[Marxism] Political Donations, Bribery and the Portrayal of a Nexus

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Fri Nov 25 13:50:29 MST 2005


Political Donations, Bribery and the Portrayal of a Nexus 
    By Carl Hulse 
    The New York Times (???!!!)

    Friday 25 November 2005 

    Washington - The American system of underwriting political campaigns is
often derided as legalized bribery. Now the Justice Department is contending
that it can amount to illegal bribery as well. 

    In pursuing a case that threatens to envelop Congress in an
election-year lobbying scandal, federal prosecutors are arguing that
campaign dollars and other perks routinely showered on lawmakers by those
with legislative and political interests on Capitol Hill can reach the level
of criminal misconduct. ( No shit -CB)

    The prosecutors say that among the criminal activities of Michael
Scanlon, a former House leadership aide who pleaded guilty on Monday to
bribery conspiracy, were efforts to influence a lawmaker identified in court
papers only as Representative No. 1 with gifts that included $4,000 to his
campaign account and $10,000 to a Republican Party fund on his behalf. 

    Lawyers and others who follow such issues say the case against Mr.
Scanlon amounted to a shift by the Justice Department, which, they say, has
generally steered clear of trying to build corruption cases around political
donations because the charges can be hard to prove. 

    "The department has rarely charged campaign contribution cases," said
Joseph E. diGenova, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. "It
would be a surprise that a contribution that has been lawfully reported"
would lead to a criminal charge. 

    The case against Mr. Scanlon, who became wealthy in a partnership with
the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, reaches far beyond the contributions to
Representative No. 1. Court documents filed by prosecutors lay out an
extensive conspiracy in which Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff, identified in
the documents only as Lobbyist A, sought to defraud clients - mainly Indian
tribes with gambling interests - and win legislative help from lawmakers in
exchange for campaign donations, trips, dinners, greens fees and jobs. 

    Watchdog groups and some lawmakers say the emerging details of how at
least one set of well-connected lobbyists operated should help build
momentum for changes in lobbying rules. And, they say, the case demonstrates
that the Justice Department shares their longstanding contention that
campaign contributions can be used to game the system. 

    "I think the Justice Department wants to show that there is a line that
can be crossed," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for
Responsive Politics. 

    Others say a vast majority of lawmakers are committed to operating
within the rules that already exist and in any event would not be easily
swayed by the attentions of special interests, no matter how generous. 

    "Contributions can only take you so far," said former Senator John B.
Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat who has relocated to a K Street law firm and is
now advising clients on lobbying strategy. "I tell them, 'Look, you can give
to an elected official and take them to lunch, dinner and breakfast. But if
you are asking them to vote yes on an issue and they have 2,000 letters from
home telling them to vote no, then you have a problem.' " 

    Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who has acknowledged being
Representative No. 1, dismisses any suggestion that he was persuaded to do
Mr. Scanlon's bidding because of campaign aid or perks like meals,
entertainment or overseas travel. 

    "Whenever Representative Ney took official action," a statement from his
office said, "actions similar to those taken by elected representatives
every day as part of the normal, appropriate government process, he did so
based on his best understanding of what was right and not based on any
improper influence." 

    But the scrutiny of Mr. Ney has caught the attention of anxious
lawmakers who have lobbying relationships of their own. It has also spurred
advocacy groups. The campaign finance watchdog Democracy 21, for instance,
is calling for inquiries by the House and Senate ethics committees into
whether three dozen other members of Congress received contributions in
exchange for intervening on behalf of a client of Mr. Abramoff. 

    The Associated Press reported this month that various lawmakers of both
parties had asked the Interior Department to reject a casino application
from a tribe that was a rival to one of Mr. Abramoff's clients. The
lawmakers later received campaign aid from the tribe and Mr. Abramoff. Among
the beneficiaries was the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada,
who received a $5,000 contribution to his political action committee shortly
after sending a letter to the department in 2002. 

    Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said Mr. Abramoff and the donation
had had nothing to do with the position of the senator, who Mr. Manley noted
was an author of Indian gaming laws and an opponent of new Indian casinos.
"There was absolutely no connection between the letter and the
contributions," he said. 

    Federal law requires that to prove bribery, the government must
establish that a "thing of value" was provided in a direct effort to obtain
a specific official act - the essential quid pro quo. A more vague
expectation that something like a contribution might influence a public
official has been deemed insufficient. 

    Mr. diGenova and others said that as a result, the Justice Department
had been reluctant to try to link official actions to political donations,
leaning instead toward cases in which public officials had been personally
enriched. 

    Those watching the current case see Mr. Scanlon's decision to cooperate
in the continuing investigation of Mr. Abramoff and others as a crucial link
to the possibility of further charges: as an insider, he could conceivably
provide evidence of a strong tie between efforts to influence lawmakers and
their official actions. 

    Criminal charges aside, some watchdogs and members of Congress say they
hope that public exposure of lobbying abuse stirs the Congressional ethics
committees to police lawmakers more aggressively and that it simultaneously
builds support for tighter lobbying restrictions. 

    "I think most Americans play by the rules and expect their leaders in
government to do the same," said an author of one such proposal,
Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. "It is time for
Congress to clean up its act." 

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