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Parsing the Polls: The Public's Take on Congressional Corruption

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea agreement has Washington, D.C., buzzing and strategists wondering what the political fallout will be from the burgeoning scandal.

Three national polls in the field last month asked questions about ethics and corruption in Congress -- providing the data for this week's "Parsing the Polls."  The three surveys were sponsored by National Public Radio, ABC News/Washington Post, and  Associated Press- Ipsos Public Affairs (subscription only). As always, please make sure to check out the full surveys and offer any of your own thoughts  in the comments section below.

Two points are immediately apparent by looking at the three polls side-by-side. First, by a high single-digit margin voters believe that the Democratic Party is better equipped to deal with matters of ethics and corruption. Second, voters do not yet believe that GOP lawmakers are measurably more corrupt than their Democratic counterparts.

Remember that all three of these polls were taken well before the Abramoff plea and before either national party tried to deliver its message on corruption to the voters. Much depends on Abramoff's testimony in the coming weeks and months; if he implicates a number of GOP members of Congress or high-level aides in his testimony, the poll numbers could quickly change.

Let's look more closely at the two major points:

In the NPR survey, which I wrote about in last week's Parsing the Polls, 42 percent of those tested said Democrats would do a better job of "improving ethics in Washington, D.C." Thirty-five percent said Republicans would do a better job. Fifteen percent said neither side could make a marked improvement on ethics in the nation's capital. (Interestingly, 43 percent chose President Bush as better equipped to handle ethics problems compared to 41 percent who sided with the Democratic Party.) 

The Post/ABC poll showed similar results, with Democrats enjoying a nine-point edge over Republicans on the question of "which political party -- the Democrats or the Republicans -- do you trust to do a better job handling ethics in government?" As for Bush, 48 percent approved of the job he was doing in relation to ethics while 49 percent disapproved.

The polls also generally agreed that the public does not yet see ethics and corruption issues through a partisan prism. Asked by AP-Ipsos "in general which elected officials would you say are more ethical," 36 percent chose Democrats compared to 33 percent who sided with Republicans. Ten percent said both parties were ethical while 15 percent said neither was.

The NPR survey asked the question a different way but with similar results. Sixty-five percent of respondents in that poll said that "the problems with ethics and corruption" were "about equal" between the two parties. Nineteen percent said the problems lie more with Republicans while 14 percent said Democrats were more to blame.

The one seeming disagreement between the surveys was on how strongly the public feels about corruption and ethics issues.

In the AP-Ipsos poll, 88 percent said "political corruption" was a "very" or "somewhat" serious problem, compared to just 11 percent who said it was a "not too" or "not at all" serious issue. The Post/ABC poll, on the other hand, showed just one percent of those tested citing "ethics/honesty/corruption in government" as the most important issue Congress should address in 2006.

What explains this contradiction? Perhaps that voters believe strongly that corruption is a major problem in Washington but that it has not yet become an issue on which they make their voting decisions -- like the war in Iraq or the state of the economy.

With Abramoff likely to dominate the news for the coming weeks, look for a slew of national polls to be conducted in hopes of measuring the impact -- if any -- of his plea deal on the political landscape.  The key number to watch is whether respondents begin to blame the corruption problems in Washington, D.C., on Republicans. If so, that could presage a major problem for the GOP in the coming midterm elections.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 4, 2006; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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JEP: The Post had a very good article about the $9 million lobbying contact, including the access eventually gained to the White House -- back in November, I believe. I know because I sent the article to a state lobbyist friend of mine, as well as my spouse (a former state lobbyist), because I knew each of them would be just as stunned at the amount and behavior as I was. (Besides the fact that I could also tease each of them about never bringing in a contract that large.. :-) ).

The fact is, however, that few people had heard the name Abramoff before yesterday (and how many paid attention to the Scanlon and Kidan deals at the end of last year, as foreshadowing what was to come with Abramoff? -- I'll bet it's less than 1% of the population -- much like a lot of the early stories that Post published back in the 70's prior to Watergate focusing on the corruption within the White House -- the information is there, but it's not clear to most what the total impact is), and they're still a bit confused on what it means to them, especially if their own representative in the House or Senate isn't implicated. They haven't been following the money charts in the Post and the NY Times, or the other stories discussing this issue for months, and most newspapers around the country haven't seen the issue as relevant to their readers. Heck, how many of them would even know the details about DeLay if you asked them? This is clearly an issue in need of a focal point, and I don't think the facts developed to date in the press yet point to the best angle, but give it a bit of time.

Politics junkies are always way ahead of the general public in coming to an understanding of the implications of stories like this. How many of you, though, followed the details of the corruption scandal in the Wisconsin Legislature over the past few years? It was huge, but it didn't get much press outside of Wisconsin, and I couldn't interest even many of the other politicos in reading some of the online articles from the Wisconsin press. It wasn't perceived as having enough relevance to them. (Though it provided valuable lessons to anyone even tangentially involved in politics at any level).

