Friday, January 06, 2006

Politics: Why the Abramoff scandal is Republican

There've been a lot of things recently in the news and right-wing blog sites that claim Democrats are equally culpable, but here I'd like to try to debunk this spin and explain why--at least for now--the Abramoff scandal is predominantly about Republicans. I'll try to be even-handed, but I'm not going to delude myself that I don't have a strong bias.

Abramoff is was a lobbyist for several native American tribes. He has pled guilty to several distinct charges, the current popular charge being bribery of public officials.

Here's the right-wing spin: "Democrats also recieved money from Abramoff and his associates". The "and associates" part is what makes the statement deliberately misleading, but also keeps it from being a flat-out lie. First, Abramoff himself donated (possibly bribed) exclusively to Republicans, according to federal records. Secondly, no Democrats are (currently?) under scrutiny for being wine-and-dined by Abramoff, or given all-expense-paid vacations, etc., like some of their Republican counterparts.

So who are these "associates" of Abramoff who have given to Democrats? The native American tribes. But this is irrelevant. Guess what else Abramoff pled guilty to? He pled guilty for defrauding his clients, the tribes, out of millions. Republican apologists would have you believe that the tribes donated to Democrats based on Abramoff's recommendations, but let's be realistic: I'm certain (but am unable to name names) that the tribes employ multiple lobbyists, at least some of which are conduits to Democrats, and not all of which are corrupt.

During Abramoff's employment, the tribes began to donate more to Republicans and less to Democrats (they've probably been legally donating to both parties for decades.) The reasonable explanation is that he was one of many lobbyists giving recommendations, and records which might show up will probably show that he exerted a big pull on the tribes to shift as much presumably-legal funding to Republican candidates as possible--balanced by the fact that his employers (like many industries and interests) weren't about to put all their legal-donation eggs in one basket.

The tribes had the final say in their donation destinations. I doubt Jack Abramoff would attempt to direct any sort of funding towards democratic candidates--he once said: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently."

So here's the summary. Abramoff's employers have indeed donated to Democrats, and have for quite some time, but they are not charged with wrongdoing, and are indeed victims of Abramoff, who defrauded them of millions. Abramoff himself has either legitimately donated or illegally bribed only Republicans, and it is highly unlikely that he would try to get illegally cozy with Democrats. Therefore, to claim that Democrats are equally culpable--given what we currently know--is dishonest.

Now, we'll find out more as documents are released, folks are indicted, and guilty pleas unfold. I would not be surprised to find at least one Democrat snared in the legal net, but I want to emphasize that the current frenzy on the Right is misleading and proceeds from dubious assumptions.

P.S.: Fact checking on this post is welcome.

Update 1:

Similar rebuttal by Howard Dean. I'd have been a little more explicit about how Abramoff stole millions from "his associates", but oh well. Transcript availible at Atrios' and movie at Crooks and Liars.

Update 2:

Ah, it seems Ian has picked up Dean's little clip too. I disagree, for the reasons already detailed in this post. Also, why would Ian want to disseminate (disperse, repeat) what Dean says? I'm guessing he meant "debunk". But then again, I may just be the pot calling the kettle "back".

Update 3:

[ Perhaps this is an excuse for testing the trackback functionality and getting some views from an established blog? Wait! Too much self-introspection! Abort, Abort! ]

Found this post on Firedoglake:
Let's get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

These tribes are where the big money (and money towards Democrats) in Abramoff's "and associates" comes from. As a side note, I still feel our current system of campaign funding, while legal, is too open to bribery--it just switches the order around. Instead of paying to help someone win, and then getting preferential treatment from them (bad), you realize you'll benefit from their election and pay to help them win (normal, legal). Self-interest isn't the problem, but there's too much wealth determining the outcome for my hazy, idealistic, and untested perfect world daydreams.

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