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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fans Of Good Government: A Good Day

Here's a novel idea for a Neoprogressive plank: good government. You know, the kind where our representatives remember they work for us and not for lobbyists, and put the interests of the American people before the interests of a handful of plutocrats. That kind of thing.

So it's a good day for Neoprogs, not just for Democrats, when uberlobbyist Jack Abramoff is finally indicted, and an even better day when we learn that he has been naming names and will continue to cooperate with prosecutors. He is a loose thread that may unravel a lot of sweaters.

A couple points to keep in mind as all of this unfolds:

1. The press is reporting that Abramoff's maximum exposure is ten years in jail, which will be reduced the more he spills the goods. Actually, his maximum is 17 years, because he's facing ten years for his political crimes (the D.C. investigation) and another seven years for his fraud concerning ownership of a cruise ship line (the Florida investigation). Part of his plea deal is that if he cooperates, the two sentences will run concurrently -- but if he doesn't actually deliver the goods, then that deal could still fall apart and expose his to consecutive sentences. That's a pretty big motivator. I think he'll sing.

2. At this point, this is a Republican scandal, not a bipartisan one. Abramoff was, above all else, a Republican lobbyist. He mainly dealt with Republican bigwigs, participated in the Republican "K Street Project" to cut off Democratic access to lobbying money, and personally gave money to Republican candidates. He never made any direct contributions to any Democrats. However, he covered his tail by having his clients make contributions to some prominent Democratic politicians, presumably because they would be more likely to take the money if they didn't know Abramoff was behind it. The press is doing its best to make sure everyone remembers that Democrats may be involved as well, which I suppose is "balanced" but isn't really "fair" based on the currently-known facts. Politicians generally say "yes" to campaign contributions; that's not a crime. (It should be, but I'll discuss public financing of elections later.) No: it's only a crime if you (a) violate the (relatively lenient) rules governing the kinds of contributions you can take and what reports you must make, or (b) take a contribution in exchange for a particular vote on a particular matter (which transforms the contribution into a bribe). There's no evidence, yet, that any Democrats did anything illegal. There IS evidence that some Republicans did. If any Dems broke the law, then they deserve what they get. Bad apples of either party must be tossed in the compost bin. But it's premature, and bad journalism by the MSM, to paint Abramoff as a bipartisan scandal yet.

In case anyone's interested, here's a link to Abramoff's criminal information (basically, his indictment). [CAUTION: PDF!] Ohio Congressman Bob Ney is implicated all over the thing, but reading between the lines, there are a lot of other players, as well.

NEOPROGBLOG READERS: Any thoughts on campaign finances, the "K Street Project", Abramoff, Delay, or good government in general?

SUPPLEMENT, JAN. 7, 2006: I said above that Ohio Republican Bob Ney, who holds a minor leadership post, is one of the unnamed Congressmen likely to be caught in Abramoff's tentacles as he goes down. Here's some confirmation.

SUPPLEMENT, JAN. 8, 2006: I noted above that despite glib claims to the contrary, this appears to be solely a Republican scandal, with no Democrats involved other than as the unknowing recipients of contributions from Indian tribes who coincidentally were also Abramoff's clients (and, it turns out, his victims). Did Abramoff direct those contributions? Doesn't matter, so long as the recipients didn't know and didn't offer any quid pro quo.

This morning, DNC Chair Howard Dean not only made the above clear, but also underscored how badly the mainstream media (represented, in this case, by CNN's Wolf Blitzer) misunderstands this story:

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

Dean's statements are absolutely accurate. If any Democrats turn out to be nefariously involved with Abramoff, they should fry. But we shouldn't let our desire for evenhandedness cloud the truth: as I have said before, neoprogressivism is different than mindless centrism, and sometimes one side is right.

SUPPLEMENT, JAN. 13, 2006: Bob Ney continues his slide to oblivion as the first Republican caught in the Abramoff net, as House Majority Leader Denny Hastert asks him to relinquish his leadership post. Adding insult to injury is the reason: that Ney is crooked and tainted: "A source close to Hastert said the Speaker does not want to unveil lobbying reform legislation with Ney still in possession of a senior House position." And his troubles are far from over: he has a long and nefarious history that's only beginning to be unraveled.

Again: this is, so far, a purely Republican scandal. And again and again and again: I don't care about that fact because I'm a partisan, I care because I care about good government, and the media reporting the truth (instead of the constant, unsubstantiated refrain that this is somehow a bipartisan scandal) is absolutely indispensable to holding the bad guys responsible.

SUPPLEMENT, JANUARY 26, 2006: Even the editor of the conservative National Review thinks Abramoff is a Republican, not bipartisan, scandal!


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