The Dems need a master spin doctor to connect the dots and give it a theme. Where's Carville these days? "It's the economy stupid!" could use some updating. In this case, the war, the economy (at least in part, to the extent that big business clients have been overly favored), the imbalance in our system of checks & balances (look at the executive branch agencies that keep doing the opposite of what they were created to protect, yet spin it as in the public interest), recess appointments, & the torture issue, among other things do have a connection. Former President Carter may have started to hit on the key when he tried to develop the theme that we've abandoned the American morals our country depends upon, but it needs to be more clearly & concisely stated than that. Hypocrisy by the right? Widespread culture of corruption? All true, but not simple enough for the average voter to grasp as a reason to clean House (and Senate) this fall (and in '08).

When did the tide finally turn during Watergate, that eventually sent the Democratic wave (though short-lived, and questionably effective)to clean up Washington? The Saturday Night Massacre? The 18-minute gap? Certainly most people did not listen to every moment of the Congressional hearings (I only remember them as pre-empting my after school cartoons myself :-D). I'll bet it didn't even hit some people until Nixon himself resigned. But maybe there are some lessons still to be learned from that shameful saga in American Politics, if we now look back for parallels.

In my experience (and I've fielded a lot of phone calls from the general public on this topic), most people don't even know the difference between a Senator and a Representative (or their names, or how those people differ from state legislators). It isn't because the press doesn't try to educate them, but because they don't want to take the time to educate themselves. (I could go on about how many people actually write in Mickey Mouse and similar candidates every time there's an election, but that would just be overkill.. ;-) ).

I haven't yet read the bills filed (separately) by McCain and Feingold to make additional changes to the campaign finance system, but reform has to start there. Severe limits on gifts (how 'bout no more than the cost of a latte? or lunch, at the outside). Vetting of the sources of payment for these international junkets by an improved FEC? More disclosure of all 527 money sources and sponsors, along with full disclosure by lobbyists of what clients have paid them to take what positions on what bills, so that you can see conflicts of interest and connection between the various forms of influence? Limit campaign/PAC contributions to time when Congress is NOT in session. Enforce stricter reporting requirements for the political fundraising galas held in Washington. Get rid of the financing committees for both the D's and R's in each chamber, and use means other than money to reward or punish party members. And if you really want to get radical, reform the current system of fundraising altogether, and take a look at Clean Money Campaigns which have been successfully instituted in a couple of states.

And watch the special interest groups come out of the woodwork to oppose every element of reform, because no doubt, each item would hurt someone who doesn't want to give up that advantage. But is it right for our elected politicians in Washington (who aren't independently wealthy) to spend the majority of their time (50 to 75%, or more, by many accounts) raising money for election and re-election? No wonder lobbyists like Abramoff flourish in such a climate....but most people have no clue about the type of money needed for an average House or Senate race, and the effort it takes to get it. You gotta make it relevant, and tie it to the other pieces.

In most organizations, the leader takes the hit for any scandal. Is Bush the new Teflon President, however? He's not as smooth and likable as Reagan (though this new junket of good cop-bad cop speeches by Bush and Cheney to deflect the criticism towards Cheney instead of Bush seems to be an attempt to do that -- Rove's idea, perhaps?)

And why hasn't Bush ever responded to Sen. Schumer's letter requesting him to name the source of the Plame leak, and the disciplinary action taken? Hmmm, could it be that you can't really discipline the VP? Makes you wonder. Right along with his statement that DeLay will be aquitted. How could he say that with such certainty, given what was already in the press, including his connections to Abramoff? One thing is certain -- if he fails himself to clean (the White) House (including kicking Rove out the West Wing), he won't shake the appearance of impropriety (as legal ethics rules phrase it) that his administration has developed. Accepting Scooter's resignation isn't enough to shake this trend. But anything more also isn't his style.

Lots of interesting comments here by everyone. Let's hope the rest of the country starts to pick up on this story, and follows it through.

Posted by: JJ | January 6, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

You are right LAS. The only thing I would add is your generation will eventually learn about it not from newspapers but from the soundbites on TV and occassionally from the internet.

Additionally, the focus on elections in the rest of the country will not gear up until after Labor Day next year. BY then the number of indicted and prison bound GOP representatives will be more than just Cunningham.

The full story has not been told. Just wait until the other players like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed Pac's are implicated and then the message of a culture of corruption will be front an center of a National Dem campaign.

By the time

Posted by: DB | January 6, 2006 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Though people might not see corruption as a campaign issue when asked for a poll, when it comes down to it a lot of people vote on their gut instincts. Being from the Midwest I used to hear this all the time from my friends- "This guy just felt like the better person". If you are hearing about a bunch of people going to jail for corruption from one party, though you might not readily go to the polls with the intention to put them in thier place it often makes more sense in your head to vote for the people who you feel the most comfortable with.

The biggest problem I see with polling on these issues is that many people- a lot in Middle America- don't read the Washington Post or the New York Times, where the news of all these indictments are plastered on the front pages and anaylzed by intellectuals. They read their local city papers (either print or online). I am from Indianapolis and I am shocked to look at the Indianapolis Star after something major happens in Washington and that news will get a small non-descript sidebar on the website while the local car accident is the main headline. People who don't follow politics on a daily basis aren't going to immediately click on that link and be facinated enough to read the story when they have never heard of Abramoff before and it doesn't seem like thier paper is making a very big deal about him being indicted.

