Abramoff and the Democrats

ABRAMOFF AND THE DEMOCRATS….It?s now clear that the GOP strategy for limiting the damage from the Abramoff scandal is to employ the ?Democrats were doing it too? defense. And the press has been willing to help that strategy along. An Associated Press story, for instance, reported that a contribution to Democratic senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota had been made by the Coushatta Indians on Abramoff?s instructions. But AP failed to note that its source for that story, Jimmy Faircloth, is not just the Coushatta?s lawyer, but a Republican operative.

It?s no surprise that Republicans would hope to take out Dorgan as collateral damage in the Abramoff affair. Not only is he a red state Democrat, but, as the top Dem on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee he joined with John McCain earlier this year to hold the hearings into the Abramoff matter that got the ball rolling on the issue. Last month, in a piece headlined ?Dorgan Tangled in Abramoff Web,? the Washington Post reported that Dorgan was ?among beneficiaries of the largest campaign contributions from Abramoff’s associates and clients.? And it?s true that in March 2001, Dorgan held a fundraising event at the MCI Center in Abramoff?s skybox.

But Dorgan, who has been working on behalf of Indian tribes far longer than Abramoff has been bilking them, reported the gift as an in-kind contribution at the time. More important, the event was organized not by Abramoff but by Mike Smith, a colleague of Abramoff at the Greenberg Traurig lobbying firm. Smith, a veteran Democratic operative, had worked closely with Dorgan?s office before he joined Greenberg in 2000, a year before Abramoff did. Smith told Dorgan?s office that the box was owned by the Choctaw Indians, not by Abramoff ? something Smith himself was led to believe by Abramoff and his staff, according to a former Greenberg staffer.

But it?s not just Dorgan. The attempt to tie Democrats to Abramoff is breaking out all across the country ? and the press is buying it. AP reported last week (link no longer available) that in Arkansas, ?Republican and Democratic leaders are taking swipes at each other over both parties? ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates? (italics added). Democratic senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, AP reports, received money from Abramoff ?associates,? including Ron Platt, a Democratic lobbyist.

Platt?s connection to the disgraced lobbyist had first publicly surfaced in December, when the Washington Post listed Platt as part of ?Team Abramoff,? asserting that he ?lobbied for tribal clients of Jack Abramoff and…contributed money to politicians.?

It?s true that Platt and Abramoff had worked together on behalf of tribal clients at Greenberg. But the problem with making the link between Platt and Abramoff, as both the Post and AP try to do, is that Platt?s contributions pretty clearly have nothing to do with Abramoff. His wife contributed to Lincoln?s 1998 Senate run, three years before her husband started working with Abramoff. And Platt told me that his contribution to Pryor in 2004 came at the behest of the senator?s mother, an old personal friend. But that doesn?t stop the AP from headlining the story, ?GOP, Dems, trade barbs over Abramoff ties.?

The idea that Democratic lobbyists contributing to Democratic politicians were acting as part of Abramoff?s scam is absurd on its face. But it?s an idea that the press, in its obsession with finding an ?objective? storyline, can?t resist. And this is just the beginning.