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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lebanon Daily News - Senator under scrutiny

Abramoff scandal leads to Santorum?
Staff Writer

The corruption scandal involving Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff has already drawn in a few of the nation’s most powerful politicians — from Tom DeLay of Texas to Robert Ney of Ohio — but Abramoff’s influence-peddling was vast, and before prosecutors are done with him, his long, dark shadow may touch many others.

One who may yet find that shadow on his doorstep is Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania’s junior senator who is seeking re-election to a third term and who has made at least four trips to Lebanon County in the last year and a half.

Since rising in 2001 to the position of Republican Conference chairman, the number-three post in the GOP hierarchy, Santorum has met often with prominent lobbyists — and, some allege, with Abramoff himself on occasion — to advance his agenda and recommend supporters for lobbying jobs.

No one — not even Bob Casey, Santorum’s likely Democratic challenger this fall — accuses Santorum of being among the lawmakers and staffers whom Abramoff admitted bribing when he recently pleaded guilty to federal corruption, fraud and income-tax-evasion charges. (In fact, since Abramoff ’s plea, Santorum, like many of the more than 200 others who received Abramoff-related contributions, has donated to charities all of the $11,000 he received from interests Abramoff represented.)

But Casey and others do, however, claim Santorum was a key player in nurturing the lobbying environment that Abramoff exploited.

Walking on K Street

Santorum’s dealings with lobbyists of Abramoff’s stature involve something called the K Street Project.

When Santorum became conference chairman, he reportedly took over operation of the senatorial side of the K Street Project, which was initiated by Abramoff associates DeLay and neo-conservative Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Named after the street on which many of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms are located, the K Street Project was meant to extend the GOP’s political domination beyond the White House and Congress to include industry — and exclude Democrats.

As former Washington Monthly editor Nicholas Confessore reported in July 2003, Santorum met every Tuesday with a dozen or more prominent lobbyists. The goal was to find high-level, well-paying corporate and trade-association jobs for former Republican congressional staffers and other GOP allies.

“(T)he GOP has made a determined effort to undermine the bipartisan complexion of K Street,” wrote Confessore, now a reporter for The New York Times. “Every week, the lobbyists present pass around a list of the jobs available and discuss whom to support. Santorum’s responsibility is to make sure each one is filled by a loyal Republican — a senator’s chief of staff, for instance, or a top White House aide, or another lobbyist whose reliability has been demonstrated. After Santorum settles on a candidate, the lobbyists present make sure it is known whom the Republican leadership favors.”

Reaching for power

DeLay and Norquist initiated K Street after the GOP gained control of Congress in 1994. Defenders of the strategy have likened it to the methods used by Democrats when they ruled in Washington.

But others, like Elizabeth Drew, an author and contributor to the New York Book Review who has investigated the K Street Project, see it as something fundamentally different: a grab for total control.

“The Republican purge of K Street is a more thorough, ruthless, vindictive, and effective attack on Democratic lobbyists and other Democrats who represent businesses and other organizations than anything Washington has seen before,” she wrote in the Review, shortly after the Abramoff investigation became public. “... The K Street Project has become critical to the Republicans’ efforts to control all the power centers in Washington: the White House, Congress, the court — and now, at least, an influential part of the corporate world, the one that raises most of the political money. ... DeLay, Santorum, and their associates organized a systematic campaign, closely monitored by Republicans on Capitol Hill and by Grover Norquist and the Republican National Committee, to put pressure on firms not just to hire Republicans but also to fire Democrats.”

It wasn’t until the GOP obtained the White House in 2000 that the project’s goals took root under Santorum’s leadership, Confessore wrote. Without a balance of power between the two parties, lobbying firms no longer had to court Democrats and were pressured by DeLay and other Republicans to put all their efforts into the GOP.

While no one claims this tactic is illegal, critics say the unequal balance of power changed the symbiotic relationship between lobbyists and politicians of both parties and allowed the Republicans to put a stranglehold on K Street by packing the highest levels of industry with GOP loyalists who could foster their party’s conservative agenda.

The success of the tactic is reflected in figures reported in a June Washington Post article by Jeffrey Birnbaum, which claims the number of Washington lobbyists has doubled to almost 35,000 since Bush’s election. It’s a result, Birnbaum reported, that is at least partly attributable to the pro-business Republicans’ control of the White House and Congress.