That's just my take. I am a college educated 20-something whose friends back in Indiana are the same and I bet half of them don't even know who Abramoff is.

Posted by: LAS | January 5, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

David H;

Hey, I was born in Omaha, you suggested bringin the whole stinking mess out there.

Please, don't do that to such a nice little city, it would draw all the flies from Washigton to the midwest.

But it would be a good idea to make all our lawmakers stay in their home state, sit in their own little streaming video office-studios, and debate online with open access for the public to log on and watch.

The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House could manage the website, just like they do the floor of congress.

By spreading our lawmakers around the country in their own constituency, and having them do their work online, we take them out of the Washington DC snakepit.

That way, the lobbyists would not be able to gather them together so easily, and exert their pernicious influence so efficiently. They would have to come to every state to do their dirty-work on a local basis, and the local voters would see who was coming and going.

No more secrets, no more lies.

We already have federal offices in every small town and zip code in the nation, we call it the Post Office. It could become a new venue for federal government. thsy could have their own satellite to keep their access to each other secure, sort of a virtual Hill, so to speak.

It would be easy to add a couple employes to each of Post Office to act as liasons for the public.

Then our Senators and Congresspeople would have to associate with their own voters instead of the Jack Abramoffs and Michael Scanlons. And insects like Delay would have to face their constitutients on a daily basis, instead of insulating themselves in stretch limos,expensive Jack-owned restaurants and smoke-filled rooms.

We have the technology to create a virtual Washington DC, then turn the real one into living history museum where schoolchildren and patriotic tourists could watch re-enactments of times when there really was a Dermocracy in DC.

Now it is the haunt of greedy powermongers who forget their home towns as soon as they get their first Cuban cigars and golf junkets.

how about this; a website that every lobbyist must log onto and declare their daily rounds, listing every publicly elected official they visited that day.

Any lies or nisleading statements would be subject to fines and expulsion from K Street! Or we could put ankle bracelets on all of them, and when they get within 100 feet of a politician, they would set off an alarm, or better yet, get an electric shock.

Now there's a thought. We'd be hearing them yelp all day long as their ankles got shocked.


Posted by: John Patterson | January 5, 2006 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Regarding what I said about the two-for-one bias in Abramoff spending on the Republicans, I should clarify that Abramoff's tribal clients gave two-thirds of their money to Republicans.

Abramoff himself gave 100% of his donations to Republicans. The bulk went to majority leader Tom DeLay.

Posted by: OD | January 5, 2006 1:06 AM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting for someone in the media to talk about Abramoff and Bush and Bongo in the same paragraph, let alone in same sentence. You can hardly find those three names together on the same page.

In a world of real hurnalists, this would be the front-page headline news in all of this. In our current backscratching clubmedia of cowards, it gets buried or ignored.

They all need to go back to Journalism 101 and read the books they seem to have forgotten. William Allen White is doiong a double twisting front somersault in his grave.

You guys and gals in the MSM aren't journalists, you are a bunch of media chickens. The blogs are the only source for truth any more, the MSM follows our lead and still doesn't get it right. but the public clearly does. How long before the internet gets stifled?

The real Abramoff story is not in lumping strategically selected Democrats into Abramoff's tangled web of lies and golfbound junkets, it is in the fact that jack was so well connected to The President of the United States.

It was the reason that he and Delay were able to change the face and nature of K-Street to the point that only Republican staffers could work the lobby.

They felt absolutely immune to the very laws they claim we are ruled by. "I am the federal government!" old Hot Tub Tom would proclaim.

One of these days, Delay will be screaming "I am the federal government!" from his cellblock in Leavenworth, unless Cheney gets to be "President for a day" before he gets impeached, then it will be blanket pardons for the entire neocon cellblock. It will be interesting if the Republican majority disappears not at the hands of the voters but at the hands of federal agents. Now that would surely be fair and balanced, don't you think?

I wonder who Scanlon will be rooming with? I bet his old girlfriend would like to see him on bareback mountain with a big fella named Bubba, and I don't mean Bill. That oughta bring a whole different kind of smile to his face.

We need to change the Presidential pardon law to exclude anyone indicted for bribing the President or paying for favors from the President, or anyone on his staff who gets convicted for crimes the President knew about before they occurred.

Let him pardon anyone but those actually connected to his own high crimes and misdemeanors. I would guess, before this is over, Bush will not be remembered for Iraq, he'll be remembered as the "Pardon Me President."

How many prisoners are in the federal pen for growing a patch of marijuana plants?

Doesn't it only seem fair these scoundrels who bought and sold our White House to the highest bidder with the lowest human rights record should face a harsher punishment?

If Martha got five months for lying about a measly 50 grand, shouldn't Rove and company get 50 years for lying about 9 million? Or was it more like 90 million?

Just do the math.

Now that would be fair and balanced.

You guys aren't journalists, you're typesetters.


