January 29, 2006
Lay Off Pombo
If the scandal
involving super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- who pleaded guilty to
scamming clients, conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and tax
evasion -- doesn't hurt Republicans during the 2006 elections, it
will be because voters have figured out that Democratic leaders
don't really care about ethics.
how the left has targeted Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., in the
Abramoff scandal. This month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
called for an ethics investigation of Pombo and Rep. John Doolittle,
R-Calif., while admitting she couldn't cite a single fact as to
why a probe is needed.
for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Pombo one of
the "13 most corrupt members of Congress." Its list
targets 11 Repubs, some of whom are clearly dirty -- Rep. Duke
Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes, and Rep. Bob
Ney of Ohio, who is knee-deep in the Abramoff plea agreement.
Other Republicans, however, seem guilty mostly of being targeted
by Democrats for defeat in 2006. Take the prim Sen. Rick Santorum,
R-Pa. He is cited -- get this -- because his kids attend a Pennsylvania
charter school (instead of a school in Virginia) and because he
supported legislation to clarify the mission of the National Weather
Service after a group gave his campaign $2,000. Oooooooo. (CREW's
Melanie Sloan did not get back to me by my deadline.)
change, and that distracts from the real corruption in Washington
and in the GOP. Go after Tom DeLay for his luxury golf travel
-- now known to have been on Abramoff's dime. Stories linking
Doolittle with Abramoff and other big donors make me want to know
Since 1999, the Center for Responsive Politics found, Pombo received
$40,500 from Abramoff or his client tribes. The center also found
that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., received $40,980 from Abramoff
tribes -- but Pelosi and CREW aren't calling Murray corrupt.
read that I was one of his closest allies in the House,"
Pombo told me over coffee last week. "I know that I've met
him three times. I may have met him another time or two."
why Democrats don't like him. He's chairman of the House Resources
Committee, and he has promoted opening the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge to oil drilling. Now, since the Dems have failed to unseat
him in a fair fight on issues, they're trolling in the muck and
trying to tie Pombo to Abramoff.
Costa Times took an exhaustive look at the charges hurled
at Pombo. The paper reported how Pombo used his clout, at times
excessively -- take taxpayer-funded pro-Bush mailers he sent out
to snowmobile owners in battleground states before the 2004 election
-- but there is no smoking gun.
Do I have
issues with him? Yes. As I told Pombo, some of his decisions emit
the odor of having hobnobbed in D.C. for too long. Pombo's wife
has worked as a paid fund-raiser for his committee, and his brother
as a treasurer. He told me: "I have had family on the payroll
from the very beginning. When no one else would take my campaign,
my brother left his job ... and worked for me."
sees it, they are paid a fair wage -- an average of $48,000 a
year for his wife, $43,255 for his brother, according to the Contra
Costa Times -- and "I can trust them." Where he
sees only $40-something, I think voters may see nepotism. Pombo
should understand that it looks bad.
Ding, who also makes more than $150,000 as chief of staff for
the Resources committee, but also makes money as Pombo's congressional
chief of staff and on the side working for GOP candidates. It's
odd for a committee chief of staff to live outside of the Beltway
and let taxpayers foot the bill -- some $30,000 a year -- when
he visits the Capitol.
it's better to get committee staff out of Washington. He wants
his aides to live in "the real world." Ding noted that
his travel is covered by an operating budget. It doesn't cost
extra, and it is customary for taxpayers to fund staffers' travel
either to or from a member's district.
graft netted him a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode. DeLay
traveled and golfed in high style on Abramoff's dime, as he conveniently
turned against a bill to curb Internet gambling. Pombo is made
of different stuff. His idea of a good vacation is taking his
family to Yellowstone in an RV.
As for Nancy
Pelosi, she has shown that corruption doesn't bother her nearly
as much as losing House seats. As long as she picks on Pombo,
not the real Abramoff cronies, she deserves to lose more.
2006 Creators Syndicate