Abramoff an "equal money dispenser"? Not exactly

The lobbyist's associates and clients may have given money to Democrats, but he hasn't.

Published January 4, 2006 2:22PM (EST)

When George W. Bush was asked about Jack Abramoff a couple of weeks ago, he said: "It seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."

It might have seemed that way to the president because that's the spin his party, and more than a few members of the press, continue to lay out for the public. In a section of its Web site called "Glass Houses," the National Republican Senatorial Committee claims that 40 of the 45 Senate Democrats have "taken money from Abramoff, his associates or his Indian tribe clients." Appearing on "Hardball" -- where host Chris Matthews has portrayed corruption as a bipartisan problem -- the New York Times' Anne Kornblut said last month that Abramoff "donated to Democrats." The Times reports today that while Abramoff is "most closely linked to Republicans," "many" Democrats "benefited from his largesse." And while the Washington Post focuses today on the way in which Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the disgraced lobbyist, it warns that "Democrats could be ensnared by the Abramoff case, as well."

So what's the truth?

So far as anyone can tell -- and the anyones here include the National Journal, Bloomberg News and Media Matters, among others -- Jack Abramoff himself hasn't given a dime to any Democrat in Congress. That said, Abramoff's associates and clients have given money to politicians from both parties. Greenberg Traurig, the law firm for which Abramoff worked, has doled out money on both sides of the aisle, as have the Indian tribes Abramoff represented. But as Bloomberg noted, Greenberg Traurig is a big firm with interests beyond those involving Abramoff. And some of the political contributions Abramoff's Indian clients made to Democrats came before Abramoff was representing them; once Abramoff began lobbying on their behalf, Bloomberg found, the Indian tribes gave a smaller percentage of their contributions to Democratic lawmakers.

What does it mean? As a political matter, the Abramoff scandal lives in the heart of the GOP. Abramoff is a Republican through and through -- a former president of the College Republicans, a Bush-Cheney Pioneer, a close, personal friend of Tom DeLay's -- and his own campaign contributions reflect that fact. As a legal matter, the scandal could indeed hurt members of Congress from both parties. As Abramoff's admissions about his dealings with Ohio Rep. Bob Ney seem to suggest, you can buy yourself a politician with someone else's money just as easily as you can buy one with your own.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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