Rush Limbaugh baselessly accused Sen. Carl Levin of being tainted by the Jack Abramoff scandal for accepting contributions from an Indian tribe. The newspaper articles Limbaugh cited to back up his claim offer no evidence linking Abramoff-directed contributions to Levin's efforts to obtain a federal grant for the tribe.
On the January 4 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh baselessly claimed that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is "tainted" by the Jack Abramoff scandal because he helped a Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe -- an Abramoff client -- acquire educational money "[i]n exchange" for Abramoff-directed contributions. In fact, the articles Limbaugh cited to support this claim present no evidence linking Abramoff-directed contributions to a letter Levin and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) wrote urging Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations, to approve the education funding. The Saginaw Chippewa tribe ultimately received a $3 million school grant, although the tribe had to be exempted from requirements otherwise rendering them ineligible for funding normally targeted at impoverished tribes.
According to Limbaugh, Levin "took thousands of dollars from Abramoff's firm" and, "[i]n exchange," the Saginaw Chippewa tribe "got a lot for their money, at least $3 million" because "Levin wrote a letter with Debbie Stabenow [D-MI] ... urging and pressuring Senator Conrad Burns's appropriations committee to give $3 million to the Saginaw Chippewas." To corroborate his claim, Limbaugh quoted the Helena (Montana) Independent Record and the Detroit Free Press, neither of which indicate that Levin's letter in any way resulted from money Levin received from Abramoff himself or from his former employers.
The Helena Independent Record article on which Limbaugh primarily relied to assert that money prompted Levin and Stabenow's letter actually addresses Ryan Thomas, a staffer for Burns whose alleged conduct surrounding the $3 million education grant has come under criticism. The article mentioned Levin and Stabenow once, quoting Thomas:
"I was one of many staffers whose jobs required us to make sure we were being responsive to the requests of senators before the subcommittee [on Interior and Related Agencies]. In this case (Michigan) Senators (Debbie) Stabenow and (Carl) Levin had expressed interest to the subcommittee and submitted a letter of request for the Saginaw school."
There is no other mention of either Levin or Stabenow in the article and no indication of whether or how money from Abramoff may have influenced their efforts on behalf of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe.
Limbaugh then claimed that the "Detroit Free Press says that Levin admits that he asked for the $3 million." The January 4 edition of the Free Press did report that Levin attempted to influence Burns's decision:
Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and Rep. David Camp, R-Midland, have said they urged Burns to allow the tribe to get the school money. The tribe's casino is in Camp's district.
The article noted that Levin received $2,000 from the Saginaw Chippewas, but it does not link that funding to or make any statements about Levin's motivations for writing the letter. The article also reported that Levin received $5,000 from Greenberg Traurig LLP, Abramoff's employer at the time, but cited Levin spokesperson Tara Andringa as saying that the contributions "weren't connected to Abramoff or casinos." As the National Journal Hotline weblog noted, Greenburg Traurig, a legal and lobbying firm, operates a political action committee that "regularly gives money to members of both parties."
A spokesperson for Stabenow has also denied any connection between the letter and $4,000 in Saginaw Chippewa contributions (although the Associated Press, which reported the spokesperson's comments, reported Saginaw Chippewa contributions to Stabenow as $4,000, the Detroit Free Press totaled those contributions at $5,000). As Media Matters for America has documented, only Republicans received direct contributions from Abramoff.
From the January 4 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: Apparently, the Detroit Free Press is reporting today that Carl Levin, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat, took thousands of dollars from Abrafobs -- Abramoff's firm back then, and -- and -- and from his client, this Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe. In exchange for that, the Indian tribe got a lot for their money, at least $3 million. According to the Helena Independent Record, Levin wrote a letter with Debbie Stabenow, also a liberal Democrat U.S. senator from Michigan, urging and pressuring Senator Conrad Burns's appropriations committee to give $3 million to the Saginaw Chippewas, one of America's wealthiest tribes, which didn't need the money. Today's Droit -- Detroit Free Press says that Levin admits that he asked for the $3 million. OK, so Levin's gonna be tainted.