By Peter Savodnik - 02/15/06 12:00 AM EST
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is slamming Democratic Senate hopeful Bob Casey Jr. for not returning money given to him by Edward Ayoob, a former Jack Abramoff associate.
Ayoob, who once worked with Abramoff at the law firm Greenberg Traurig, gave Casey $1,500 in 2005, Federal Election Commission reports show. That money was contributed in two installments in June and September, more than a year after Abramoff left Greenberg Traurig and several months after Ayoob left the firm.
“Every time the Casey campaign attempts to discuss the ethics issues, we’re going to remind him that he’s taken money directly linked to Jack Abramoff,” NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said, suggesting that Ayoob is likely to figure into future “messaging” and that his contributions could be the subject of campaign ads. “You cross that bridge when you come to it,” Nick said.
He added: “Clearly, it’ll be up to the Casey campaign to decide how much they want to push this fledgling attempt at ethics.”
Casey is running against Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who is seeking a third term.
Democrats call attempts to tar Ayoob’s money a GOP ploy meant to distract voters from the scandals enveloping congressional Republicans, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Rep. Bob Ney (Ohio).
“Mr. Ayoob had no association with Abramoff when he made the contributions, and he has not been implicated in any wrongdoing,” Casey campaign spokesman Larry Smar said. “This is a smokescreen to cover up the real ethical problems of Rick Santorum’s closed-door lobbyist meetings and the K Street Project. We have no intention of returning the contribution.”
But at least one Democrat appears worried that the ploy might have a political impact: Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), returned the $1,000 Ayoob gave him, Cardin spokesman Orin Shur said.
The NRSC points out that Ayoob was part of Team Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig, an informal group of approximately 20 lobbyists who worked for the Indian tribes at the heart of the Abramoff scandal.
Most in the group were Republicans, but there were Democrats as well: Ayoob is a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), now the Senate minority leader. Other members worked for President Clinton, former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and John Breaux (D-La.), and Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
The newest line of attack against Casey is part of a broader GOP effort to make the Abramoff scandal a bipartisan affair, despite Abramoff’s being a Republican who gave far more money to members of his own party than to Democrats. Republicans have railed against Reid and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), among others, for taking money from Abramoff associates.
Democrats have been lambasting Republicans for months for the “culture of corruption” that the Democrats say has permeated the nation’s capital.
Other Democrats who received checks from Ayoob include Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska ($1,000), Bill Nelson of Florida ($500), Kent Conrad of North Dakota ($750) and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts ($250); Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee ($500), running for the seat of retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R); and Reps. Joe Baca (Calif.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), among others.
In 2004, Ayoob gave $500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
Ben Nelson spokesman David DiMartino said the senator has no plans to return the money. The Nebraskan faces a potentially competitive race this year, as he seeks a second term.
For now, Conrad, Bill Nelson and Kennedy look likely to win reelection.
A spokeswoman for Ford’s Senate campaign did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Ayoob answered his phone as he was about to leave for Capitol Hill but said he did not have time to comment.
Nick said the NRSC singled out Casey for attack because the Pennsylvania Democrat had made ethics the centerpiece of his campaign. In fact, other Democrats have also called for cleaning up Washington.
In a speech last week at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Policy Studies, for instance, Cardin declared: “My first priority as a member of Congress is to represent Maryland families, not the special interests of lobbyists. All Americans have a right to a government that works and that fairly represents them. That’s not happening in Washington today. We need to clean up the way Congress does business so that American families get the representation they deserve.”
Casey is expected to be in Washington today for a fundraiser. Smar, Casey’s spokesman, declined to comment on the event.