Posted by: John Patterson | January 5, 2006 1:06 AM | Report abuse

How can the public judge rightfully or wrongly if the dems or GOP is more corrupt than others. The reality is the GOP has A:) House Leaders have blocked the Bi-Partisan Ethics Committee from conducting investigations into Delay, Ney, or any of the Bush Administration officials.

B:) At every turn, the GOP demonizes those that speak out. Look what they were doing to John Murtha. Mean Jean and the GOP Slime Machine that is aided and abetted by Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Washington Times and scores of Neo Con PAC's that are funded by Big business. Newt's and Delay's lasting legacy is the K-Street project which has become the the blood money for big business to have their ways with our democracy. The GOP has put America up for sale to the highest bidder. And to think, it was the Supreme Court who allowed it to happen in one case Bush vs. Gore.

Posted by: DB | January 4, 2006 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Since I'm not American, the US corruption that concerns me is all in the 'Defense' Dept. Lobbyists are not the biggest problem at the Pentagon, of course...since the ministerial posts themselves are held by executives from the arms industry.

Rummy's war cabinet reads like a Who's Who of Northrop Grumman and his own sugar daddy General Dynamics. Secs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Procurement, Personnel, you name it.

Conflict is literally in these people's interest.

If you're looking to clean up Washington, I would suggest clearing out the arms dealers who are dragging America into idiotic, fabricated wars, ahead of other crooks facilitating the tribal gambling industry.

And regarding the two-for-one bias in Abramoff spending on the Republicans, even that underestimates the extent to which this is a GOP scandal.

It's standard practice for big US institutional and corporate donors to give two-thirds of their total to the party they favour, and one-third to the party they oppose. Almost none are single-party donors. Check the figures for famously conservative companies like Clearwater or Coors, or even arms dealers, and you'll find most give about a third to the Dems.

If an organisation is giving 66% to Reps and 33% to Dems, it's a GOP donor, pure and simple.

Abramoff is GOP, GOP, GOP, all the way.

Posted by: OD | January 4, 2006 9:45 PM | Report abuse

With the lack of checks and balances in our Republican-dominated Congress and administration, our country is in danger of becoming something that is not a democracy, but a dictatorship. The President and his people evoke fears of terrorism, etc. to justify further actions that they can take without congressional permission. Congress, in turn, has been wimpy about all this.

Posted by: Susan | January 4, 2006 9:32 PM | Report abuse

The press is not doing their job in explaining the differences between the parties and the behavior pre- and post-GOP takeover of Congress.

When the question is framed as a partisan, both-sides-do-it the GOP wins. The fact is Abramoff ONLY GAVE TO REPUBLICANS. The 'Team Abramoff' appellation is given so that the other lobbyists working with Abramoff could be brought into the umbrella. The fact is that Abramoff was pure slime. Other 'Team Abramoff' folks were unethically taking kick-backs from Scanlon, but were much less guilty than Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy and of course all the consultants and PR folks who were brought into the conspiracy to overcharge clients and kick back to GOP operatives and Congressmen.

The two parties are not equally guilty. The Democrats were still running their operation under the pre-Abramoff/DeLay rules where you took a little money to advance a mostly centrist bill. The GOP is totally for sale. That's what the K-Street Project is all about.

To see the list of Abramoff campaign payments click this link (be aware that the list is very long and may take a while to load)...

Posted by: Mike | January 4, 2006 9:00 PM | Report abuse

The 88% figure is clearly due to how the question was written and the fact that this covers three out of four choices. See Schwartz's "Self-reports: How the questions shape the answers" at

The question is a multiple choice question and the fact that the four choices were most important, very important, somewhat important, and not important means that "somewhat important" people were ranking it 3rd out of 4th choices in terms of importance, in other words they thought it wasn't too important. A better measure would be to compare the sum of the first two options with the last two options.

Posted by: Joe Researcher | January 4, 2006 6:33 PM | Report abuse

By looking solely at the polls, you're missing the real political ramifications of this Abramoff scandal. True, Democrats may gain a nationwide advantage if they parley the corruption charges into an effective platform, and Republicans might avoid losing too much political ground if they can deflect enough corruption blame onto the Dems as well. But what national polls don't cover is how individual races will be effected by this, and what seats may be up for grabs. Any politician associated with Abramoff will be at risk for re-election if they are up for re-election this year. Some may even have to resign if they are charged with any crimes. The individual seats lost due to this scandal will effect the balance of power possibly more than the national public opinion about the scandal.

Posted by: ErrinF | January 4, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse

It's good to be a whining moonbat that no one pays attention to.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 4, 2006 5:06 PM | Report abuse

alias: "Can anyone explain how the chimp and vice chimp has not been impeached yet?"

