News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Friday, July 01, 2005

Protesters seek neutral DeLay probe

By Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress mugged for cameras and unveiled radio ads and a Pasco billboard Thursday chiding U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, all thanks to money and organization from the other Washington.
The group is pressing the Pasco Republican and chairman of the House ethics committee to call for an independent investigation into allegations House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, took illegal trips paid for by lobbyists.
They believe Hastings is unfit to oversee an investigation because he received campaign donations from DeLay's political action committee in 1994, because he also took trips paid for by lobbyists and because of ties to a controversial lobbyist linked to DeLay.
Hastings' staff said the trips in question were for legitimate business purposes and that Hastings has never met the lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and pointed to the six-term congressman's three votes to admonish DeLay last year.
Portraying itself as a grass-roots citizens group focused on ethics reform, Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress actually is a branch of a media campaign paid for and orchestrated by the Washington, D.C.-based and Democratic-leaning American Family Voices. Its president, Mike Lux, worked in the Clinton White House and on both Clinton/Gore campaigns.
That organization's affiliated 527 committee, American Family Voices Voters' Alliance, ran television ads in 2003 targeting Vice President Dick Cheney's ties to government contractor Halliburton. Last year it ran radio ads criticizing President Bush's health care policies. Such 527 committees -- perhaps the best known one being the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- are named for the section of tax code they fall under and raise and spend money to influence elections without being legally tied to any one campaign.
American Family Voices Voters' Alliance has raised almost $2.3 million since 2000 spending more than half of it on media advertising, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign watchdog organization.
Its donors include America Coming Together, a leading Democratic interest group, and Democratic mega-donor Steven Kirsch. Both have given $1 million since 2000.
Despite all that, calling Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress a grassroots organization is a "perfect portrayal," said Sandra Salstrom, its Washington, D.C.-based spokeswoman.
"The money has got to come from somewhere," she said. "It's as grass-roots as it gets."
American Family Voices also is running a media campaign against U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pennsylvania, over the DeLay issue that is virtually identical to the one against Hastings. Besides Washington and Pennsylvania, American Family Voices also has Cleaner Congress chapters in California, Ohio and Texas.
Those groups' activities include writing letters and communicating with their members, Salstrom said. The primary activity for Washingtonians for a Cleaner Congress appears to be organizing press conferences. Thursday's media event in Pasco was its third in three weeks.
The radio ads are scheduled to run through today in the Tri-Cities and Yakima. The billboard, facing south on Highway 12 a half-mile east of Highway 395, depicts Hastings covering his ears, eyes and mouth in a series of manipulated images. The graphic and radio ad are posted on the organization's Web site at
"We care a lot about what our individual constituents think but we're not very concerned about what the Democratic Party and other liberal interest groups have to say," Hastings' Press Secretary Jessica Gleason said in a written statement. "As for the ads, we're always looking for a good laugh and appreciate any help we can get raising Congressman Hastings' profile in Central Washington."
Agustin Armendariz, who researches 527 organizations for the Center for Public Integrity, said politically active organizations in Washington, D.C., are increasingly spreading their message in the states through local groups they form there under different names.
He said a classic example was the negative ad campaign the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran last year to help thwart Democrat Deborah Senn's bid for state attorney general. The organization spent $1.5 million to campaign against Senn but funneled it though a Seattle-based group it called the Voters Education Committee. Such tactics attempt to avoid leaving the impression Washington, D.C., is "infiltrating" the local landscape.
"It makes it seem more grass roots," Armendariz said. "It makes it more palatable for the people in the state."


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Intoxination has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Intoxination endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)