A memorandum issued Friday by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to Democratic senators indicates that Democrats plan to take an offensive position surrounding Jack Abramoff, a former conservative superlobbyist who is now entangled with several Republican members of Congress in a bribery scandal that threatens to transform Washington.
The memo, leaked to RAW STORY Monday, reveals that Democrats plan to focus on Abramoff as a means to tie Republicans to a "culture of corruption," a longtime Democratic talking point that only now seems to be finding resonance in the mainstream press.
"The Abramoff guilty plea is just the beginning," Reid wrote fellow Democrats. "This scandal will strike at the heart of the Republican political machine that stretches from Congress to K Street, to the White House and back.... It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans will face serious negative electoral consequences next November."
"Democrats must stay on the offensive against scandal-ridden, Republican-run Washington," Reid added. "Together, we must clearly and effectively communicate to the American people that it is the culture of corruption created by Republicans in Washington that is standing in the way of action on their priorities."
According to Capitol Hill's Roll Call, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will introduce a “Honest Leadership Act” as part of their drive Jan. 18, which will seek to toughen ethics rules and rein in lobbyists.
Republicans, meanwhile, have attacked Reid for not returning $61,000 in campaign contributions made by Abramoff clients. Reid and Democrats have noted that the money did not come from Abramoff himself, and say they have done no favors for the embattled lobbyist. One of Reid's former staffers, Eddie Ayoob, took a job with Abramoff's firm and is said to have held a fundraiser for the senator at Abramoff's offices.
“Senator Reid has done nothing wrong and he doesn't see any reason why he would need to return the money,” spokeswoman Teresa Hafen told the Associated Press.
Though the decision to focus on Abramoff carries political risks, Democrats have solid ground in arguing that they did not benefit equally from Abramoff's largesse. In fact, not a single Democrat received money from Abramoff himself -- who was a Republican. Democrats received roughly half as much from Abramoff's retinue: Republicans netted $2,886,088, while Democrats collected $2,541,673. To date, only Republicans have been referenced as part of a criminal investigation into Abramoff's alleged wrongdoings.
Those legislators most likely to be caught in the Abramoff web include former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). Each stand accused of doing favors for Abramoff and received sizable donations from his clients and associates.
The memorandum follows.
JANUARY 6, 2006
TO: SENATE DEMOCRATS
FROM: SENATOR REID
SUBJECT: THE REPUBLICAN CULTURE OF CORRUPTION
The New Year is beginning just as the last year ended - with Americans getting a direct look at how Republican-run Washington really works.
The guilty pleas of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff have lifted the veil of Republican corruption that the President and Congressional Republicans have tried desperately to hide behind. The Abramoff revelations are just the tip of the iceberg. This is the largest political scandal since Watergate. The American people are disgusted with the “pay to play” politics that the Republican regime kicked into gear a decade ago and have nurtured ever since.
Republicans are desperate to have Americans to believe that Democrats are also implicated in the Abramoff scandal. It’s simply not true and the facts are clear. Jack Abramoff - a Bush pioneer and Tom DeLay’s “closest friend” - showered Republican officials with gifts and entered into “quid pro quo” arrangements on behalf of special interests with Republican members of Congress. It is Republicans who were referenced in the plea agreement and it will be Republicans who will continue to be implicated by Abramoff.
The Abramoff guilty plea is just the beginning. This scandal will strike at the heart of the Republican political machine that stretches from Congress to K Street, to the White House and back. From Scooter Libby to Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, David Safavian, Jack Abramoff, and the K Street Project, the culture of corruption in Republican Washington is stretched far and wide. The public’s distrust of the Bush administration is growing. As a result of the Bush Administration’s manipulation of prewar intelligence, Katrina and domestic spying, it is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans will face serious negative electoral consequences next November.
