AP's Solomon lobbed more faulty ethics accusations at Reid

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Associated Press writer John Solomon reported that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) had attended three Las Vegas boxing matches as the guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission while the agency "was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing." But Solomon failed to inform readers that, rather than taking any actions favorable to the NAC, Reid allowed the specific legislation that the agency had opposed to pass.*

In a May 29 article, Associated Press writer John Solomon reported that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) had attended three Las Vegas boxing matches as the guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) at a time when the agency "was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing." But while Solomon suggested that Reid might have been improperly influenced by his acceptance of the free ringside tickets, he failed to inform readers that, rather than taking any actions favorable to the NAC, Reid did just the opposite: Several months after attending one such event, he allowed the specific legislation to pass that, according to the article, the agency had opposed.**

Solomon also revived his previous allegations of links between Reid and disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a Republican, and purported to offer more evidence of such a connection. But as with his previous articles on the topic, Solomon failed to prove that the links in question -- including several meetings and fundraising activities involving Abramoff's law firm or clients -- led Reid to take actions favorable to Abramoff's interests.

In the article, Solomon revealed that Reid had been treated to ringside seats at several Las Vegas boxing matches while the Senate was considering whether to create a federal boxing commission -- legislation that Reid had designed and supported, but that the NAC opposed. The article began:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.

Reid took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority.

Only much later -- 31 paragraphs into the 40-paragraph article -- did Solomon return to the central issue of the NAC's "efforts to influence him on federal regulation of boxing":

Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission when Reid took the free tickets, said one of his desires was to convince Reid and McCain that there was no need for the federal government to usurp the state commission's authority. At the time, McCain and Reid were pushing legislation to create a federal boxing commission.

"I invited him because I was talking with his staff" about the legislation, Ratner said. "This was a chance for all of my commissioners, who are politically appointed, to interact with them. It was important for them to see how we in Nevada did things.

"I am a states rights activist and I didn't want any federal bill that would take away our state rights to regulate fights," he said, adding that he hoped McCain and Reid, at the very least, would be persuaded to model any federal commission after Nevada's body.

Reid said he remembered talking to Ratner briefly at the fights and knew Ratner was working with his Senate staff on the federal legislation.

But Solomon failed to report the outcome of these efforts -- information seemingly relevant to a determination of whether Reid was improperly influenced by the NAC. In fact, more than six months after accepting free tickets to a September 14, 2004, match in Las Vegas, Reid allowed the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2005 to pass the Senate by unanimous consent on May 9, 2005. The 2005 bill was nearly identical to the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2003, which Reid co-sponsored and was instrumental in designing.***

In previous reports, Solomon has similarly suggested unethical behavior on Reid's part while ignoring crucial details and relevant context that undermined the suggested improprieties. In a February 9 article, Solomon highlighted numerous routine contacts between Reid's office and Abramoff's lobbying firm and clients and juxtaposed these incidents with actions later taken by Reid. In one case, Solomon suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff regarding legislation to raise the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, which Abramoff opposed. But as Media Matters for America noted (here and here), Solomon failed to inform readers whether Reid subsequently acted to benefit Abramoff's interests. In fact, Reid not only voted for the legislation opposed by Abramoff, but co-sponsored it. In the same article, Solomon highlighted Reid's opposition to a Senate bill allowing a Michigan tribe to open a casino that would have rivaled a casino owned by one of Abramoff's tribal clients. But while Solomon suggested that Reid had moved against the legislation at the tribe's behest, he ignored that Reid's actions were entirely consistent with his longtime opposition to off-reservation gambling.

In the May 29 article, Solomon noted these prior reports and purported to offer more evidence that Reid took "several actions benefiting disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clients and partners as they donated to him." Solomon then listed several interactions and fundraising events involving Reid -- a longtime member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee -- and leaders of various tribes represented by Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's lobbying firm. But Solomon offered only one piece of evidence that Reid took any action specifically benefiting any of those tribes. In 2003, he sponsored legislation providing $100,000 for a soil-erosion study to a Louisiana tribe represented by Abramoff's firm. But as Solomon noted, Reid's action came after he received a request by members of Louisiana's congressional delegation:

In an interview Thursday in his Capitol office, Reid broadly defended his decisions to accept the tickets and to take several actions benefiting disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clients and partners as they donated to him.

"I'm not Goodie two shoes. I just feel these events are nothing I did wrong," Reid said.

Reid had separate meetings in June 2003 in his Senate offices with two Abramoff tribal clients and Edward Ayoob, a former staffer who went to work lobbying with Abramoff.

The meetings occurred over a five-day span in which Ayoob also threw a fundraiser for Reid at the firm where Ayoob and Abramoff worked that netted numerous donations from Abramoff's partners, firm and clients.

Reid said he viewed the two official meetings and the fundraiser as a single event. "I think it all was one, the way I look at it," he said.

One of the tribes, the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan, donated $9,000 to Reid at the fundraiser and the next morning met briefly with Reid and Ayoob at Reid's office to discuss federal programs. Reid and the tribal chairman posed for a picture.

Five days earlier, Reid met with Ayoob and the Sac & Fox tribe of Iowa for about 15 minutes to discuss at least two legislative requests. Reid's office said the senator never acted on those requests.

A few months after the fundraiser, Reid did sponsor a spending bill that targeted $100,000 to another Abramoff tribe, the Chitimacha of Louisiana, to pay for a soil erosion study Ayoob was lobbying for. Reid said he sponsored the provision because Louisiana lawmakers sent him a letter requesting it.

Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist, has pleaded guilty in a widespread corruption probe of Capitol Hill. Reid used that conviction earlier this year to accuse Republicans of fostering a culture of corruption inside Congress.

AP recently reported that Reid also wrote at least four letters favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients around the time Reid collected donations from those clients and Abramoff's partners. Reid has declined to return the donations, unlike other lawmakers, saying his letters were consistent with his beliefs.

Abridged versions of Solomon's article appeared in the May 30 editions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today.

Media Matters has also noted flaws in Solomon's November 29, 2005, article regarding Sen. Byron Dorgan's (D-ND) purported ties to Abramoff and his July 15 article on the CIA leak case.

* This item originally stated: But Solomon failed to inform readers that, rather than taking any actions favorable to the NAC, Reid voted in favor of the specific legislation that, according to the article, the agency opposed.

** This item originally stated: Several months after attending one such event, he voted in favor of the specific legislation that, according to the article, the agency opposed.

*** This item originally stated: In fact, more than six months after accepting free tickets to a September 14, 2004, match in Las Vegas, Reid voted in favor of the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2005, which would have established the federal boxing commission that the NAC strongly opposed. The bill unanimously passed the Senate on May 9, 2005, and was nearly identical to the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2003, which Reid co-sponsored and was instrumental in designing. Moreover, Reid's 2005 vote was in keeping with his long-standing support for greater federal regulation of boxing.

With regard to these corrections, the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2005 passed the Senate by unanimous consent, a procedure in which the votes of individual senators are not recorded. According to the U.S. Senate's online glossary, unanimous consent is used only if "all Senators concerned have had an opportunity to inform the leaders that they find it acceptable." Under unanimous consent, the passage of the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2005 would have required the sign-off of Reid and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).

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Government, Ethics
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Associated Press
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John Solomon
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