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

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's business as usual for Ney

Ohio congressman works to keep probe from becoming distraction
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Sabrina Eaton
Plain Dealer Bureau
Washington- Ohio Congressman Bob Ney is either a poster boy for Capitol Hill corruption or a hapless legislator who regrets innocently helping former chums who now face criminal charges.

Either way, the ruddy-faced Republican from near the West Virginia border is fed up with his central role in an investigation of whether dis graced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and PR man Michael Scan lon bribed him and other con gressmen.

Federal investigators have subpoenaed Ney. He contends he did nothing wrong. He prefers to concentrate on more-pleasant official duties, like delivering speeches, visiting schools in his southeast Ohio district, chairing committee hearings and entering remarks in the Congressional Record to honor constituents' birthdays and anniversaries.

On Thursday morning, Ney sipped coffee and listened attentively as Democrats on a housing subcommittee he chairs blasted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson for failing to appear before them to discuss Hurricane Katrina relief. Ney was doing his job as a congressman, as if the controversy that surrounds him didn't exist.

"One way or another, someone is coming here from HUD next week," Ney assured colleagues in a voice strained by a cold.

The Abramoff scandal has made Ney a target of the Democratic political machine. But his woes aren't giving Democrats in Congress the same "serves him right" schadenfreude that prevailed last month when abrasive California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted taking bribes from a defense contractor in a matter unrelated to Ney.

Ney is a personable guy with an unassuming demeanor. The former teacher works well with others on Capitol Hill, even the most partisan Democrats. Combative Maxine Waters of California, the top Democrat on Ney's housing subcommittee, has publicly applauded his "evenhandedness."

Ney's GOP colleagues in Ohio are rallying around him. Several hosted a fund-raiser in Columbus Dec. 1 for his re-election campaign that netted at least $35,000. Concord Township Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette says prosecutors have yet to prove wrongdoing by Ney, and he describes Ney as "upbeat" and "in good spirits."

"The general attitude in Congress among people of both parties is that there is an investigation, and it will take whatever course it takes," said Old Fort Republican Rep. Paul Gillmor, who has known Ney since they served together in the Ohio Senate. "Meantime, Bob is a member of Congress and he is doing a good job."

Ney would not comment for this story and stopped talking to reporters about his situation months ago. His office accuses the press of dwelling on the negative.

The son of a cameraman for a local television station, Ney grew up in Bellaire, Ohio. He recently moved from St. Clairsville to Heath, in Licking County, with his wife, Liz, and his two children from a prior marriage. He worked as a teacher in Iran, as Bellaire's safety director and as program manager of Ohio's Office of Appalachia before his first successful political campaign.

In 1980, he defeated Wayne Hays in a race for the Ohio legislature. Hays formerly held the U.S. House Administration Committee chairmanship that Ney currently occupies but resigned during a scandal that erupted when he put a mistress who couldn't type on his secretarial payroll.

"He was a dour person who wouldn't even say hello to you," former Ohio Senate President Dick Finan says of Hays. "I could understand why he got beat, if he was that way in his district, particularly with an opponent as outgoing as Bob."

Ney was eventually appointed to Ohio's Senate, where he rose to chairmanship of the state panel that oversees insurance issues. In the early 1990s, newspapers highlighted Ney's ties to lobbyist Thomas Strussion, a former staffer in his office, whose clients channeled speaking fees to Ney. Ney never faced charges in the case, although Strussion was eventually jailed after he admitted bribing another ex-Ney employee, David Randall, who was deputy director of Ohio's Insurance Department.

Ney came to Congress in the 1994 election that swept Republicans into power after a series of scandals weakened House Democratic leaders. He successfully sought assignment to Hays' old committee, which oversees election reform and internal congressional operations like paying bills and assigning office space. Its chairman is known as "Mayor of Capitol Hill," and the job boosted Ney's national profile when he secured it in 2001.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ney spearheaded efforts to boost Capitol Hill security and issued handheld Blackberry e-mail devices to all members of Congress. He made worldwide headlines by protesting French opposition to the war in Iraq by ordering that french fries served in House cafeterias be renamed "freedom fries."

His role in the Abramoff scandal surfaced last year when a Texas Indian tribe told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee of a deal brokered by Abramoff and Scanlon. Ney backed legislation to let them reopen a tribal casino, supposedly in exchange for campaign donations and a trip to Scotland. Ney ultimately scrapped the proposed legislation and said Abramoff, a friend from their days as college Republicans, had duped him as well as the tribe.

Federal investigators are unraveling a complicated web of alleged misdeeds by Abramoff and his associates. Abramoff, Scanlon and several others are facing criminal charges. Ney's political campaign has spent more than $135,000 on legal fees, and his office recently announced that he is starting a legal defense fund.

When Scanlon pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges last month, documents filed in his case claimed that Ney and members of his staff accepted an array of perks for official favors that included putting statements in the Congressional Record to influence purchase of a casino boat line that Abramoff was negotiating in Florida.

Numerous news outlets reported Friday that Abramoff's partner in that deal, Adam Kidan, is negotiating a plea agreement with prosecutors in which he will cooperate with them.

Democratic groups have taken note of Ney's troubles, and several have placed ads in his district to highlight his role in the controversy.

Two Democrats, Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer and Dover Law Director Zack Space, have announced they are running for his seat in 2006, and Ohio Democrats predict more candidates will emerge if Ney is criminally charged.

"There is a growing sense that Bob Ney has violated the trust that voters have placed in him," Space said.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett calls the allegations against Ney unsubstantiated and predicts they won't affect his November re-election prospects if they're cleared up before then.

"Some of the things that were suggested to have occurred may not have taken place," Bennett said. "Bob has been consistent in publicly saying he welcomes the process to clear his name."

Ohio State University political scientist Herb Asher describes Ney as very popular in the region he represents and attentive to its needs. He votes conservatively on social issues but sometimes breaks with his party on trade and bread-and-butter matters such as food stamps and Medicaid. His district has significant pockets of rural poverty.

Ney is a vigorous advocate of the domestic coal and steel industries and opposes trade deals like the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Last weekend, the congressman's re-election campaign placed a full-page ad in two newspapers that circulate in his district, defending his conduct and touting his achievements in office.

"As I await the opportunity to clear my name and as I continue to get attacked by the media and my political opponents, I am working as hard as ever on behalf of those that I represent in the 18th Congressional District," Ney said in the ad.


(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.)