Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says that Democrats took no money from Jack Abramoff in the lobbying scandal, but a public-interest group official said yesterday that they did accept contributions from the lobbyist’s clients, who were trying to buy influence.

Mr. Dean has stepped up attacks on Republicans, charging, “Every person named in this scandal is a Republican.”

“Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal,” Mr. Dean said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

But Republican officials and a major public-integrity group counter his assertion with a growing list of Democrats who have received contributions from American Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud in connection with his lobbying activities.

“What our list shows is that both Republicans and Democrats received contributions from Indian tribes that were represented at one time by Jack Abramoff,” said Lawrence Noble, executive director and general counsel for the Center for Responsive Politics.

“So the answer to Dean depends on how you define scandal,” Mr. Noble said. “I would say, broadly defined as a question of the tribes’ buying influence in Washington, it includes Democrats.”

The political news wire the Hotline has compiled a list of nearly three dozen Democrats who have received campaign contributions from Abramoff-related tribes. More than a dozen of them to date have refused to give back the money, saying that the contributions were legal.

Leading the list of Democrats is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who has received $61,000 in campaign contributions from various donors with links to Abramoff. His office has said he will not return any of the funds because they “were part of lawful fundraising.”

Other Democrats listed who have refused to return Abramoff-linked money include Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Some of the Democratic senators who have returned a portion of the money from Abramoff clients or donated it to charity include Max Baucus of Montana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota.

A top aide to Mr. Dean defended the assertion that “as far as we know,” no Democrats were directly or indirectly part of the influence-buying scandal that is under a Justice Department investigation.

“Indian tribes are not criminals. Jack Abramoff is a criminal who did not give any money to Democrats,” said Karen Finney, the DNC’s spokeswoman.

But Mr. Noble said Abramoff may have had a hand in who received money from the tribes he represented.

“We assume that Abramoff gave the tribes a list of names of members [of Congress] who should receive contributions,” Mr. Noble said.

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