Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to influence peddling and his crony, Rep. Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, gave up his drive to win back his post as House Majority Leader last weekend.
Both were signs that the sewer of corporate corruption engulfing Washington has broken wide open, implicating dozens of lawmakers, mostly Republicans, in a crucial election year. DeLay gave up his drive when House Republicans started circulating a petition urging that he be barred from leadership.
“This is the most corrupt Congress in U.S. history,” said Toby Chaudhuri, communications director of the Campaign for America’s Future, which is running television and newspaper ads in Texas and Ohio calling on voters to “clean the stables.” Targeted in the ads is DeLay, who is seeking re-election from his district that includes part of Houston, and Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio.
In his guilty plea, Abramoff admitted that he showered Ney with lavish gifts and contributions in exchange for Ney’s agreement to use his office to aid Abramoff’s clients. “Abramoff is fingering Representatives Bob Ney and Tom DeLay as central figures in the scandal,” Chaudhuri told the World. “There’s a cancer growing on this Congress.”
The Bush administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are rushing to give to charity contributions they received from the influential lobbyist. Abramoff doled out money from $66 million he swindled from six Native American Indian tribal casinos. White House spokesman Scott McClellan announced that the Bush-Cheney campaign would turn over $6,000 in Abramoff cash to the American Heart Association, but not the $100,000 Abramoff contributed as a “Bush Pioneer.”
Abramoff’s ties to Bush run much deeper than money. Bush named Abramoff to his “presidential transition team” advising the administration on policy toward Native American Indian tribes. Abramoff’s former top aide, Susan Ralston, is now the top aide to Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove. Abramoff was a frequent guest at White House holiday parties and reportedly met Bush at a fund-raising event.
The scandal lifted the lid on a much broader crisis of corporate influence peddling, the lobbying “industry” centered on “K Street” in downtown Washington. It is crowded with more than 70,000 registered lobbyists, most of them representing banks, corporations, or ultra-right political action committees promoting the Bush-Cheney agenda.
After Bush seized office in the stolen 2000 election, DeLay, together with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Republican strategist Grover Norquist, spearheaded what they called the “K Street Project.” The Washington Monthly featured an article in its July/August 2003 edition titled “Welcome to the Machine: How the GOP Disciplined K Street and Made Bush Supreme.” Corporate lobbyists, once bipartisan in nature and “loyal only to the parochial interests of their employers … are being replaced by (Republican) Party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP,” the article charged. “Through them, Republicans can now marshal armies of lobbyists to meet their party’s goals.”
DeLay kept a list of lobbyists divided into “friendly” and “unfriendly” columns. Those in the “unfriendly” column were simply frozen out, refused access to the corridors of power. DeLay even met with the CEOs of the largest corporations and told them they were to fire any lobbyists who were Democrats or independents and replace them with Republicans.