Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be heading to federal prison next week to begin serving a 70-month sentence, but the long shadow of the Washington influence-peddling scandal took its toll on some midterm election defeats, while others linked to the convicted lobbyist emerged unscathed.
The three-year investigation into Abramoff's lobbying activities on Capitol Hill may have made the difference in the defeat of Montana Senator Conrad Burns, and California Rep. Richard Pombo.
But Rep. John Doolittle, R-Ca, kept his seat despite repeated attacks by challenger Charlie Brown for Doolittle's accepting contributions and foreign trips from Abramoff. Doolittle's wife also attracted controversy by taking payments from Abramoff's lobbying firm and for keeping a 15 percent commission of the campaign contributions she solicited on his behalf.
Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., kept his seat after being confronted with media reports alleging that a 2003 trip to Qatar - partially funded by a group loosely tied to Abramoff - had not been disclosed properly.
Ohio congressman Bob Ney resigned his seat just before the election, three-weeks after pleading guilty in federal court to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and to making false statements. He admitted that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips and other perks from Abramoff and an international businessman. Ney is expected to serve 27 months in prison based on a Justice Department recommendation. Democrat Zack Space won the race to succeed Ney.
Burns received nearly $150,000 in campaign donations from Abramoff, his associates and his tribal clients - more than any other member of Congress. Under pressure, Burns returned the money or donated it to charity. Former Burns staffers have admitted talking to the Justice Department about Abramoff, but Burns has maintained that he did nothing wrong and said he has never spoken to anyone at the Justice Department. Burns' democratic opponent, Jon Tester blanketed the state with ads juxtaposing a photo of Burns with one of Abramoff in a black fedora and trench coat.
Pombo was wounded by charges that he had taken actions to benefit Indian casinos after becoming one of the top recipients of tribal donations. He chaired the House Resources Committee, and lost to Jerry McNerney, a wind-power businessman and engineer. Environmentalists blanketed his GOP-friendly district, with TV commercials and mailers questioning his ethics and his ties Abramoff.
Doolittle's wife Julie ran a fundraising company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, which earned $66,000 from Abramoff. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee report on tribal lobbying details money paid by Abramoff's law firm to Julie Doolittle. Among them are eight $5,000 payments to Julie Doolittle beginning in July 2003.
Representative Doolittle accepted $14,000 in contributions directly from Abramoff in 1999. The first contribution came just a few weeks before Doolittle endorsed the election of a key politician in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a key Abramoff client at the time. The last Abramoff contribution to Doolittle came as the Northern Marianas lobbying contract was expiring in December 2001. Doolittle helped block labor reforms the Marianas and also used Abramoff's luxury sports box for a fundraiser without initially reporting it.
An editorial in the Denver Post, titled, "Ethics lapses bedevil Congress" said, "The Jack Abramoff lobbying probe symbolized the ethical decline of the Republican majority, and his guilty plea forced several House members from traditionally safe districts to scrap for re-election."
Next Wednesday, Abramoff is scheduled to report to the federal prison in Cumberland, Md. to begin serving a five and one half year sentence after pleading guilty last January to federal fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with the purchase of Florida based SunCruz Casinos. He has yet to be sentenced for pleading guilty to charges in the Washington lobbying scandal. The Justice Department has said that Abramoff will continue to assist with their ongoing influence-peddling investigation even while in prison.