.”

She said Blunt signed the letters to Norton at the request of Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., not Abramoff.

is also very important to note that Mr. Blunt does not accept campaign
contributions from Indian gaming interests, so any ‘quid pro quo’
argument is baseless here,” Taylor added.

In spring 2000, an
Abramoff client accused of running a sweatshop garment factory in the
Northern Mariana Islands donated $3,000 to Blunt’s political
organization. The company, Concorde Garment Manufacturing, paid a $9
million penalty to the U.S. government in the 1990s for failing to pay
workers overtime. The company was visited by DeLay.