Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The top Democrat on the Senate committee investigating casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff is returning $67,000 in donations after press reports showed that he collected the money from Mr. Abramoff’s gambling clients around the time he took actions favorable to those clients.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, said he hasn’t done anything wrong but is returning the money to avoid the appearance of any conflict.

“The fact is I have never met Abramoff and have never received a campaign contribution from him,” Mr. Dorgan said after the Associated Press reported the contributions.

The contributions to Mr. Dorgan are part of $700,000 in contributions that Republicans say have been made to Senate Democrats by Mr. Abramoff, his Indian tribe clients and his associates. Those contributions counter a Democrat charge that Republicans are fostering a culture of corruption.

“It’s very odd that Democrats at the national and state levels have sought to exploit the Abramoff matter for political gain, while in the process throwing countless congressional Democrats under the bus,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

The NRSC has begun circulating among fellow Republicans new reports showing that all but five of the chamber’s 44 Democrats have taken Abramoff-related money. In addition, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have taken more than $1.2 million, according to records provided to The Washington Times.

In total, Senate Democrats and their national committees have accepted $3.1 million, compared with $4.3 million in contributions to Republicans from Mr. Abramoff, his clients and his associates.

The NRSC report is part of a new counteroffensive by Republicans to neutralize an issue that Democrats see as central to electoral gains in 2006.

“This smacks of desperation,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “At a time when Congress’ approval ratings are about as low as you can imagine, it seems like a strange strategy for Republicans.”

A primary focus of the NRSC report is Mr. Dorgan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Mr. Abramoff.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been attacking Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, who received $150,000 in contributions from Mr. Abramoff, his tribal clients and his associates. Democrats have run ads citing the federal investigation into Mr. Burns’ association with Mr. Abramoff and accused him of associating with a “shady character.”

But the NRSC says the same scrutiny should be focused on Michigan’s two Democrat senators — Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. They received about $6,000 each in Abramoff-related money.

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