Boehner takes watchdog to task for linking him to Abramoff


Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), a top candidate for GOP leadership, took a watchdog organization to task Friday for linking him to the mounting scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), a top candidate for GOP leadership, took a watchdog organization to task Friday for linking him to the mounting scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In a letter sent to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boehner wrote that none of the $32,400 in campaign donations he and his political action committee, the Freedom Project, received since 1999 had any connection to Abramoff.

“To the very best of my knowledge, I have never received a penny from Jack Abramoff, directly or indirectly,” Boehner wrote, adding that he and his associates planned to contact each of those donors to make sure the money did not have any link to the former lobbyist.

Many members who have received money from Abramoff or any of his clients, tribal or otherwise, share Boehner’s concerns as the federal bribery probe continues into whether the lobbyist exerted undue influence on members of Congress. On Tuesday, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and public corruption and will now cooperate with federal prosecutors who are investigating his ties to various lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Boehner sent his letter in response to a database on the Center’s website, www.opensecrets.org, listing the amount of money each lawmaker has received from Abramoff, his tribal clients or representatives of SunCruz Casinos. Boehner contends that the database is creating a misperception about those contributions and whether or not they had any connection to Abramoff himself.

“The clear implication is that all of the contributions listed on the page are contributions given to members or arranged for members by Jack Abramoff,” Boehner wrote. “But in the case of the Freedom Project…the contributions cited had absolutely no connection to Jack Abramoff that we are aware of.”

Although he had not yet received an official copy of the letter, Larry Noble, the Center’s executive director, disputed Boehner’s claim that the database creates that perception and is very quick to point out that the contributions themselves are not illegal.

“We’re not saying this is illegal,” Noble said in response to the letter, a copy of which was sent to the Center. “I understand Mr. Boehner’s concern, but he’s reading too much into what we’ve said.”

The Center initially posted its findings late last year and updated the database earlier in the week because there was so much public interest following Abramoff’s guilty plea. In the days since that initial plea, Noble said he has cautioned numerous reporters not to describe the contributions themselves as illegal behavior.

In the plea agreement, Abramoff admits to asking lawmakers for favors on behalf of his clients in exchange for campaign donations, but the contributions alone do not prove that members of Congress have committed an illegal act, Noble said.

“Abramoff may have directed money to members and the members didn’t know,” Noble said. “The only ones who know what is going on are Mr. Abramoff, the tribes and the recipients.”

Boehner’s concern is that the database does not clarify those points.

“As written, the site is unfortunately leading some reporters to mistakenly believe that I and other Members of Congress have a connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, simply because some Native American tribal groups whom he at one point represented have made contributions to our political committees,” Boehner wrote.

The letter came the same day two GOP lawmakers circulated a letter calling for leadership elections as tensions mounted within the House Republican conference about who would run and which leaders could face challenges. Boehner is widely regarded as the most credible challenger to anyone in the current leadership because of his strong support within the Republican conference and his many ties to the lobbying community off Capitol Hill.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) told the Associated Press Friday that he would like to see Boehner become part of the leadership, the first such endorsement since members called for a leadership race.

In his letter, which was addressed to Charles Lewis, a former director at the Center for Public Integrity, Boehner asks the Center to only include contributions Abramoff made in his own name.