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

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Congress Watch: House braces for ugly ethics probes

Posted 7/13/05
By Terence Samuel

While the Senate braces for the upheaval of the first Supreme Court confirmation in more than a decade, the routinely more contentious House is preparing for its own period of mayhem with the launch of a series of probes into alleged ethics violations by several members, Republicans and Democrats alike. After a six-month stalemate, it now seems that much of the ethics committee's work, and more significantly its reports and conclusions, will take shape in the crucible of an acrimonious election next year.

"Obviously, by definition, the work of the ethics committee of the United States House of Representatives overseeing the conduct of its members and staff takes place in a political context," says Rep. Alan Mollohan, the top Democrat on the committee. "So day in and day out, week in and week out, we are dealing with politics."

But it's likely to be politics of the dirtiest kind. Already Democrats have begun running ads in the districts of GOP members who face public ethics allegations that may end up before the committee. But after seven months of partisan haggling, Democrats and Republicans are about to hire an investigative staff to delve into the always ugly ethics allegations, most notably some against Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was admonished by the committee three times last year. DeLay faces questions about overseas travel that was allegedly paid for, improperly, by lobbyists, including the now infamous Jack Abramoff, who is at the center of a sprawling, hydra-headed probe into lobbying and criminal violations. DeLay has said that he assumed that his trip was paid for by the nonprofit organization that invited him on the trips, which is legal. And he had said repeatedly that Democrats are playing politics with the ethics process, intentionally delaying the committee's work in order to use the ethics cloud as a campaign issue in 2006.

"The reason the Democrats cannot afford to work with us on the rules and the process right now is that this would undermine [Illinois Rep.] Rahm Emanuel's election strategy for next year," says one senior GOP aide. Emanuel heads up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

There is as yet no date-certain for when the investigations will begin, but it'll be weeks before a staff is in place, up to two months according to insiders, putting us into September before any probe gets going.

"Given where we started in January, we are in a good place now," says Mollohan.

Reed: Gambling statements consistent

Candidate for lieutenant governor defends his lobbying efforts against Indian gambling casinos.

Larry Peterson

Ralph Reed says he's been consistent in discussing what he knew about the money his public relations company earned from Indian gambling interests.

Wearing cowboy boots and an open-necked blue shirt, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor discussed the issue Tuesday in an interview during a campaign visit in Savannah.

Controversy over his role in the ongoing tug-of-war between rival Indian gambling interests has dogged his efforts in a state where anti-gaming sentiment still runs strong.

News accounts indicate that Reed has said he had "no direct knowledge" that money he received to shut down casinos came from tribes with competing gambling interests.

But e-mails released recently by a Senate panel looking into Indian gambling operations suggest Reed knew a lot.

The e-mails also show that lobbyist Jack Abramoff sought Reed's advice on how to disguise tribal funds sent to anti-gambling campaigns whose leaders were wary of accepting casino cash.

"There is nothing inconsistent between what I've said in the past ... about ... (Abramoff's law) firm and my knowledge of the firm and those e-mails," Reed said Tuesday.

Reed said he's acknowledged "from the beginning" that he knew the business he got money from "had tribal clients."

But the candidate also said he added that he "wasn't aware of every single specific client or their interests."

"The salient point," he added, "was that I was a subcontractor of the firm. I never worked for their client, nor did I have a relationship with their client. I was hired by the firm as a grass roots subcontractor to prevent casino gambling expansion, which I was happy to do."

After speaking with pride of his efforts to shut down operations in Alabama, Reed guided the interview in another direction.

"This is largely an attempt ... to distract the voters from the important issues, which are educating our children, creating jobs ... economic activity and a better Georgia," he said.

Reed repeated his call for an overhaul of the state's tax system and his support for a governor-appointed commission to study the issue.

He said the panel should "tell us what we can do to make our tax code more job-friendly, family-friendly and homeowner friendly."

He also said the state should emulate Oregon's successful efforts to reduce high school dropout rates and emphasize technical and vocation education at the high school level.

Reed steered clear of discussing State Sen. Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountain, his principal rival for the GOP nomination.

Challenged to say something nice about Democrat Mark Taylor, the current lieutenant governor who is running for governor, Reed said, "he looks good at a barbecue."

"He works a room well," Reed added. "He's been around the horn and worked the state for a long time. I don't have anything but good personal regard for him. Our differences are (on) public policy."

Earlier in the day, Reed visited the Georgia Ports Authority and the Bethesda Home for Boys. Those stops were part of the candidate's "Heartland of Georgia Tour," which began Monday in Effingham County. He said he hopes to visit 40 counties by the end of summer.

As he left the newspaper building, the candidate greeted employees at the front desk.

"Hi, I'm Ralph Reed and I'm running for lieutenant governor. You're going to see me often."


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