It's good to be the King.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 4, 2006 4:50 PM | Report abuse

JEP: what you have pointed out about the lack of coverage/ bush/ the nine million dollar handshake is totally consistent with how the msm=corporate media has treated the chimp in cheif .. which means to protect and shielf him at all costs so that their corporate profit bottom line is not disturbed. why else would the washington post give the chimp $100,000 for his 'inaguration' crap ? why else did all the the msm not REPORT THE FACT OF THE CHIMP SITTING FOR SEVEN MINUTES READING 'MY PET GOAT' WHN 9/11 HAPPENED ? DID NOT REPORT FOR OVER TWO FUCKING YEARS ? WHY ? WHAT IS THE AGENDA? MOTIVES ? ONLY MICHAEL MOORE POINTED THIS OUT IN HIS DOCUMENTARY .. AND EVEN THEN THE MSM DID NOT DEAL WITH IT ... INSTEAD THEY OF COURSE ATTACKED MICHAEL MOORE FOR DOING SO ? WHY ?
so of course the same mainstream mess called the 'free press' in this country is trying to blur the lines in this corruption thing ... they simply flat out lie to protect their CHIMP...

Posted by: alias | January 4, 2006 3:53 PM | Report abuse

JEP: what you have pointed out about the lack of coverage/ bush/ the nine million dollar handshake is totally consistent with how the msm=corporate media has treated the chimp in cheif .. which means to protect and shielf him at all costs so that their corporate profit bottom line is not disturbed. why else would the washington post give the chimp $100,000 for his 'inaguration' crap ? why else did all the the msm not REPORT THE FACT OF THE CHIMP SITTING FOR SEVEN MINUTES READING 'MY PET GOAT' WHN 9/11 HAPPENED ? DID NOT REPORT FOR OVER TWO FUCKING YEARS ? WHY ? WHAT IS THE AGENDA? MOTIVES ? ONLY MICHAEL MOORE POINTED THIS OUT IN HIS DOCUMENTARY .. AND EVEN THEN THE MSM DID NOT DEAL WITH IT ... INSTEAD THEY OF COURSE ATTACKED MICHAEL MOORE FOR DOING SO ? WHY ?
so of course the same mainstream mess called the 'free press' in this country is trying to blur the lines in this corruption thing ... they simply flat out lie to protect their CHIMP...

Posted by: alias | January 4, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I've said this in every Abramoff Fix post that has come up so far, and I'll continue saying to all the little Bushites out there who continue to try and argue that Democrats are equally culpable in the Abramoff problems: It just is not a fact!

Repeating that same erroneous argument over and over again does not make it more true. Are the Democrats completely clean? No. Are they anywhere near as bad as Republicans? Not a chance. Abramoff gave two thirds of his money to Republicans. And even more pertinent than that, Republicans are the only ones with connections to Abramoff to have been indicted. Also, Abramoff's official party affiliation is Republican.

Maybe that will change in time, but thus far these are the facts.

By the way, on a related topic for a moment, isn't it funny that nobody is trotting out the old "this is a partisan slime job by the Democrats" argument that was used when DeLay was indicted? I guess after the fifth or sixth Republican indictment it becomes harder to play that card.

Now then, I'm going to just save this post in a word document somewhere and trot it out the next time Abramoff is in the news again, probably after he has started singing about various Republicans he's bribed. It'll save me the time of writing it again and again in the coming months.

Posted by: J. Crozier | January 4, 2006 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Chris Cillizza misses the real point.

Were Nazi scum who honestly and and selflessly worked for their party any less scum than the greedy Nazis who took some bribes. Not at all.

Ditto for Republicans. It is a party that works for the rich and againt the interests of the poor, even the working poor. As such the Republican Party is a foul and disusting organization. It makes me no difference to me which ones are honest and which ones are crooks. Their goals - union busting, tax breaks for the rich - are disgusting.

Posted by: Robert Watson | January 4, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the difference between AP poll's 88% being upset at Republican corruption, and the Post/ABC poll showing 1% thinking its a top issue is the person writing the question?

Mr. Morin doesn't think the public talks about impachment, either.

When 88% of American's agree on anything it needs a serious look...and a 1% reaction to the same subject in a different poll means either they were polling the RNC, or the question was a poorly written, biased one.

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | January 4, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm reminded of what an old West Virginia attorney told me years ago. "The Democrats, well they're going to steal from you,but them Republicans, well they're going to take anything that's not nailed down." I think they should move the U. S. Capitol to Omaha,Nebraska have a constitutional amendment against paid lobbyists and reinstate tar and feathering as an appropriate punishment in addition to jail and fines. While I believe in our political process, I think that too many politicians have lost focus on what they are supposed to do and who they represent. We're not fools and they're not royalty. As a Marine, I was tought that paybacks are m______f______'s. Please remember that in Nov. 2006

Posted by: David H. | January 4, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I guess this mess is just another illustration of the undeniable fact that Washington is, has been, and will apparently continue to be, awash in money -These "donations" are now so huge and prevalent they are corrupting everyone and everything!!!
WhatI find really interesting is why there seems to be no concern or comment from anyone about the ability (and the obvious willingness) of Indian gambling interests to make these huge payments to aggressively influence congressional legislation - No wonder they're allowed to set up these huge, untaxed and uncontrolled gambling operations on extra-territorial "tribal lands" all over the country!!!

Posted by: Adjuster11 | January 4, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I think it seems fairly obvious that the Republicans have their hands stuck in the cookie jar, THIS TIME. I'm thinking that whatever party is in control of Congress begins to feel bulletproof, and therefore, not answerable to the voter.

