There will be a lot of elephant dust being kicked up to obscure the one-party corruption machine revealed by the Abramoff investigation. A good example of it is this ABC story, unfortunately picked up on the DailyKos, implying that Senator Byron Dorgan is somehow caught up in the Abramoff mess:
New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff"s tribal clients.
A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan"s political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff"s clients wanted to use.
Dorgan represents a state with a lot of Indians. They are also extremely poor, and have few gaming revenues because they don"t live near population centers. (Unlike, say, the Lousiana Coushattas.) Dorgan is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. It"s his job -- both as a Senator from North Dakota and as chair of the Indian Affairs committee -- to send a letter to the appropriations committee asking for funding for the Indian programs he thinks are important. If he didn"t send a letter requesting funding for the tribal school program, that would be significant.
ABC tries to connect Dorgan to Abramoff in the following way:
Dorgan"s letter noted that the Mississippi Choctaw, one of Abramoff"s clients, had successfully used the program and requested lawmakers consider long-term funding for it. It made no mention of Abramoff or any of his other tribes that were interested in the program.
Hmm, you might wonder: Why would Dorgan mention an Abramoff client, the Mississippi Choctaw, if he wasn"t somehow in bed with Abramoff. Why wouldn"t he mention a tribe in his own state? Very suspicious, if not the smoking gun.
Yet there"s a perfectly obvious reason: A letter requesting appropriations goes to the chair of the Appropriations Committee. The chair of the Appropriations Committee is one Senator Thad Cochran -- of Mississippi. First rule of appropriations letters is always show how the funds might benefit the appropriator"s own state.
This is business as usual and its not even mildly corrupt business as usual. Senators should advocate for programs that help their constituents.
But why would Abramoff instruct a tribe to make a donation to Dorgan (one-fifth the size of the donation to Conrad Burns), in return for a letter that Dorgan surely would have signed anyway? One possibility is that this was a long-planned setup, and Abramoff wanted to make sure that some Democrats were implicated when it all came to late. But I think the answer is more banal. There"s a dirty secret about Washington lobbying, which is that half of what lobbyists do is not persuade legislators what to do, but persuade their own clients that they -- the lobbyists -- are indispensable. And that means claiming credit for things that would happen anyway. So one way Abramoff could persuade the Coushatta"s that he was earning his keep was to point to letters like Dorgan"s, take credit for them, and then tell them to send money to Dorgan. It"s a small price to pay to maintain the illusion.
It"s no surprise that a lot of Washington reporters don"t seem to recognize how extraordinary Abramoff"s scam was, because they can"t seem to recognize how ordinary Dorgan"s actions were. If people can"t recognize that distinction, the "everyone does it" defense of Abramoff might be more effective than one would imagine.