A stalwart congressional
supporter of embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
(R-TX) has confirmed to RAW
STORY that in-kind donations for several fundraisers
held at skyboxes believed maintained by fallen lobbyist
Jack Abramoff were not reported until this year.
The congressman, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), amended his
campaign finance filings in February and April, listing
three in-kind donations from the Greenberg Traurig political
action committee, a fund managed by Abramoff’s
former firm. The events dated from 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Tiahrt press secretary Chuck Knapp called the amendments
“a campaign staff oversight.”
Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman Jill Perry expressed
surprise that the congressman had declared in-kind donations
from the firm’s committee. She denied the PAC
held skybox fundraising events at the Washington, D.C.
Tiahrt’s office declined to identify who held
the fundraiser, saying only that those they had worked
with had left the firm.
The confusion over who held the fundraisers adds a
new twist to an already tangled story concerning a powerful
lobbyist now under investigation by four separate entities—including
a Senate committee and the FBI—regarding his lobbying
work. Previous newspaper reports assert that Abramoff
billed tribal clients through a company he set up called
Sports Suites LLC.
Knapp repeatedly indicated that the congressman and
his staff believed they had been working with Greenberg’s
PAC. Perry denied the charge.
“Our PAC didn’t manage those skyboxes,”
In lieu of stories tying GOP leader DeLay to a lobbying
scandal, congressional staff have checked their books
to ensure all events have been correctly reported.
Tiahrt joins a dozen or so members who have acknowledged
events or trips footed by lobbyists. Knapp said Abramoff
wasn’t at the skybox fundraisers.
“If he walked into my House right now, I wouldn’t
know it was him,” Knapp said. “The congressman
doesn’t know him, didn’t have a relationship
Abramoff's legal spokesman, Andrew Blum, said only
that Abramoff doesn't recall every event.
The Kansas congressman was among 20 Republican members
who voted recently not to reverse ethics rules some
saw as protecting DeLay, and has publicly declared that
DeLay did nothing wrong. The House voted to rescind
them late last month, 406-20.
“Tom DeLay did nothing wrong,” Tiahrt told
reporters in April. “There’s no evidence
of any breaking of the House rules. What this is, is
a political smear campaign made by an organization,
a political party that is devoid of ideas.”
Knapp told RAW STORY
that the congressman’s staff likely would not
have caught the omissions had attention not come to
“We wouldn’t have realized our mistake,”
he said. “We found an error that we probably wouldn’t
have gone looking for had there not been attention to
that particular PAC.”
“We definitely try to have our filings accurate.
I think we’ve had 57 amendments since the congressman
has been in office,” Knapp said. “We’ve
filed an event with [Greenberg’s PAC] in the past
– it’s not like we were trying to hide anything
or deceive anyone; it was just a bookkeeping error.”
The fundraiser Tiahrt reported in regular filings was
in February of 2004. Abramoff left Greenberg in March
of that year.
Melanie Sloan, executive director for the progressive
ethics group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility
in Washington, chided Tiahrt and said his conduct merits
an ethics investigation.
“Those kind of errors are inexcusable,”
Sloan said. “They’re breaking a law.”
Sloan took particular issue with Tiahrt’s office
saying they probably would not have caught the missed
payment had scrutiny not come to the lobbyist’s
“We should be expecting better of this out of
our members of Congress, and I hope that Tiahrt’s
constituents demand a better answer and more accountability,”
she continued. “The combination of those comments
along with the failure to file properly and in a timely
fashion suggest that Mr. Tiahrt’s conduct merits
an ethics investigation.”
“I’d like to know what other laws he doesn’t
feel like following?” she added. “Exactly
who does he think these laws are intended for?”
Knapp took umbrage with Sloan’s assessment.
“They would be terribly distorting what we said
and did if they charged that we maliciously did not
intend to file,” he said. “We filed for
that organization before. Anyone objectively looking
at this would come to the conclusion that this was clerical
Asked whether he shared the assessment by some Republicans
that Sloan was unfairly singling out Republicans, Knapp
said, “I’m not going to judge whether or
not they’re objective; I’ll let others do
Judicial Watch, a more conservative-leaning group,
noted that Tiahrt was among several members who appear
to have violated House rules.
“Tiahrt is not alone,” said Judicial Watch
Director of Investigations Chris Farrell. “Basically
they can’t follow the rules, so they either file
late or change the standard.”
Farrell said he felt the real problem was a rules change
made in 1997 which prohibited anyone but other members
of Congress from filing ethics complaints.
“The real scandal of the House ethics rules dates
back to 1997 when they changed the rules to make sure
the great unwashed masses (the American public) could
not file complaints against a sitting congressman on
their own,” Farrell said. “Frankly, there’s
great reluctance on the part of House members not to
pull the trigger on other House members.”
Farrell said Tiahrt’s case “illuminates
how members routinely flaunt the existing regulations,
and only when it’s scrutinized do they hardly
comply with the rules that they’re blowing off
on a day to day basis.”
Farrell sees a solution to the current ethics crisis
in greater disclosure.
“The sure solution to these sorts of mini-scandals,
or these sorts of mini-ethical dilemmas is sunlight,”
he remarked. “That’s what fixes it nine
times out of ten.”
Knapp said Tiahrt’s campaign missed the in-kind
donations because they never received anything from
“Part of the problem with his organization—unlike
almost any other organization we deal with, they didn’t
send us the information,” he said. “When
we’re putting together our reports, we will get
something from an organization. We could never get that
“When we were trying to file these amended reports,
we tried to contact them,” he added. "We
probably overestimated just to be safe.”
Tiahrt’s office wouldn't say who they worked
with at Abramoff’s former firm, but did say that
some lobbyists employed at the firm who worked with
Abramoff—including Kevin Ring, Todd Boulanger,
and Jim Hirni—sounded familiar.
In February, Tiahrt’s campaign reported two $1,500
in-kind donations for the use of an MCI Center skybox
in March 2002 and February 2003. Last month, the campaign
also disclosed a $940 in-kind contribution for tickets
and catering in an amended filing for July 31, 2001.
Tiahrt’s office also noted a $1,000 contribution
from Greenberg’s PAC on Feb. 1, 2002, two days
before an 2002 event paid for this February.
Article originally published May 10, 2005.