Posted by: Larry Edwards | January 4, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I think its pretty obvious most members of Congress on either side of fence have forgotten their role. They are elected to serve the people, not the other way around. They exist because of us, not the other way around. The sense of entitlement amongst these career politicians makes me want to vomit.

My solution is simple - term limits. 2 terms for Senators, 5 or 6 for Reps. Terms in Congress should be a service to the country, not a career in and of itself. Members of both sides are making a mockery of their very own institution.

Posted by: AS | January 4, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

JEP, that is huge. I also think it is rediculous that it is being ignored.

The other sidelight that I would love to see WAY more coverage of is the U.S. Family Network (the fake charity set up so Abramoff and DeLay could funnel money).

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 4, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Politics and Morality? Please.

Posted by: Spencer | January 4, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Crystal

I don't believe your information is correct on Sen. Dorgan. I had read or heard that he did give back the funds and that he had no idea that Jack Abramoff was associated with those funds. Remember, Sen. Dorgan is the ranking member of the Committe on Indian Affaris that McCain heads that is investigating this and Sen. Dorgan has been very much a leader into uncovering all the misdeeds if you were watching his conduct during the hearings.

Also, don't forget that Abramoff is not just a corrupt lobbyist; he is a longtime Republican operative within the party ever since he became leader of the College Republican National Committee. You can read all about this in the L.A. Times website and go to the 1/04/06 story entitled "Abramoff Reached Beyond The Limits".

Posted by: Jason | January 4, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

It is indicative in the continuing decline of ethical standards that corruption disclosures are cast in the light of winning or losing congressional seats, rather than elected officials adhering to the rules regardless of party affiliation. During the Bush Administration, the Congress has directed the bulk of its legislation to legislate tax cuts, finance an unnecessary war and to make sure the girls in Afghanistan have the opportunity to attend school While the latter objective is quite commendable it is a striking illustration of misplaced priorities. Our domestic infrastructure has been in decay for decades, long before Katrina and the devastating Florida hurricanes. Where are our high speed railroads? Medical costs have been rising for those who can afford to pay them, because of Congresses reticence to jawbone the medical establishment over outrageous charges. Our dollar deficit is ballooning by the day, and finally the corruption shoe drops. Holy Halliburton! Most Congresspeople are on the take, but the majority of them have mastered the technique of doing it legally. What has vanished in all this recent corruption is the sense that the Congress used to have amid all its excesses, of taking care of the public's business. Certainly the Tom DeLays and the David Scanlons of this world will succumb to the copping of a plea when there is no alternative. But when you have a President who sends out staged Video News Releases, plants straw reporters in his press conferences to lob softball questions, and blatantly breaks privacy laws by authorizing wiretaps without a court order, what can you expect? What we need to do in both the executive and legislative branches is clean house. It won't happen in my lifetime, but for the safety and preservation of this country, it better happen soon.

Posted by: Big Dave | January 4, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse

My Senator is Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and when the AP along with the Forum newspaper went after him for taking over $60,000 from tribal groups connected to Abramoff. The question is, what did Dorgan do with the money? Roll Call reported that Dorgan was putting the funds in his PAC and his re-election campaign. Excuse me, but if that is still true, Dorgan still has a finger in the funds for his own promotions. Harry Ried is being dragged into this turmoil as well. So I guess it is showing the Democrats are not clean either. in 2000, when President Bush was running for president, he adhered to the FEC rules of $1000 limits from individuals. Being able to donate $1000 is not a sign of wealth, it is a level the middle class donors raised as well. Raising over $100 million from individuals was historic, and no Democrat was able to point a finger to illegal funds. The media looked at the reports and found the money was from legal sources and from US citizens. On the other hand, one of the reasons Tom Dashel lost his Senate race was the people of South Dakota saw his new $3 million mansion in DC and realized he lost any common touch to the middle class. Now here we are again, with Dashel still in DC, working for a liberal think-tank and rumors fly about him running for president in 2008. If that is true, I wonder what has changed since he was testing the presidential waters in 2004? Is his wife still a lobbyist? Are the voters going to accept a president candidate with a wife who is seeking to make deals for the company she works for? That is the issue, and until the Democrats and Republicans decide what to do about lobbyists in general and limit how soon politicans can become a paid mouthpiece for a group also needs to be included. If the voters look at their own Congress member or Senate member with pride, then that is their choice. I can't blast all Democrats for the illegal acts of Torricelli or Rostencowski or Trafficant, nor can I be angry at all Republicans for illegal funds taken by a few or favors done to help a lobbyist. The fuse has been lit to blow up the Republicans with labels like corruption and cronyism. By the viewpoints expressed in this room, it would appear as if the Democrats and liberals thinks their hands are clean. That is the debate now, and until the Democrats explain why George Soros and his $16 million and Steven Bing with his millions to the Democrats and liberal groups is ok, they will be seen as hypocrites for loving the FAT CAT bucks from their own buddies.

Posted by: Crystal Dueker | January 4, 2006 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Congress members going to jail? Forget it! They get to define crime and they are not stupid enough to endanger themselves.

