- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

In 1989, the Keating Five scandal erupted. Savings-and-loan scam-artist Charles Keating had donated some $1.3 million to five U.S. senators’ pet political funds — they intervened on his behalf with federal regulators.

Collapse of the shaky Keating thrift cost taxpayers about $2.6 billion. Democratic Sens. Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini and Don Riegle retired. Sen. John Glenn, Ohio Democrat, was re-elected. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, least culpable and most repentant of the unfab five, committed himself to ridding politics of bad money.

Move over Keating Five. Make way for the Abramoff thirtysomething. As the Associated Press reported last week, top lobbyist Jack Abramoff appealed to some three-dozen members of Congress to write to Interior Secretary Gale Norton urging her to block an Indian casino in Louisiana that threatened other casino tribes that had hired him.

The AP investigation found: “At least 33 lawmakers wrote letters to Norton and got more than $830,000 in Abramoff-related donations as the lobbying unfolded between 2001 and 2004.” The AP reported House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, raised $21,500 for a political action committee at Mr. Abramoff’s restaurant. Seven days later, the gentleman from Illinois wrote to Mrs. Norton against the Louisiana casino.

The Coushattas tribe, an Abramoff client, wrote two checks to political funds affiliated with Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, before Mr. Abramoff asked them to reroute the money to other Republican groups. The Washington Post has chronicled the first-class trips Mr. DeLay made to the United Kingdom and South Korea on the lobbyist’s dime.

Some Democrats are caught up in the scandal, too. AP also reported the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to the political group of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid the day after Mr. Reid sent a letter to Mrs. Norton. Over four years, Team Abramoff gave Mr. Reid’s political funds more than $66,000.

Locally, Team Abramoff enriched the political coffers of Rep. John Doolittle, California Republican, by $64,500 from 2001 to 2004, according to AP.

The above lawmakers’ offices are outraged anyone would suggest they wrote these letters for filthy donations.

Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Black noted, “It should come as no surprise that Congressman Doolittle should sign a letter opposing Indian gaming since he has an established 25-year record of fighting against the expansion of all forms of gaming, here in California and across the country.” Mr. Doolittle opposed California’s state lottery.

Then maybe the surprise is that two Big Casino tribes donated $16,000 to this upright gambling foe’s war chest.

Another surprise: As part of his work for the casino tribes, Mr. Abramoff apparently funneled $4 million to the anti-gambling Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition.

The Nov. 28 Weekly Standard reports how Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon — formerly of Mr. DeLay’s office — approached Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and asked him to insert into the Congressional Record remarks attacking the owner of a Suncruz Casinos — “Mr. Speaker, how Suncruz Casinos and [owner] Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida law is very unnerving,” said Mr. Ney — without mentioning Mr. Abramoff was trying to buy Suncruz at a cut rate.

Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to a count of conspiring to bribe public officials. While it is unclear if or how much time Mr. Scanlon will spend behind bars, he has agreed to pay $19 million to Indian tribes that paid some $82 million to Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon. In return for their millions, Mr. Abramoff referred to his clients, according to e-mails, as “monkeys” and “troglodytes.”

It seems as though every decade or two, a scandal comes along that shows how members of Congress can forget where they came from and whom they represent. They start thinking they’re such swell guys they can bend the rules. They can take big money from people with whom they shouldn’t be that cozy, then throw their weight around with federal bureaucrats in matters that belong to other states. They figure their constituents won’t know or won’t care.

Maybe they think we’re monkeys and troglodytes, too.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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