EXCLUSIVE: Cash flows to Rep. Jefferson despite bribery trial

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EXCLUSIVE:

Despite his looming trial on federal bribery charges, Louisiana Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson hasn’t had any trouble raising money from his allies in Congress.

Since his June 2007 indictment, Mr. Jefferson has raised more than a quarter-million dollars in political donations to retain the House seat he’s held since 1990.

The money includes tens of thousands of dollars from political action committees controlled by other members of Congress. He’s also gotten help from labor union PACs.

Mr. Jefferson handily beat his chief rival in the Democratic primary and a subsequent runoff, and is heavily favored to defeat his Republican challenger in the Dec. 6 general election, which was postponed after Hurricane Gustav.

His wins came despite pending felony charges that he took bribes for promoting business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and other nations. He denies any wrongdoing. When prosecutors announced the indictment last year, they said Mr. Jefferson faced a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if convicted.

“He’s been up there so long he’s undoubtedly built up some friendships,” said Edward Renwick, a specialist in Louisiana politics and professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Still, Mr. Jefferson’s fundraising success contrasts with how politicians reacted after the indictment of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in August. Several Republican senators, including defeated presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, announced at the time that contributions received from Mr. Stevens would go to charity.

In October, Mr. Stevens was convicted of corruption charges, and a month later he narrowly lost his seat to Democratic challenger Mark Begich.

By contrast, members of Congress have been coming to Mr. Jefferson’s aid. He has received at least $14,000 from Secure PAC, the leadership committee headed by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson. Mr. Thompson also gave $2,300 through his separate re-election campaign fund.

“We’re hopeful Congressman Jefferson is re-elected,” said Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Mr. Thompson, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “He’s been a great friend to the chairman over the past two decades, and throughout that time they’ve developed a great relationship.”

As for Mr. Jefferson’s indictment on bribery charges, Mr. Avant said people are innocent until proven guilty, and the issue is “in the court system.”

Jefferson campaign manager Eugene Green said the contributions from colleagues were no surprise.

“The members of Congress are the best judge of who is an effective member of Congress,” he said. “What we’re seeing thus far is that he must be doing something that both voters and expert members of Congress feel is the right thing for his district and for the citizens of the nation.”

In campaign ads, Mr. Jefferson has said he’s helping Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina. In one ad, he said, “Now is not the time for an unproven person to go to Washington and try and fight for our recovery.”

Mr. Thompson is hardly the only member of Congress providing Mr. Jefferson with campaign cash.

The Bridge PAC, South Carolina Democratic Rep. James E. Clyburn’s leadership committee, gave Mr. Jefferson a pair of contributions in recent weeks totaling $10,000, according to FEC records. Others prominent donors, all Democrats, sending campaign cash to Mr. Jefferson in recent months include Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, who gave $5,000; Rep. Diane Watson of California, $1,000; New Jersey Rep. Donald M. Payne, $2,000; and Florida Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, $2,000.

He also received $10,000 each from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. The political arm of the Communication Workers of America has given Mr. Jefferson $5,000.

Mr. Jefferson faces a 16-count indictment accusing him of seeking bribes for himself and his family, racketeering, wire fraud and other felony charges.

During the investigation, the FBI raided Mr. Jefferson’s home in Washington, finding $90,000 in cash in his freezer. His congressional office also was raided. Authorities say Mr. Jefferson was videotaped taking $100,000 from an FBI informant.

Charging documents also accuse Mr. Jefferson of soliciting bribes from Vernon Jackson, the president of Louisville-based iGate Inc., for his help brokering contracts for the company in Africa. Jackson has pleaded guilty to paying bribes and is serving more than seven years in prison.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied a request to throw out charges in the case. His trial isn’t expected to begin until early next year in federal court in Alexandria.

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