Trail of sleaze paved with corporate cash

Culture of corruption aims for GOP one-party rule

WASHINGTON — “Under the Influence,” an Oct. 9 report by Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, exposes the torrent of corporate cash pouring into the coffers of Republican incumbents scrambling to stave off defeat in the Nov. 7 election.

Congress Watch Director Laura MacCleery told the World, “With the Abramoff scandal and other allegations of corruption, we’re seeing the corrosive role of money in our political process, threatening democracy and the integrity of Congress.”

Candidates are far too dependent on big money donors, lobbyists, out-of-state money and goodies like privately funded travel, she said. “People are desperate for a solution. Government is not of, by and for the people. They want lobby and funding reform, a fundamental change in the way we pay for elections.”

In Ohio, incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Oxley raked in an average of $167,048 in recent two year election cycles from lobbyists, plus $649,302 from out-of-state donors, “an astounding 81.9 per of Oxley’s contributions from individuals,” the report charges. House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio was second with $147,833 in gifts from so-called K Street lobbyists.

The “sleaze factor” also includes outrage that the Republican leadership covered up Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails to teenage pages. Reps. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio) both pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Outrage is also soaring that Halliburton, Bechtel, and other corporations with crony ties to the Bush-Cheney administration enriched themselves with corrupt, no-bid contracts in Iraq even as the death toll of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers in Iraq has soared to a record high.

Susan Ralston, former secretary to Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, resigned as “special assistant” to President George W. Bush after a report by the House Committee on Government Reform identified her as Abramoff’s liaison in at least 485 lobbying contacts with top White House officials, including at least 10 meetings between Abramoff and Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove.

Now a convicted felon, Abramoff hosted Rove at several sporting events and sumptuous feasts at his Signatures restaurant in violation of a law limiting gifts and gratuities for White House officials to not more than $20.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the

committee, said, “Following Abramoff’s guilty plea last January, the White House issued repeated statements that Mr. Abramoff was a virtual stranger to the White House. … These documents, if accurate, provide evidence that White House officials took multiple actions that benefited Mr. Abramoff and his clients, including the release of $16 million for the construction of a jail for the Mississippi Band of Choctaws.”

Abramoff, the report charged, “billed his clients over $24,000 for meals and drinks with White House officials and offered White House officials tickets to 19 events.”

Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, said ousted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was a ringleader in the corrupt scheme to impose Republican control on all levels of government. DeLay rammed through the redistricting of Texas to add five Republicans to the Texas congressional delegation, carving the district lines to protect incumbent Republicans, and diluting the Black and Latino vote in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

DeLay laundered cash from giant corporations like the Santa Fe Railroad to pay for the power grab. Ultimately he was indicted for violating a Texas law that forbids corporate contributions to election campaigns.

“This was not about one election,” said Wheat in a phone interview from his office in Austin. “This was about long-term Republican hegemony. The building block of that was money. That’s why they launched the K Street Project — to lean on the corporate lobby to finance this machine.”

The K Street Project initiated after Bush’s theft of the 2000 election, was a scheme by DeLay, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Abramoff, and right-wing strategist Grover Norquist to purge Democrats from the ranks of the 40,000 lobbyists with offices on K Street in downtown Washington. They met every Tuesday to plot their plan to impose permanent Republican control on Congress.

In Texas, there is no limit on how much an individual can contribute to a candidate, Wheat said. Bob Perry, owner of a home building company, pours $3.4 million or $4 million into every election to put Republicans in office. “He bankrolled Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election,” said Wheat. “Now he is funding various efforts to help Republicans hold on to majority control of the Congress.”

The tide is turning, Wheat said. “People are beginning to catch on to the war profiteering in the Middle East, the lack of response to Hurricane Katrina. People are beginning to ask: ‘Why is it that the government is working for the big oil corporations, not us, not even helping those hit by a disaster like Katrina?’”

Wheat added, “Enron, Ken Lay, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay have done us an enormous service. They have opened the eyes of the people to how our government is being bought and sold.”

MacCleery pointed out that 300 candidates in the midterm election, including 58 incumbents, have signed a “Voters First” pledge to support the “Clean Money, Clean Elections Act,” HR 3099. Reps. John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the bill to establish full public financing of all elections to the House of Representatives.

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