Democrats must stay on the offensive against scandal-ridden, Republican-run Washington. Together, we must clearly and effectively communicate to the American people that it is the culture of corruption created by Republicans in Washington that is standing in the way of action on their priorities. The American people want their elected leaders in Washington to focus on their interests, not the special interests. That the Republicans had the audacity to put the leader of their notorious K-Street Project, Rick Santorum, in charge of their “reform” effort shows just how out of touch they are with what’s going on in this county.
Last October, I joined with House and Senate Democrats to call for new reforms that will hold the government accountable and end the culture of cronyism and corruption that pervades Washington. We committed to closing the revolving door, tightening restrictions on lobbyists and increasing transparency in government. We will build on these commitments and soon unveil an aggressive reform package that will make sure Main Street has more influence than K Street.
I want to provide a brief overview for you on our plans to clean up Washington.
The Republican culture of corruption:
As Republican Congressman Jeff Flake said this week, “The problem is that power corrupts, and we simply have too much of it.” After years of controlling every branch of government and changing the way government works in order to further their special interest agenda. The gross overreach caused by Republican largesse is finally coming to light.
With his fundraising power, Jack Abramoff obtained unprecedented access to Republican elected officials and their staff. His friends even bragged about his access to the Oval Office. He used his influence in a classic pay to play program. Whether it was through Conrad Burns, Tom DeLay or Bob Ney, Abramoff turned cash into legislative action for his clients.
As Newt Gingrich said just this week, “This is not one bad person doing one bad thing…You can't have a corrupt lobbyist without a corrupt member or a corrupt staffer on the other end.” Four Members were referenced in the plea agreement. All four were Republicans.
History has demonstrated that when scandal breaks, the party in power suffers. Going into the 1994 elections, Gallup found exactly equal numbers saying Democrats and Republicans in Congress were “mostly honest and ethical.” Less than three weeks after that poll was taken, Democrats lost 55 House seats and 9 Senate seats partly due to the ethics charges Republicans hurled at us that year. It is our responsibility to ensure that voters understand the facts: Republicans are responsible for creating this mess; Democrats will clean it up.
Democrats are ready to reform Washington:
As we have in times past, Democrats will lead the charge to reform the way Washington works. In the 1970s we fought to create the Senate Ethics Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence and in the 1990s we created new rules to protect employees here in the Congress. We will do it again now because like the American people, we believe that bribing government officials and Republican quid pro quo politics - have no place in the Halls of Congress or the White House. Even before the Abramoff pleas in November 2005, Democrats held an 11-point margin over Republicans in a Gallup poll when asked who would do better at dealing with corruption in government. To put it in perspective, that was exactly the same margin Republicans had on dealing with terrorism, their traditional strength.
Over the last several months, we’ve worked with the House to develop an aggressive package of reforms to restore ethics in Washington and ensure all elected officials focus on the people’s business. We will soon unveil those reforms and make them our top priority when Congress returns in January. The President is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union on January 31st. We hope that he will join us in supporting these reforms and cleaning up his party.
We believe we should increase transparency and accountability in government so the public can see exactly what their elected representatives are doing here in Washington. By reinvigorating the enforcement of government ethics rules, we can ensure that no member of Congress can break the law and simply skirt by. We will close the revolving door between Congress and K Street and strengthen the ban on lobbying after Members of Congress and senior government officials leave to work in the private sector. The special interest agenda cannot dominate Congress’s agenda.
We must also revisit gift and travel rules that allowed Abramoff to plan junkets for Members of Congress. We need more disclosure from lobbyists so the Abramoffs of the world are forced to operate in the sunshine. We must let light back into the halls of Congress so that the American people can see directly what impact lobbyists and special interests have on writing and passing laws. Allowing legislation to be written in smoky back rooms by industry lobbyists is unacceptable. Democrats will offer solutions to end these practices.
In the coming days and weeks, your offices will hear more from the Senate Democratic Communications Center about activities here in Washington that will promote our campaign, and tools you can use to bring this message to your states. I encourage each of you to help us take advantage of this opportunity to change the country.