Posted by: Sun City Peter L. | January 4, 2006 12:09 PM | Report abuse


After watching and reading today's EXTENSIVE coverage of the Abramoff scandal from coast to coast(what a tangled web!)and watching CSPAN's coverage last night, which was relatively comprehensive COMPARED TO THE FLUFF THE PRINT MEDIA IS OFFWERING, I wonder why there is so little mention of Bush's meeting with the President of Gabon?

Are all you media guys trying to avoid this part of the story, which is no doubt the consumate corruption story in all of the Abramoff intrigue?

I keep the photo of Bush shaking hands with Bongo handy, I may even make it a desktop background for one of my computers, the one I blog around from. There is is in full color and all smiles, Geeorge the Immune shaking hands with Bongo the Bully.

When will the public realize this is the biggest scandal of the whole Abramoff story. Everything else pales in comparison.

Because no matter how many other flies get eaten up in the Abramoff spider web, the biggest one of them all is Bush, and whoever on his staff made and kept the Abramoff wing of the White House open and available for jack to offer to the highest bidders, should be put under your media microscope. But they seem to be getting a blanket pass.

Abramoff was selling the White House just like he was selling Congress, and none of the current coverage sems to even mention that particular, apparently trivial part this story.

WHAT ABOUT THE $9 MILLION HANDSHAKE? Who set it up and who made it happen?

Until the press is willing to overcome this stone all the way to the top of the montain, they'l just be telling the half-truth they have become so adept at under the NEW K-Street guidelines.

Get some guts, guys, do your job. You'll dodge bullets embedded with the troops, but you won't take on BuscCo in your own homeland.

And all any one of you has to do is to make the connections that are already out there more public and put them on the chart with Ddelay and Doolittle and Ney and the rest of Abramoff's extended tag team of ultimate corruption, and expose the whole lot of them.



Posted by: John Patterson | January 4, 2006 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the columnist in surmising that voters see the ethics issue as something upsetting to them, but unlikely to sway their vote. The People are beaten.

It's safe to say that both major parties have had their share of ethics breaches for many years now- yet they maintain power. I noticed that other comments have been posted about "legislative oversight", "a viable third party", and "the role of the media".

The impetus to change the situation in Washington will never come from the inside. Presure must be put on politicians from the electorate. There are solid third parties, candidates and platforms available to support and cast a vote for. The lack of courage and a resignation of "that's just the way it is" with the two party system is a very defeatist attitude. Do we suspect our forefathers would have said that? "Oh, well- England is in charge, King George is corrupt, but what can we do- that's just the way it is."
The media is complicit in this stranglehold thebig corporate financed duopoly has on our government. Is there any real effort to offer "equal time" to alternative parties and ideas? Will it not sell enough papers? Whom do they serve?

Our individual responsibility is to seek out a better way, a better candidate, and a better vote to bounce the greedy puppets from office. How many of us truly believe that our representatives have the best interest of the majority in mind? Unless you are a CEO, it's hard to believe that anyone on Capitol Hill cares about you, doesn't it? What is "party politics"? Why is it always a fight between parties over who is worse? Constant finger pointing from both sides of the aisle. Gross mismanagement. How much can we take?
I am proud to say that I have voted my conscience in elections past, which has meant for me a departure from Rep/Dem candidates for the most part. I will continue to seek out candidates with ideas and solutions outside of the existing lockbox, in hopes that more and more of my countrymen will see fit to do the same.
It appears there are far too few members of Congress without a big money back to scratch. Those few help keep our hopes alive. Let's help them.

Revolution is not that hard in this country- it doesn't require bloodshed. A little faith and courage can go a long way-towards progress and peace- the kind of change the overwhelming majority longs for.

Posted by: Miles Roty | January 4, 2006 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I hope Abramoff sings like a canary from the top down and include all parties of politics. The place needs to be cleaned up!

Posted by: Joy Leib | January 4, 2006 11:36 AM | Report abuse

So people outside the Beltway aren't focusing on the Abramoff thing yet, altho a few lawmakers are. I particularly the "return the money/donate the money to charity" approach, most recently taken by Denny Hastert - like that act purifies him after he has voted Abramoff wanted him to vote. And of course, the apparently soon-to-be indicted Rep. Ney is introducing a bill to prevent the kind of action he already took, I guess some of these guys have gotten religion, of a sort.

Posted by: m41 | January 4, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Good points adam- you're right- the Democrats have simply not been tough enough in the recent past on framing issues their way, but I think that is changing.

Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean and various bloggers are transforming the party right now into something more hard-hitting, direct and not intimidated by the other side. And their keeping the pressure on -- every day, all the time. Will it work at the polls in November, so we have true change in this country? Who knows? But its better to lose as lions than lose as sheep.

Having said that, I still think the media needs to be much more accurate and critical -- Americans practically invented a free press and should be a model for the world on how to operate a critical and bold media. We even wrote it into our Constitution!

The founding fathers (those who supported the Bill of Rights) understood its importance and our generation has taken it for granted and we've lost a lot. But, hey, we know a lot about Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, et. al...I'm so glad for that!

Our press has changed so much to be something sensationalist and right wing for commercial interests.

