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

Sunday, January 15, 2006

TIME Magazine -- Jack Abramoff's $10,000 Question


Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Oct. 23, 2000, e-mail to his business partner Michael Scanlon was, as usual, not subtle. "Would 10K for NRCC from Suncruz for Ney help?" Scanlon shot back: "Yes, alot [sic]! But would have to give them a definate [sic] answer--and they need it this week ..."

That electronic exchange, a record of which was reviewed by TIME, is among the evidence that Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio accepted favors from Abramoff and Scanlon as part of an alleged quid pro quo--a charge to which the business partners each recently confessed in larger plea deals. While the plea agreements spell out various gifts, campaign donations and junkets that Abramoff and Scanlon say they provided to Ney in return for "official acts," the e-mails present in one place the specific elements of a swap that Abramoff has told investigators was prearranged and explicitly reciprocal, according to a source close to the Justice Department probe. To wit: a $10,000 donation to the Republicans just days before Ney inserted into the Congressional Record a statement praising an Abramoff business partner. Ney's lawyer, Mark Tuohey, calls the accusations "totally false."

Abramoff has told the feds, according to the source, that Ney, the chairman of the powerful Committee on House Administration, and his staff repeatedly demanded help in raising cash for the National Republican Campaign Committee--the "NRCC" of Abramoff's e-mail. Under then House majority leader Tom DeLay, Ney and his fellow G.O.P. chairmen had to meet steep fund-raising quotas or risk losing their plum positions.

On Oct. 20, 2000, the e-mail records show, Scanlon sent Abramoff Scanlon's draft of a statement praising Adam Kidan, a co-owner of SunCruz Casinos, a Florida gambling-boat company that Abramoff and Kidan had bought the month before, after a public dispute with the previous owner. Abramoff and Kidan, who have since pleaded guilty in Florida to fraud in connection with their financing of the SunCruz purchase, hoped that Ney's positive statement would "let people know that SunCruz now was in honest hands," according to a source familiar with the case. In an Oct. 23 e-mail, Abramoff proposed throwing $10,000 at the NRCC in the form of a SunCruz check signed by Kidan. The money was sent within days, and Ney got credit within the G.O.P. for raising it. Ney then inserted praise for Kidan into the Oct. 26 Congressional Record.

Tuohey denies that Ney was under pressure to raise funds and says his client had no contact with Abramoff or Scanlon regarding SunCruz. "There was a check to NRCC by SunCruz, and Ney knew nothing about it," Tuohey says.

As the Abramoff scandal has unfolded, alarm has spread on Capitol Hill that Justice Department prosecutors are building corruption cases on legally reported campaign donations--a worry that revelations of the alleged Ney quid pro quo are sure to fuel. Although refusing to comment on the specifics of the Ney case, a U.S. government expert on criminal law made the following point: "Contributions are lawful only if made in support of a lawmaker's policies. They are clearly illegal as part of a prenegotiated deal involving a quid pro quo." For a host of nervous politicians familiar with the murky ways of Washington, that fine a distinction is probably small comfort.

With reporting by Melissa August/Washington

ABC News: Rep. Ney to Temporarily Cede Panel Chair

Rep. Ney, Implicated in Lobbying Corruption Probe, to Step Aside Temporarily As Committee Chair
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican implicated in a lobbying corruption investigation, will step aside temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee, his spokesman said Sunday.

He said the congressman needed a few days to think about the decision after word got out Friday that he was in negotiations with House Speaker Dennis Hastert to relinquish the post.

"Congressman Ney continues to believe he will be vindicated and he hasn't done anything wrong," spokesman Brian Walsh said Sunday.

Ney is at the center of the Justice Department's ongoing corruption probe and was identified by lobbyist Jack Abramoff in his guilty plea earlier this month.

The Administration Committee controls disclosures of lobbying practices and would be a key part of efforts to reform the system.

Abramoff scandal may spur changes

Lobbyist's illegal activities could force change in rules governing paid advocates

By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Sunday, January 15, 2006

ALBANY -- Disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave his profession a black eye, but his improprieties could bring about healthy changes in the state Capitol and beyond, some elected officials and government watchdogs say.
Already, trade groups nationwide are talking about beefing up codes of behavior and members of Congress are considering bills to tighten lobbying.

And with every statewide elected post and all 212 legislative seats up for grabs this year, broader change could happen in New York -- if lawmakers sense voters are bothered about relationships between public officials and lobbyists in the aftermath of the Abramoff revelations.

Concerned lawmakers are citing the Abramoff investigation. Gov. George Pataki plans to unfurl a new package of changes. Several legislators are reintroducing proposals for overhaul and offering new measures. Organizations that have long championed tighter lobbying restrictions, such as the New York Public Interest Research Group, point to Abramoff as an example of why change is essential and possible.

"I think the stuff in Washington is going to give a boost to the local efforts to rein in the alliance between money and politics," said Assemblyman Alexander Grannis, D-Manhattan, who has been leading his chamber's campaign of change.