A role for Santorum

As Republican Conference chairman, Santorum was in position to orchestrate the GOP’s domination of K Street. At his side from the start, at least two reports state, was Abramoff, who attended the first meeting Santorum hosted.

Both The National Journal, in May 2001, and Roll Call, in March 2001, reported Abramoff was among a group of K Street power brokers invited to meet with Santorum and other lawmakers that March.

Both reports described it, and subsequent meetings, as an informational dialogue about policy and legislative initiatives that included talk about job placement for Republican loyalists.

The National Journal report quotes one Santorum aide as saying the meetings are meant “to develop relationships with folks downtown who generally share our objectives legislatively and who can help us communicate our issues.”

And that is the position Santorum continues to take, including as recently as Nov. 15, when he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Maeve Reston that his meetings with lobbyists are a way to help achieve Republican goals, though he ardently denied the purpose is to find jobs for party loyalists.

“There is no pressure to put Republicans in those roles, period — no pressure. ... I absolutely abhor that,” he said. “The K Street Project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town. From my perspective, it’s a good government thing.”

Santorum’s camp continues to downplay the K Street Project and the senator’s role in it.

“Senator Santorum and other senators meet about 10 or 15 times a year with Republican strategists who work on K Street,” said Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis. “It gives him an opportunity to bounce ideas off of different strategists in Washington ... to promote things like moving the economy forward, Homeland Security and (policies) that are good for Pennsylvania. “

Santorum does not admit ties to Abramoff. If the pair attended meetings together, Davis said, Abramoff was probably just one of 50 to 100 lobbyists in attendance.

“The senator does not recall meeting Mr. Abramoff,” she said. “He has no recollection of being introduced to Mr. Abramoff, and he does not know him.”

Lobbying for reforms

In the wake of Abramoff’s plea-bargain, many lawmakers are calling for an end to the K Street machine and demanding that lobbying reforms be enacted.

In mid-November, before Abramoff became a household name, Casey tried to make political capital on Santorum’s association with the lobbyist. At a Washington, D.C., restaurant that until recently was owned by Abramoff and where he wined and dined political clients, Casey held a news conference calling for lobbying reform.

Part of Casey’s reform plan would put an end to K Street back-room deals, a Casey spokesman said, because it would require lobbyists to report promptly every substantive conversation they have with a member of Congress.

“Rick Santorum’s leadership of the K Street Project is another example of a culture of corruption in Washington that needs to end,” said Larry Smar, Casey’s communications and policy director. “Santorum should close the K Street Project and fully disclose its activities.”

The Republican Senate leadership has recently responded to pressure for changes to lobbying rules by appointing Santorum to lead the reform effort.

It’s a task that he is well suited for, Davis said, citing the reform-minded Gang of Seven’s closure of the illicit House Bank in 1992.

“Senator Santorum has long been a champion of reform,” she said.

But appointing Santorum to lead lobbying reform is a bit like letting the fox guard the henhouse, according to Casey’s campaign.

“Santorum’s leadership of the K Street Project gives him no credibility to draft a serious lobbying-reform proposal,” Smar said. “Santorum should recuse himself.”

Print Story: White House Silent on Abramoff Meetings on Yahoo! News

By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer

The White House is refusing to reveal details of tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits with President Bush's staff.

Abramoff had "a few staff-level meetings" at the Bush White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. But he would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House.

Since Abramoff pleaded guilty two weeks ago to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal, McClellan has told reporters he was checking into Abramoff's meetings. "I'm making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that," he said in his press briefing Jan. 5. "And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon."

McClellan said Tuesday that he checked on it at reporters' requests, but wouldn't discuss the private staff-level meetings.

He has said Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House, but corrected himself Tuesday to say there were only two — in 2001 and 2002.

McClellan said Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible the two met at the holiday receptions.

Abramoff was one of Bush's top fundraisers, having brought in at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign and earning the honorary title "pioneer." The campaign took $6,000 of the contributions — which came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented — and donated it to the American Heart Association. But the campaign has not returned the rest of the money Abramoff raised.


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