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

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sen. Burns to Return Abramoff-Linked Money - Yahoo! News

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press Writer

Retreating under fire, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns (news, bio, voting record) of Montana said he will return about $150,000 in donations that he received from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his clients and associates.

Democrats have criticized Burns, who is up for re-election next year, for his connection to the lobbyist at the center of a federal probe that has entangled at least a half dozen lawmakers and Bush administration officials. Earlier this week, a spokesman for Burns said the senator would not return the money because it had already been spent.

"The contributions given to my political committees by Jack Abramoff and his clients, while legal and fully disclosed, have served to undermine the public's confidence in its government," Burns said.

Burns' link to Abramoff has created a flurry of headlines in his home state. Burns had a 48 percent approval rating in a November poll conducted by Montana State University-Billings, one of his lowest approval ratings since the university started asking the question.

The senator, first elected in 1988, won a third term with just 51 percent of the vote in 2000.

The Associated Press has reported that in 2001 the Montana Republican and his staff met Abramoff's lobbying team on at least eight occasions and collected $12,000 in donations around the time that Burns took legislative action favorable to Abramoff's clients in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Donations to Burns included money directly from Abramoff and a key garment company executive in the islands. The executive was part of the coalition paying Abramoff's firm to fend off stronger U.S. regulations on the Pacific islands.

The Justice Department is investigating whether Abramoff, already charged with fraud in a separate Florida case, won any undue influence through donations and favors.

Burns has said he hasn't been contacted by federal investigators in the Abramoff inquiry or received any subpoenas. Last month, Burns wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, urging that his conduct be reviewed so he could be cleared of wrongdoing.

"I welcome your thorough and expeditious review of this matter so that it may be disposed of officially once and for all and these outrageous and wrongful allegations may be put to rest before we get into the 2006 re-election cycle," Burns wrote.

In 2001, Burns served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which was considering legislation the Marianas opposed.

On May 23 of that year, Burns voted against a bill in the Senate Energy Committee that would have phased out a nonresident contract worker program benefiting the Marianas' garment industry. The committee approved the bill, but it never saw action on the Senate floor. In 1999, it had moved through the same committee by voice vote without objections from Burns.

Burns' office told The Associated Press that he could not recall why he didn't object to the bill in 1999 but that his opposition in 2001 was prompted by a report indicating changes to immigration laws could hurt the islands' economy. He said it wasn't influenced by Abramoff or any donations.

He also ran a Senate appropriations subcommittee that controlled spending for the Interior Department, which regulates U.S. territories, including the islands, and American Indian programs. Burns and North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), who is the top Democrat on that subcommittee, wrote a letter in 2002 backing an Indian school building program sought by Abramoff's tribal clients, and helped arrange congressional funding for it.

Dorgan said Dec. 12 that he is returning $67,000 in donations from the lobbyist and his associates.

Burns said he would return all of the donations to their original donors, with the exception of those from Abramoff and his associates, which would be donated to Native American charities.

In a statement, Burns called on other members of Congress to return their own donations from the lobbyist.

"This is an important step that all public officials should take in order to renew the faith of Montanans, and all Americans, in their government," he said. "We can and must set a higher ethical standard."

Reed regrets work for lobbyist |

Candidate says Abramoff work was a mistake
Jim Galloway - Staff
Friday, December 16, 2005

Ralph Reed, the political strategist and candidate for lieutenant governor, said recently that his work for disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff was a mistake that --- if given the chance --- he wouldn't repeat.

"Had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken that work," Reed said, according to the text of a speech posted on his campaign Web site this week.

Campaign manager Jared Thomas said Reed, a Republican and former Christian Coalition leader, made the speech last Friday before a Christian youth group at a home in Alpharetta.

The teenagers were members of TeenPact, a group that introduces Christian teens to government and politics, often through internships.

Reed's remarks, posted at under "speeches," are his most extensive yet on his relationship with Abramoff --- whom Reed did not name.

In his speech, Reed predicted his work for the lobbyist would become fodder for next year's election campaign. Two rivals, Republican Casey Cagle and Democrat Greg Hecht, have already established Web sites focusing on Reed's ties to Abramoff, a long-time friend now the subject of several federal investigations.

But Reed's remarks to the youth group may also be a reaction to rising Christian concerns about his connections to the Abramoff scandal.

Last month, the evangelical weekly World, with a national circulation of 140,000, published a critical piece about Reed that portrayed the former head of the Christian Coalition as a "shrewd businessman who has spent years leveraging his evangelical and conservative contacts."

For three years, Reed conducted anti-gambling campaigns in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, on behalf of Abramoff. Two of Abramoff's tribal clients, eager to preserve their casino markets, funneled Reed more than $5 million toward his efforts.

"In 1999 I was building my small business, Century Strategies," Reed said in the speech.

"A friend of almost 20 years, then working at one of the most prestigious law firms in the nation, came to me and offered the opportunity to serve as a grassroots subcontractor to the firm."

"I knew the law firm had tribal clients who had their own reasons for opposing new casinos. I was assured by the law firm at the outset of the work that the funds contributed to our efforts would not derive from gambling activity," Reed said.

The speech does not address the fact that in several e-mails between Reed and Abramoff, made public by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the tribal sources of some of the money were discussed. Reed never disclosed the origin of the cash to his religious allies.

Reed pointed to the good he said his work had accomplished: "We will never know how many marriages and lives were saved, or how many children were spared the consequences of compulsive gambling."

But the fact that his campaigns were secretly fueled with gambling funds has raised the ire of many religious groups, which Reed said he regrets.

"I cannot change the past, but I can certainly learn from it," Reed said. "I am a better man and a better leader as a result."

A spokesman for Cagle, Reed's Republican rival, said more penance is required.

"If Ralph is serious about accepting responsibility for his choices, then he'll return the multi-million dollar fee he secretly received from the gambling industry," said Cagle spokesman Brad Alexander.


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