How the issue plays out in Albany may depend on how sticky the topic of influence peddling gets as Abramoff's bribes make headlines in coming weeks. Several lobbyists and political observers say polling by Senate Republicans, who have in the past blocked campaign finance and lobbying overhaul, may decide whether meaningful change rises from rhetoric to action.

On paper at least, changes proposed in Albany would upend the way business is done.

For instance, both Pataki, a Republican, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic front-runner to succeed him, call for a ban on gifts from lobbyists and an end to fund-raisers in the Albany region during the legislative session, a blockade that would shut down some 200 annual functions at area restaurants and clubs.

Another plan would limit lobbyists' campaign contributions to $250 a year. And a package, pushed by Senate Democrats, would restrict public employees from lobbying their former employers for years and end pension benefits for corrupt government employees.

Grannis, who has long abhorred the "nonstop fund-raising," in Albany, says New York's lobbying industry seems pretty clean compared with what he and many others in the Capitol say was an extreme example of abuse in Abramoff's case.

Abramoff, a lobbyist formerly with law and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, had cozy relationships with congressional leaders. He made millions of dollars by representing Indian gaming tribes, sometimes steering them to side businesses he controlled.

His public corruption conspiracy is expected to blemish dozens of Washington politicians. He pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials, and promises to spill details about members of Congress.

The ripple effect could be far-reaching.

"Anytime the backdrop of national politics is consumed by scandal, the public's attention is focused more pointedly on reform," Spitzer said.

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, who is pushing a reform agenda, said, "Anyone who's in government, who follows government, ought to see what happened in Washington, and say: 'Could this happen here?' "

One bill sponsored by her conference and introduced by Sen. David Valesky, D-Syracuse, calls for more transparency on bond deals so a record is available to track contracts and contractors.

Lobbyists and officials familiar with Washington and New York rules and enforcement say the New York Temporary Commission on Lobbying already is much tougher on the industry.

"We probably have more disclosure here than in Washington," said Acting Lobbying Commission Chairman Patrick Bulgaro. "Here, lobbyists have to tell when they spent money on public officials."

Still, some compare Abramoff's dealings to what they suspect are close relationships in Albany between lawmakers and lobbyists, resulting in clients getting steered to favored lobbying firms.

"You have to understand that we all strive to have public officials of such high moral character that you don't need laws to stop them from taking bribes or illegal gifts," said David Grandeau, executive director of the state lobbying commission. "The second best thing is to have laws that are enforced so that public officials are afraid to take the inappropriate gifts. Unfortunately, you'll always have officials who fall into a third category who don't care; they don't think they'll get caught."

The closest thing to Abramoff's case, some lobbyists say, is the investigation led by Grandeau of an illegal "success fee" contract entered into by a lobbying team that included former Attorney General Dennis Vacco. Vacco, accused of setting up an improper contingency deal in which he stood to receive millions of dollars if a Catskills casino was created for the Seneca-Cayuga tribe, settled the case last year by paying a $50,000 fine. The Albany County District Attorney's office is still weighing prosecution.

Advocates of change want broad overhaul, including caps on how much lobbyists can give to campaigns. Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, an advocate for lobbying and campaign changes, said the Abramoff scandal is big only if leaders make ethics an issue.

"The governor, given his position, holds the key, but so do all the gubernatorial candidates," Horner said. "Abramoff could contribute to a real movement in New York, but if there is no movement there is no impact."

NYPIRG has backed a bill sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that prohibits fund-raising in a broader region than the 25-mile radius around Albany that Pataki's bill sets up. Silver challenged the GOP-led Senate to pass the governor's measure as a starting point for negotiations, but that has not happened, Horner notes.

For their part, Senate Republicans have refused to allow lobbyists to buy them meals, part of the last major lobbying overhaul seven years ago. That followed a scandal involving a Philip Morris lobbyist who constantly broke the legal gift barrier.

Aides to Pataki say he will release a major plan dealing with changes in lobbying, campaign finance and other issues. Spitzer promises to make overhauling government a major theme in his bid for governor. And other officials, such as Assemblyman Patrick Manning, a Republican eyeing the governor's race, said they back change.

Officials with Abramoff's old firm, Greenberg Traurig, declined to discuss the case. Mark Glaser, a lobbyist in the firm's Albany office, wouldn't speculate on any impact it could have on the debate, but said, "we welcome higher standards."

Joseph Magno, a lobbyist for MapInfo and other state contractors, is leading a fledgling attempt to start a state association for the lobbying industry. He said he's received mixed responses from fellow lobbyists.

The group, among other things, would set up a code of ethics and would police members. He said he was not spurred by the Abramoff case, but by the new procurement lobbying law, which requires disclosure of lobbying for state business and sets up a new process for contacting state agencies.

The law took effect in January and makes contract lobbyists comply with the same rules as those who lobby on legislation.

Robert J. Bishop, a lobbyist and president of the Government Affairs Professionals of New York, a networking organization for New York City-based lobbyists, said he is monitoring the public policy discussion on lobbying. He called Abramoff a man who suddenly found himself surrounded by extraordinary sources of cash and fell to temptation.

"Could that happen in Albany? In the hypothetical world, anything can happen," he said.

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at


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