Washington scrambles as scandal snowballs

US PRESIDENT George Bush and dozens of other leading politicians are racing to distance themselves from a disgraced political lobbyist.

Many have announced they are refunding or giving to charity some or all of the donations they or their political action committees received from once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates or clients.

Abramoff pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three federal charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors requiring him to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation into members of Congress.

Mr Bush received $6,000 from Abramoff, his wife and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan on behalf of the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign. The money is being donated to the American Heart Association.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.

One senator explained that the fear factor and the shame factor both explained the sudden congressional interest in cleaning up the relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers now that Abramoff’s wheeling and dealing has been exposed.

Bills dealing with lobbying ethics that have been dormant for months are getting a new look as lawmakers digest the consequences of Abramoff’s pleading guilty to corruption and tax evasion charges, and his agreement to cooperate in an influence-peddling investigation that could taint dozens of members of Congress.

The “dramatic revelations” about Abramoff’s activities “will help spur reform,” said Senator Russ Feingold. “That’s the way it always works.”

Mr Feingold noted that the campaign finance scandals of the 1996 presidential elections provided an impetus for eventually passing a new campaign spending law he and Senator John McCain had been pushing for years.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, reacting to the Abramoff’s guilty plea this week, has pledged to “examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying“.

Mr McCain, along with Senator Joe Lieberman and Congressman Christopher Shays, is promoting legislation that would require grassroots organisations, often run by professional lobbyists, to disclose their lobbying activities.

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