By Jonathan Allen - 05/04/06 12:00 AM EDT
House Republicans portrayed congressional corruption as a bipartisan problem yesterday after a business executive pleaded guilty in federal district court to bribing a Democratic lawmaker.
Vernon L. Jackson, chairman and CEO of the Louisville, Ky.-based telecommunications company iGate, pleaded guilty to giving more than $400,000 to Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to secure Jefferson’s help in promoting the company’s interests in Africa.
Jefferson denied any wrongdoing in a statement issued by his office yesterday.
“I was surprised and disappointed to learn of Vernon Jackson's guilty plea and of his characterization of our relationship,” Jefferson said. “I have never, over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected.”
An aide said he is cooperating with investigators.
Republicans hope questions about Democrats’ conduct will undermine the minority party’s claims that the GOP is responsible for a “culture of corruption” in the Capitol.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) used the headline “Culture of Hypocrisy” to link to a story about the plea deal from its website yesterday.
The Jackson plea deal, coupled with ethical allegations about Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), have given Republicans political ammunition to fire back at Democrats. Mollohan was recently asked by Democratic leaders to step aside as ranking member of the House ethics committee.
Still, House Republican leaders took a more subtle approach to equating corruption accusations against members of each party.
“Too many of the Democrats want to try to politicize the problem that members of both parties have been caught up in,” House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said. Blunt pointed to passage of lobbying reform legislation yesterday as evidence of the GOP’s dedication to solving the problem.
“I’m just disappointed in it,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee and a former head of the NRCC.
Davis characterized corruption as a bipartisan problem in the House.
“It just hurts the whole institution,” he said.
Former California Rep. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to taking bribes to direct contracts to a defense company.
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty in a sprawling congressional corruption probe that could involve several lawmakers.
For several years, Democrats have accused Republicans of abusing power within the institution and outside it. In the past year, they have accused Republicans of presiding over a “culture of corruption.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said he expects Republicans to point to the conviction of Jefferson’s associate, which follows the January guilty plea of a former Jefferson aide, to rebut that argument.
“The other side is going to use anything they can, and they’ll try to use this,” Fattah said.
But, he argued, ethics will not be the foremost issue at the polls in November.
“The majority is going to face the decision of the voters on the condition of the country,” he said.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said Democratic corruption arguments are aimed at the operations of the institution.
“We’re talking about how the place is being run,” Meeks said. “To me, the issue that Hillary Clinton raised about whether this is a plantation is still an issue.”
Ethics panel Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) declined to comment on the matter.
Former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery charges in January. In yesterday’s plea, Jackson admitted to bribing “Representative A” with money and iGate stock in exchange for the lawmaker’s assistance in advancing the company’s business interests in several African countries and with the Export-Import Bank. Payments were made through a second company controlled by members of the congressman's family, according to the plea.
“Those that pay bribes in return for favorable treatment, and public officials who corruptly trade on their office and line their own pockets, do so at great risk, because we will pursue these cases relentlessly,” U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said yesterday in a Justice Department press release.