Monday, September 26, 2005

Two Republicans have decided to return campaign contributions from David H. Safavian, a former White House official who was charged last week with obstructing an investigation into indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Mr. Safavian, who was the chief procurement officer for the Office of Management and Budget, was allowed to resign his job on Sept. 16 and was arrested Sept. 19.

Top Democrats said his arrest is the latest in a swirl of ethics questions stemming from Mr. Abramoff that, their strategists hope, will help them in congressional elections next year.

Sen. Rick Santorum’s campaign wrote a $251 check to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief immediately after Mr. Safavian’s arrest. The check was for the same amount as Mr. Safavian’s contribution, said the Pennsylvania Republican’s media consultant, John Brabender.

“We just felt with so many unanswered questions that was in the best interest,” Mr. Brabender said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, is returning Mr. Safavian’s donations from earlier this year and from the 2003-04 election cycle, spokesman David Marin said.

Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican, will not return contributions right now, said spokesman Charles Isom. Mr. Safavian, a former staffer for Mr. Cannon, donated $750 last year and $500 in 2002.

Prosecutors have been looking into a 2002 golf trip to Scotland that included Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Safavian and Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. Mr. Safavian, who was at the General Services Administration at the time, told administration ethics officials that Mr. Abramoff did not have business before GSA, but federal authorities dispute that.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week that questions about Mr. Safavian abound.

“Mr. Safavian doesn’t have the credentials that would justify his being the top procurement person for the White House and assigned now to Katrina,” she said.

She asked whether “any influential members of Congress” had recommended Mr. Safavian for the job.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the mounting ethics complaints will take their toll on Republicans.

“This constant drumbeat of scandal forces them to spend more time on indictments and arrests and even less time on things that matter to the people they represent,” he said. “Every second Republicans spend dealing with indictments and getting their friends out of jail is a second that they are not addressing the chronic economic pain caused by astronomically high gas prices.”

But Ed Patru, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said every ethics accusation related to Republicans can be matched with one about Democrats.

“The Democrats can’t create a national wind with ethics because the public rightly perceives no real difference between the parties on ethics,” he said.

The latest example might be a report that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffers obtained the credit information of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican exploring a run for the Senate.

Mr. Patru sent a memo to House Republican offices last week encouraging them to watch for similar activity in House races.

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