A front-page, February 24 Washington Post article by staff writers Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and John Solomon baselessly linked current Democratic fundraising efforts to the scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The article, which reported that "congressional Democrats have enlisted their committee chairmen in an early blitz to bring millions of dollars into the party's coffers," reported that "[c]ritics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November." The article twice suggested that Democrats' fundraising from former Abramoff clients was inconsistent with their 2006 campaign pledge to end the Washington "culture of corruption."
According to the Post:
Eager to shore up their fragile House and Senate majorities, congressional Democrats have enlisted their committee chairmen in an early blitz to bring millions of dollars into the party's coffers, culminating in a late-March event featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 10 of the powerful panel chairs.
In the next 10 days alone, Democratic fundraisers will feature the chairmen of the House's financial services panel and the House and Senate tax-writing committees. Senate Democrats also plan a fundraising reception during a major gathering of Native Americans in the capital Tuesday evening, an event hosted by lobbyists and the political action committee for tribal casinos, including those Jack Abramoff was paid to represent.
Critics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November -- particularly the practice of giving interest groups access to committee chairmen in exchange for sizable donations -- but Democrats are unapologetic.
But it was in part a Republican lobbying scandal -- GOP lobbyist Abramoff's defrauding of Indian tribal clients and the subsequent investigation into his efforts to influence lawmakers with lavish gifts -- that gave Democrats their opening to regain control of Congress. Democrats took over in January after a campaign that accused Republicans of fostering a "culture of corruption" in Washington and "selling access" to lawmakers. Abramoff has been convicted of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy and is in federal prison.
Now, with the tables turned, Democrats are courting Abramoff's most famous clientele -- Indian tribes.
As Media Matters for America has documented, several media outlets have wrongly conflated Abramoff's illegal influence peddling -- Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion in January 2006, and several other Abramoff associates and government officials connected with the lobbyist were also convicted -- with the receipt by political officials of contributions from Abramoff clients or associates. The only suggestion the Post gave that the receipt of political contributions from Abramoff clients is not in itself an indication of corruption was a quote from a Democratic spokesman in the 24th paragraph of the 27-paragraph article:
Democrats reject any parallels to the Abramoff saga. "Abramoff was involved in a pervasive culture of corruption," said Matthew Miller, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Native Americans have every right to participate in the political process just like Americans across the country do."
Media Matters has documented past instances in which Solomon, then a reporter for the Associated Press, omitted key facts from his reports to allege connections between Abramoff and prominent Democrats. In a November 29, 2005, article, Solomon and AP reporter Sharon Theimer reported that Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) had received a political contribution arranged by Abramoff "just three weeks" after writing a letter in support of a tribal school program that would benefit the American Indian tribes that Abramoff represented. But as Media Matters noted, Dorgan had released a written statement in response to these allegations on November 28, 2005, in which he cited "written evidence" demonstrating that he had supported the program in August 2001, seven months before he received a $5,000 contribution to his political group, the Great Plains Leadership Fund, in March 2002. Also, the information upon which the allegation was based reportedly came to the AP from a lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians who has significant Republican ties -- a fact that Solomon and Theimer failed to mention.
In a February 9, 2006, article, Solomon and Theimer suggested that then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) coordinated with an Abramoff aide to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff. But as Media Matters noted, Solomon and Theimer omitted the fact that Reid was a co-sponsor of the legislation in question and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage.
As Media Matters also noted, Solomon wrote follow-up pieces to both articles that continued to assert the senators had links to Abramoff and ignored the facts that undermined the allegations.