Top McCain fundraiser has Abramoff ties
As a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, John McCain began the hearings that brought down Jack Abramoff, the former K-Street lobbyist, and key figure in a political scandal that landed Abramoff in jail.
But in Senator McCain's list of his 'bundlers' - or top money collectors - his campaign released this week, among the names was Juan Carlos Benitez, a fellow lawyer and lobbyist whom Abramoff had supported for a Bush administration post in 2001.
Questions have previously been raised about Benitez apart from his possible relationship with Abramoff. According to the blog Fired Up America, Benitez was lobbying for the island of Guam in 2003, at the same time that his wife was a special adviser on economic policy at the Department of the Interior, responsible for helping improve economic conditions on that island. "Mr. Benitez received a fee of $125,000 per month from the taxpayers of Guam, to arrange meetings that the taxpayers of the United States and Guam were already paying his wife to undertake."
The four-person lobbying team Benitez put together for the Guam account also included two men, David DiStefano and Roy Coffee, who were closely involved at the same time with the now-disgraced Rep. Bob Ney. Ney pleaded guilty in 2006 to corruption charges related to his dealings both with Jack Abramoff and with a shadowy European firm called FN Aviation. DiStefano, a former Ney chief of staff, and Coffee, who had been part of George W. Bush's staff when he was governor of Texas, both worked for FN Aviation in 2003 and also donated generously to Ney's campaign.
From the New York Times' 'The Caucus' political blog:
"According to a 2006 report of the House Committee on Government Reform, Mr. Abramoff had urged the appointment of Mr. Benitez as special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices. He was named to the position in 2001.
The committee's report said Mr. Benitez's job at the Justice Department "gave Benitez authority" to conduct investigations into unfair labor practices that were 'issues of importance to Abramoff clients.'"
After leaving the administration, Mr. Benitez joined the K Street lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, whose Web site says he "has exceptionally close ties to the White House."
Mr. Benitez said Mr. Abramoff had done him no favors. They had competed for lobbying contracts, Mr. Benitez said, adding that Mr. Abramoff had sought an administration job for Mr. Benitez to get him out of the business. Mr. Benitez said he had no communications with Mr. Abramoff while working at the Justice Department."
Mr. Benitez raised $50,000 to $100,000 for McCain, according to his web site.
A McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers said: "Jack Abramoff was just one of several people that recommended Mr. Benitez to the Justice Department. We hope that it is clear that the campaign is not aware of any hint of an allegation against Mr. Benitez."