If the scandal involving super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff who
pleaded guilty to scamming clients, conspiring to bribe a member of Congress
and tax evasion doesn't hurt Republicans during the 2006 elections, it
will be because voters have figured out that Democratic leaders don't really
care about ethics.
Consider how the left has targeted Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif.,
in the Abramoff scandal. This month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
called for an ethics investigation of Pombo and Rep. John Doolittle,
R-Calif., while admitting she couldn't cite a single fact as to why a probe
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Pombo
one of the "13 most corrupt members of Congress." Its list targets 11
Repubs, some of whom are clearly dirty Rep. Duke Cunningham, who pleaded
guilty to taking bribes, and Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who is knee-deep in the
Abramoff plea agreement. Other Republicans, however, seem guilty mostly of
being targeted by Democrats for defeat in 2006. Take the prim Sen. Rick
Santorum, R-Pa. He is cited get this because his kids attend a
Pennsylvania charter school (instead of a school in Virginia) and because he
supported legislation to clarify the mission of the National Weather Service
after a group gave his campaign $2,000. Oooooooo. (CREW's Melanie Sloan did
not get back to me by my deadline.)
That's chump change, and that distracts from the real corruption
in Washington and in the GOP. Go after Tom DeLay for his luxury golf
travel now known to have been on Abramoff's dime. Stories linking
Doolittle with Abramoff and other big donors make me want to know more.
But Pombo? Since 1999, the Center for Responsive Politics found,
Pombo received $40,500 from Abramoff or his client tribes. The center also
found that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., received $40,980 from Abramoff
tribes but Pelosi and CREW aren't calling Murray corrupt.
"I've read that I was one of his closest allies in the House,"
Pombo told me over coffee last week. "I know that I've met him three times.
I may have met him another time or two."
Pombo knows why Democrats don't like him. He's chairman of the
House Resources Committee, and he has promoted opening the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Now, since the Dems have failed to unseat
him in a fair fight on issues, they're trolling in the muck and trying to
tie Pombo to Abramoff.
The Contra Costa Times took an exhaustive look at the charges
hurled at Pombo. The paper reported how Pombo used his clout, at times
excessively take taxpayer-funded pro-Bush mailers he sent out to
snowmobile owners in battleground states before the 2004 election but
there is no smoking gun.
Do I have issues with him? Yes. As I told Pombo, some of his
decisions emit the odor of having hobnobbed in D.C. for too long. Pombo's
wife has worked as a paid fund-raiser for his committee, and his brother as
a treasurer. He told me: "I have had family on the payroll from the very
beginning. When no one else would take my campaign, my brother left his job
... and worked for me."
As Pombo sees it, they are paid a fair wage an average of
$48,000 a year for his wife, $43,255 for his brother, according to the
Contra Costa Times and "I can trust them." Where he sees only
$40-something, I think voters may see nepotism. Pombo should understand that
it looks bad.
Ditto Steve Ding, who also makes more than $150,000 as chief of
staff for the Resources committee, but also makes money as Pombo's
congressional chief of staff and on the side working for GOP candidates.
It's odd for a committee chief of staff to live outside of the Beltway and
let taxpayers foot the bill some $30,000 a year when he visits the
Pombo believes it's better to get committee staff out of
Washington. He wants his aides to live in "the real world." Ding noted that
his travel is covered by an operating budget. It doesn't cost extra, and it
is customary for taxpayers to fund staffers' travel either to or from a
Cunningham's graft netted him a 19th-century Louis-Philippe
commode. DeLay traveled and golfed in high style on Abramoff's dime, as he
conveniently turned against a bill to curb Internet gambling. Pombo is made
of different stuff. His idea of a good vacation is taking his family to
Yellowstone in an RV.
As for Nancy Pelosi, she has shown that corruption doesn't
bother her nearly as much as losing House seats. As long as she picks on
Pombo, not the real Abramoff cronies, she deserves to lose more.