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Abramoffukkah in Illinois

By Amy Hart in News on Jan 5, 2006 3:05PM


Just when you thought the holiday season was over, here comes Abramoffukkah, the moniker given to the emerging political scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, shown here disguised as Al Capone.

Abramoff was a high powered lobbyist who defrauded his clients, primarily Native American tribes, and conspired to buy the support of public officials by donating to their election campaigns. He gave to politicians on both sides of the aisle, although he is probably best known for his friendship with Republicans, including slimy Texas Congressman Tom DeLay.

Earlier this week Abramoff made a deal with federal investigators to plead guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials and agreed to squeal on the members of Congress with whom he dealt. In light of this, politicians who received donations from Abramoff and the clients he represented are falling over themselves to say they had no idea the donations might be illegal and give the money to charity.

Among the Illinois politicians to benefit financially from Abramoff is Senator Dick Durbin, who has announced he will give the $11,000 he received from individuals and organizations associated with Abramoff to the American Indian Center of Chicago and the American Indian Health Service of Chicago. Durbin released a statement saying he has never met or had any contact with Abramoff.

The situation might not be so innocent for Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Hastert has had contact with Abramoff, and new questions are coming out regarding a letter Hastert sent to the Interior Secretary asking her to block the development of an Indian casino of a rival tribe to the one represented by Abramoff shortly after the lobbyist hosted a fundraiser for Hastert’s PAC. Hastert has said he will donate any funds from Abramoff to charity, yet has not released exactly how much he received from Abramoff or to what charity he will give the tainted money. Furthermore, the media is beginning to wonder why Hastert has been pretty quiet on the Abramoff issue when it has been brewing for so long.

Politicians in Washington were put on notice when the prosecution announced it will follow the scandal "wherever it leads," which will certainly be interesting. How worried are the Republicans? With the mid-term elections coming up later this year, GOP strategists are pushing for ethics reform legislation to convince an increasingly distrustful public that they are the more moral party. Only time will tell how this will affect Hastert and the other politicians linked to Abramoff.