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. The collapse of Keating's shaky thrift cost taxpayers an estimated $2.6 billion. Democratic Sens. Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini and Don Riegle retired. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, won re-election, while GOP Sen. John McCain, the least culpable and most repentant of the unfab five, committed himself to rid politics of the taint 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 that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., raised $21,500 for a political action committee at Abramoff's restaurant. Seven days later, the gentleman from Illinois wrote to Norton against the Louisiana casino.
The Coushattas tribe an Abramoff client wrote two checks to political funds affiliated with Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, before Abramoff asked them to reroute the money to other GOP groups.
The Washington Post has chronicled the first-class trips 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 that the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to the political group of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid the day after Reid sent a letter to Norton. Over four years, Team Abramoff gave Reid's political funds more than $66,000.
Locally, Team Abramoff enriched the political coffers of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., by $64,500 from 2001 to 2004 according to AP.
Offices for the above lawmakers are outraged that anyone would suggest that these fine officeholders 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." Doolittle opposed California's state lottery.
Then maybe the surprise is that two Big Casino tribes donated $16,000 to the war chest of this upright gambling foe.
Another surprise: As part of his work for the casino tribes, 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 DeLay's office approached Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and asked him to assert into the congressional record remarks that attacked 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 Ney without mentioning that Abramoff was trying to buy Suncruz at a cut rate.
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 Scanlon will spend behind bars, he has agreed to pay $19 million to Indian tribes that had paid some $82 million to Abramoff and Scanlon. In return for their millions, 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 that 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.