News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Congress has itself to blame for tainted-money scandal

Maybe the Jack Abramoff scandal will scare and disgust Congress so badly our elected leaders will clamor for long overdue campaign finance reform.

The free-wheeling lobbyist spread his tainted money around Washington as freely as mayonnaise on a greasy-spoon BLT sandwich.

And like a hungry diner, many politicians never asked themselves if what they received was a good thing.

It's easier, however, to trace a slab of bacon from the hog parlor to the cafe booth than it is to follow the political money trail.

That's the fault of Congress. They had rather the public not know the source of some of their money.

Gov. Bob Riley's defense for being duped was that he didn't know high-powered lobbyists using the cover of U.S. Family Network paid with gambling money for him as a congressman to write an anti-gambling letter.

How embarrassing.

Mr. Abramoff set off alarms all over the nation's capital this week when he pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials in connection with his lobbying for Indian tribes and casino issues.

Then-Congressman Riley was trying to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building a casino in Alabama and asked for donations to the U.S. Family Network, which has a wholesome, God-fearing "you can't go wrong here" appeal.

But Mississippi Choctaws, afraid of Poarch competition, gave $250,000 to the U.S. Family Network for which Mr. Riley wrote the letter.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee said in 2004 that Mr. Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon charged six Indian tribes at least $66 million.

Three of Mr. Abramoff's associates pleaded guilty earlier this year. Last month, six senators and congressmen returned or gave away campaign donations from Mr. Abramoff and his associates. Others say they plan to do likewise.

President Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, who is under indictment in Texas, said this week they will give money they received from Mr. Abramoff to charity.

Perhaps none who received Abramoff money knew its origin. Neither did they care until a nasty scandal came along.

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