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Democratic anti-corruption bill may impact 'large list' of lawmakers

Brian Beutler
Published: Tuesday January 16, 2007
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New legislation that will appear shortly before the Senate Judiciary Committee will make it significantly more difficult for public officials to escape indictment or conviction for corruption.

In what may be a sign that the bill will have an easy time in committee, a judiciary aide contacted by RAW STORY couldn't say precisely when the bill would go before the committee, saying instead that it wasn't yet clear "if we'll even have to schedule hearings."

According to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), "the bill authorizes $25 million in additional federal funds over each of the next four years to give federal investigators and prosecutors needed resources to go after public corruption."

The bill, released along with a war-profiteering prevention act as part of an anti-corruption package by the Senate Judiciary leader, works mainly by extending the statute of limitations on "bribery, deprivation of honest services, and extortion by a public official" by three years.

However, the bill is partially retroactive, and, if it passes, will apply to acts of corruption committed as long ago as 2002, thus potentially affecting many in Congress who are suspected of having illicit ties to indicted former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) or convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff.

Current law mandates that, in the absence of an indictment, a public figure will escape criminal prosecution or penalty once five years have passed since committing an act of corruption. Leahy's legislation, which is retroactive to crimes committed five years ago, extends that statute of limitations to eight years.

In the absence of the amendments proposed in the Leahy bill (dubbed the "Effective Corruption Prosecutions Act"), an act of criminal corruption committed by a public official in 2002 will no longer be adjudicable this year. If Leahy's bill passes, that same crime will now be prosecutable until 2010, after President Bush leaves office.

This change, though small, means that many officials—whose names have become associated with visible acts of criminal corruption—will be less able to dodge full investigations into potential misconduct by waiting out the existing statute.

A judiciary aide told RAW STORY that the bill was not intended to target any particular politicians, noting that "it is about the importance of fighting corruption in general."

Bill may impact 'large list' of officials

The list of potential officials the proposed legislation could impact is large, and includes some familiar names.

Former Montana Senator Conrad Burns, who was ousted by Democratic rival John Tester in the November elections, is widely believed to have acted inappropriately on behalf of Abramoff-affiliated donors, whose contributions between 2000 and 2002 total around $250,000. Burns also participated in a revolving door system that shuttled lobbyists between jobs on K Street and others as aides on Capitol Hill.

In the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) received over $30,000 in contributions from Abramoff and, along with DeLay, then House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), sent a letter to then-Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton urging that she oppose efforts by one band of Louisiana Native Americans (the Choctaw) to build a casino that would have competed with another (the Coushatta) represented by Abramoff.

Documents overturned by the judge who indicted Tom DeLay also show that, in 2003 Blunt may have had ties to one of DeLay's political action committees (PACs), which was widely to believe to have conducted illegal fundraising.

Also potentially implicated in the Indian gambling controversy are Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). According to Paul Kiel, reporting for the website TPM Muckraker, Cochran received contributions from one of Abramoff's groups "because [his] office never said 'no' to the Mississippi Choctaw -- the casino-owning tribe that was one of Abramoff's prime clients since the beginning of his lobbying career."

Meanwhile Doolittle, from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, helped secure $37 million for a company called PerfectWave, owned by a defense contractor named Brent Wilkes, from whom disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) accepted bribes.

In a similar vein, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) lobbied the Interior Department to award funds to the Michigan Saginaw Chippewas to build a school. The funds were intended for impoverished tribal schools, but the Saginaws were too wealthy to benefit. After sending a letter on their behalf, the Democratic senator received nearly $20,000 from Abramoff affiliated tribes.

Other notable public officials who have been implicated in acts of corruption since 2002 include former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), former Rep. William Pombo (R-CA), and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

The bill could not have been made to apply to corruption committed prior to 2002 because, under current law, those crimes are already beyond the statute, and doing so would have violated ex post facto protections.

Editor's note: Due to an editing mistake two lawmakers were earlier mistakenly listed as Democrats.