February 24, 2006
Dean's Abramoff TieBy William Tate
Before Howard Dean huffed recently that 'not one dime of Jack Abramoff's money ever went to any Democrat,' he should have checked his own pockets.
By only the most Clintonesque parsing of words can Dean's statement be considered passably accurate. And in a very real sense, he need look no further than his own failed presidential campaign's accounts to see how funds tainted from Abramoff's tribal lobbying dealings ended up in Democrats' hands.
Even the Washington Post has admitted that Abramoff did not work in a vacuum on the controversial Indian tribal accounts. The Post went so far as to publish a chart of what it called the 'A Team.'
Among the recipients of campaign contributions from A Team members: Howard Dean.
FEC contribution number 23991382452 lists a $1,000 donation to Dean by Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Ronald Platt, a member of the Post's A Team, on June 30, 2003. At that time, lobbyist disclosure forms show Platt as working with Abramoff on two of the controversial tribal accounts: the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana , and the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana . The forms show that Platt worked on a third controversial tribal account, the Sandia Pueblo, with other A Team members but not Abramoff.
Platt was far from alone as an A Team member who gave to Democrats. An in—depth review of campaign contributions made by Abramoff's team of lobbyists shows that Democrats may actually have benefitted more than Republicans from their political donations.
The first thing that is striking upon review of the A Team political donations is how each individual lobbyist donated exclusively to only one political party. The second thing that one notices is how similar the total amounts are. From January, 2001 through March, 2004 — the time period that reports place Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig — seven of the 22 lobbyists that the Post cites as comprising the A Team donated $265,203 exclusively to Democrats (excluding a small amount to Greenberg Traurig's in—house political action committee), while nine team members — including Abramoff — contributed $255,315 to Republicans. Federal records show no political contributions from six of the team's lobbyists.
The numbers are so close, that one can't help but speculate that it could well be the result of forethought, a concerted effort to spread influence in both parties.
Among the Democratic recipients of A Team donations: the aforementioned Dr. Dean, Democrat Senators Clinton, Kerry, Daschle, Boxer, Baucus, Bayh, Breaux, Cantwell, Carnahan, Cleland, Conrad, Dodd, Dorgan, Feingold, Harkin, Hollings, Johnson (Tim), Landrieu, Leahy, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson, Pryor, Reed, Rockefeller, and Torricelli — who left the Senate in disgrace under the cloud of his own campaign finance scandal — as well as the Democratic Senate Majority Fund, a plethora of Democratic congressmen, and PAC's that distributed funds across the Democratic Party landscape.
Additionally, one of the A Team members, Michael D. Smith, had his own political action committee. Smith, a former official in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, distributed $168,000 to Democratic candidates through his Winning Margins PAC from 2001—2004, the closest reporting period to the time Abramoff was at Greenberg Traurig, according to federal records.
Disregarding the PAC money, Smith's personal donations to Democrats almost offset Abramoff's contributions to Republicans. F.E.C. records show that Smith donated $117,417 to Democrats or to his—or the firm's—PAC from January, 2001 through March, 2004. Abramoff gave $127,080 to Republicans during the same period.
Don't expect to hear much about this in the traditional media.
For one thing, most journalists loathe lobsters.
No, not the succulent crustaceans served with melted butter. 'Lobsters' is the pejorative term many reporters use for lobbyists.
(It is somewhat ironic that in an industry that—as a whole—decries anyone else's use of such epithets, the use of them is fairly common. Public relations professionals are flacks. Lobbyists are lobsters.)
To the media elite, 'lobsters' represent the antithesis of all they consider good. Journalists want openness—sunshine—in government. Lobbyists work behind the scenes out of the public view. Journalists like to believe they look out for the interests of the average guy. Lobbyists, they see as working only for moneyed special interests.
There is only one other group of people that draws the media's venom as much as lobsters do. Journalists have a derogatory name for these people, too. They call them ... Republicans.
William Tate is a writer and researcher and former broadcast journalist. He enjoys a lobster dinner every now and then in Santa Fe, New Mexico.