McCain campaign pushes ties between Hayworth, Abramoff

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is using J.D. Hayworth’s legal trust to hammer his primary opponent about his entanglement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Meanwhile, Hayworth’s former House colleagues are donating thousands to help him escape a legal debt they say he accumulated facing false allegations.

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The McCain campaign is ratcheting up pressure on the former congressman to disclose the donors to the Freedom in Truth Trust (FITT) he set up in 2008 to pay down legal bills stemming from the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Hayworth came under investigation by the Department of Justice after he received campaign contributions from Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients, including in-kind use of skyboxes at sporting events. He incurred more than $170,000 in legal fees defending himself and set up a legal trust to receive donations after he left Congress. 

Hayworth’s campaign pointed out the former representative was cleared by DoJ. But political observers attributed Hayworth’s 2006 loss to questions regarding his relationship with Abramoff. 

In a statement released by the McCain campaign Wednesday, former Bush Cabinet Secretary (and Arizona native) Mary Peters called for Hayworth to make a “full and prompt disclosure of the contributions, expenditures and debts” of his trust.

“How can Arizonans be sure that Mr. Hayworth has no conflicts of interest in taking positions during his U.S. Senate primary campaign, and in the U.S. Senate, should he be elected?” Peters asked.

Hayworth’s campaign said it has already pledged to release the names of the donors. A Hayworth spokesman said Wednesday it plans to do so at the same time its first-quarter fundraising numbers are due, April 15.

Jason Rose, a spokesman for Hayworth, said the timeline isn’t under the campaign’s control.

“J.D. is not in a position to order anybody to do anything regarding the trust; he’s not in control of it,” he said. “There are very specific federal rules and accountants and processes that have to be followed to wrap up all activity.”

But campaign-finance experts say that’s not entirely true.

“He could certainly urge those running the trust to expedite closing down the activities if it is in his interest to do so,” said Kenneth Gross, a Washington-based campaign-finance lawyer.

Because of the nature of the trust, Hayworth is under no obligation to disclose anything about its operation, Gross added. “There’s no public disclosure required of this kind of activity as a private citizen. ... Unless he wins and becomes a senator — then obviously he’s under the Senate rules.”

Rose is adamant about disclosing the donors.

“They will be made public,” he said. “We have to move on their schedule. They don’t move on ours.”

As the McCain campaign presses Hayworth on Abramoff, Federal Election Commission records show more than a dozen House members have donated to FITT — including two Arizona Republicans who are supporting McCain.

According to a records search by the Center for Responsive Politics, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) contributed $1,000 in July 2008 and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) donated $2,500 on Nov. 17 — after it emerged that Hayworth was planning to challenge McCain in the primary.

Earlier, The Hill reported that Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was among other senior GOPers who gave to Hayworth’s trust. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) made the most recent contribution. Cole, who led the National Republican Congressional Committee from 2006 to 2008, gave $1,000 on Dec. 6, 2009.

Like Sessions, Shadegg said he was just helping out a former colleague.

“At Congressman Hayworth’s request, I made a contribution to assist him with his outstanding obligations,” Shadegg said in a statement. “At the time he had lost his seat, presumably making it difficult for him to raise money to pay off his debt. I responded to his request as a matter of courtesy to a former colleague.”

A spokeswoman for Franks stressed that Hayworth was cleared of any wrongdoing.

“J.D. Hayworth was fully exonerated in all matters related to the Justice Department’s investigation into any possible unethical link between the Hayworth office and Jack Abramoff,” Franks spokeswoman Bethany Haley said in a statement. “Congressman Franks has known J.D. Hayworth for around two decades, served with him in Congress and is honored to call him a dear friend. He donated to Mr. Hayworth’s Freedom in Trust in an effort to help a longtime friend pay off a large, burdensome legal debt.”

The nearly $25,000 contributed to FITT by Hayworth’s former House colleagues shows the level of support he had, Rose said.

“The fact that they contributed to this — I think they, like everyone, understands that J.D. got jobbed on this thing and, unlike Sen. McCain with Charlie Keating, was never slapped on the wrist, was never implicated in anything, never charged with anything,” he said. 

McCain was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee of any wrongdoing in the Keating Five scandal. And, as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee in the 109th Congress, McCain investigated the Abramoff scandal. Hayworth was not mentioned in the panel’s final report.

Asked if he thought Shadegg and Franks should call for McCain to move away from the Abramoff issue, Rose said, “That’s up for them to decide.”


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