Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, during a tour of Republican red states last week, was peppered with questions about campaign contributions he took from Indian tribes connected with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The five-state tour through the West and Midwest to raise money for Democratic candidates was one of a series of campaign forays the Nevada Democrat plans this year to make political inroads in Republican-held territory. But Mr. Reid also faced often sharply critical questions from reporters about the money he has received from Indian tribes and their connections to Abramoff, who lobbied for them.
“If Senator Reid’s mission was to travel to red states to get beaten like a pinata by the media about his hypocrisy on ethics and Abramoff-related funds, then he was quite successful, and we applaud his efforts,” said Brian Nick, chief spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
At a televised press conference Tuesday in Phoenix, where Mr. Reid was promoting the Senate candidacy of Jim Pederson, he was hit by a barrage of questions that challenged his assertion that the Democrats did not receive any money in connection with the lobbying scandal.
“Not a single penny of the money from Jack Abramoff … went to a Democrat. Now he has lots of clients. But the fact of the matter is that any money that I’ve received has come from people who have given me money over a period of time, and Jack Abramoff’s fingerprints [are] not anywhere,” Mr. Reid said.
“You’re saying Abramoff’s clients gave money to you and other Democrats, not Abramoff?” a reporter asked.
“I’m not saying Abramoff clients. I’m saying I have received money from Indian tribes over many, many years. Some of whom he picked up as clients later on,” the senator replied.
Mr. Reid received $30,500 from three Indian tribes for whom Abramoff lobbied in this election cycle, according to a reassessment of political contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which has compiled campaign funds given to lawmakers by Abramoff, his associates or clients he represented.
However, other public-interest groups report that Mr. Reid has received about $61,000 between 2001 and 2004 from clients represented by Abramoff, contributions that the senator has refused to return because, he says, they were not illegal.
In appearances on his tour, Mr. Reid was asked similar press questions about the Abramoff scandal or was greeted by local Republican officials who accused him of being part of the scandal. During his stop in Salt Lake City, he dismissed a report in The Washington Times that he was a target in the Justice Department investigation, telling the Deseret Morning News that he’d never met Abramoff and the lobbyist had “not given me a penny.”
“One of the biggest beneficiaries of Jack Abramoff is Harry Reid,” said Utah Republican Chairman Joe Cannon during the Democratic leader’s stop in the state.
The response to Mr. Reid’s denials “shows that this [scandal] is not limited to inside the Washington Beltway and that Reid and other members of Congress should expect that when they take their show on the road this election season, they’ll get questions about whether they got money from [Abramoff] or not,” said CRP spokesman Massie Ritsch.