Republicans in Congress created a culture of corruption when they took huge sums of money from Jack Abramoff and his clients, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday in Phoenix.
But Reid, D-Nev., who received $30,500 from Abramoff’s clients since 1999, said he and other Democrats did not do anything improper by taking the money. Abramoff, once one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty last week to federal fraud charges.
"The Abramoff problem is a Republican scandal," said Reid. "I never met Jack Abramoff. I wouldn’t know him if I saw him. I have done absolutely nothing wrong. You will see there will not be a single Democrat involved in this. This is a Republican scandal."
Reid was in the Valley to back the Senate candidacy of Phoenix developer Jim Pederson, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Abramoff’s guilty plea, as well as his agreement to help federal investigators, has sent Congress reeling as members who got money from the lobbyist or his clients scramble to return it or explain it away.
Since 1999, Abramoff, his associates and clients have donated $4.4 million to members of Congress or political parties, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. About $2.9 million of that went to Republicans and $1.5 million went to Democrats.
Almost all the funds came from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, whose personal contributions totaled $204,253, according to the center. Reid said the money he got was from Indian tribes that supported him before they hired Abramoff.
Reid and Pederson decried the influence of specialinterest money among Republicans in Congress. Pederson maintained that Kyl has been "the lobbyist’s lobbyist" in the Senate.
Kyl has repeatedly voted against tougher restrictions on lobbyists and has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests that had legislation in front of Congress, Pederson said.
"The sad truth is with Jon Kyl, the well-heeled and wellconnected are ushered into the halls of power while middle-class families are left in the cold," Pederson said.
Kyl said Reid is being hypocritical when he tries to portray the Abramoff scandal as one that only hits Republicans. Individuals in both parties have been tainted by the scandal, he said.
In 2000, Kyl said, Abramoff was responsible for killing legislation Kyl has long pushed that would ban gambling on the Internet.
"I have got no love lost for this guy, or his clients for that matter," Kyl said of Abramoff.
Since 1999, Kyl has received $4,000 from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Kyl said he returned that money last week after he learned of the contributions. Kyl said he has a policy of not taking donations from Indian tribes outside of Arizona that operate casinos.
Three Indian tribes once represented by Abramoff contributed the money to Kyl between June 2003 and September 2004. Two tribes contributed a total of $3,000 to Kyl’s political action committee, the Senate Majority Fund. A third contributed $1,000 directly to Kyl’s campaign.
Kyl also rejected the notion that he has fought laws to tighten restrictions on lobbyists. In 1995, Kyl teamed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to push legislation requiring lobbyists to register in Congress, and to disclose their clients and the issue being lobbied.
Pederson also defended his own contributions to the state Democratic Party, which total more than $6 million since the 2002 election cycle.
"A special interest by definition means you are going to get something in return," said Pederson, former state Democratic Party chairman. "I certainly didn’t get anything in return. I wanted good government in the state of Arizona."