But there are some hopeful signs (Katrina) that the pendulum may be swinging back to the Vietnam/Watergate-style press that was tough, critical and instrumental in exposing the lies and corruption from above (both parties!) and in effecting positive change and reform.

Posted by: Joe D. | January 4, 2006 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I think you are all hitting on the same point of apathy of voters towards corruption. It seems to me that it has been going on for so long (on both sides) that people just assume that everyone in Washington is corrupt. The only way to change this will be for serious legislative oversight of lobbyists.
I think if the Democrats want to make this a big issue they need to do two things.
1)Create an in house ethics board in the DNC that acts as a watch dog over themselves. Howard Dean could totally pull this off and sound really genuine doing it. Most people see him as an honest straght shooter (albeit a little crazy) and therefore will believe that he is really trying to clean up his own party.
2) The democrats need to push for stricter rules on lobbyists. It will never pass but the key is it puts it out there as an issue that Republicans have to vote on.

On the republican side it is a lot easier. Elect John McCain as president and they will eliminate the perception of a corrupt GOP in one fail swoop.

Posted by: Andy | January 4, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The graphic created by the Post shows the disbursements of Abramoff's money was bi-partisan, although tilted two to one in favor of the GOP.
It is high time that the public recognize that campaign contributions are effectively, if not legally, bribes.
Let me say it again; campaign contributions are tantamount to bribes.
Campaign finance reform messed up by attacking the political parties. The ban on soft money contributions has left the parties without resources and has shifted the responsibility for policing Congressional campaign financing to committees run by the members and to the members themselves.
Legislation governing members' methods of receiving funds will merely channel funds into ever more labyrintine schemes and continue the bribery culture.
Transparent, permanent, public oriented organizations with the muscle to effectively discipline strong political parties... are needed to combat the pervasive corruption fostered by our current campaign funding arrangements.

Robert Chapman
Lansing, New York

Posted by: robert chapman | January 4, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Every time anyone gets caught in Washington with their hand in the honey jar, the hue and cry of "everyone does it" becomes the standard response, and the perception is that no matter which Party controls Congress the corruption gravy train goes merrily on. While that may be true, the level of corruption and the tacit acceptance of it at almost every level, and the complicity of the current Administration makes this situation more serious than most. Trying to somehow lessen the impact of the sleazy politics that has been "business as usual" for the Republican Party the past several years is nothing more than a dodge. I would use the timeworn phrase, adjusted for the political times, that "George Bush fiddled while Washington burned", except that I don't believe George Bush is intelligent enough to know how to fiddle.
I have watched in increasing horror as the Bush-led Republican Party has declared all-out war on the middle class, has sided with big business on virtually every bit of legislation to come out of Congress, and now has been discovered to be almost totally corrupt. I am not saying the Democrats are necessarily better, but unless a viable, strong third Party emerges overnight, we simply have nowhere else to turn. Among my blue collar friends, hard-working family men all, George Bush and the Republicans are HATED with an intensity I have not seen before. To think that the extreme anger, mistrust, disappointment, and disillusionment that a majority of Americans now feel toward the current Administration will be modified by trying to drag the Democrats down the slimy slope the Republicans slid down long ago is laughable. There are much deeper currents involved here, such that nothing short of a fundamental change in American politics will suffice. Do I believe for a minute that anyone in Washington has the "cajones" to affect the sort of change we need? I do not. In short, our government has become our enemy, and I have no faith whatsoever that it will change anytime soon. In the meantime, I am going to save my pennies. I might try and buy a few minutes with my elected representative to let him know how I feel. Maybe in deference to us poor, middle class, blue collar slobs they will have a coupon day. Start the bidding!

Posted by: Donald Voge | January 4, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Voters understand one thing -- they are powerless to change a thoroughly corrupt system. Unfortunately even when given a chance to register a protest (e.g. a Nader vote) they still march sheeplike to the polls for "their party."

Posted by: Mark | January 4, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Chris - You make excellent points, and I don't disagree with anything you've said. But the fact of the matter (as these polls verify) is that voters simply do not view this as partisan. The media plays a role, sure, but so does the inability of the Democrats to focus attention on Republican largess. They will allow Republicans to frame the debate by pointing out that the Democratic mayor of Lynchburg, VA is corrupt, and equate that with the Republicans in Congress and call it a wash.

Historically, voters hold Congress in very low esteem, and corruption is a factor. They tend to think every member of Congress except their own is corrupt regardless of party. So while I agree that Republicans have a system much more set up for quid pro quo, voters don't see it that way.

Posted by: adam | January 4, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The public perception regarding ethical lapses and political corruption has been conditioned by the mainstream media's approach. The latest news about Abramoff is an example: various reports I've read and viewed, such as on ABC news, discussed it in non-partisan terms using terms like "lawmakers of both parties."

This kind of reportage is blatantly inaccurate. Abramoff is a GOP operative with close connections to Tom DeLay and others and all his campaign contributions and most of his lobbying business was directed to and for Republicans. The indicted Scanlon was DeLay's top aide!

The mainstream press needs to do its most important job: report the news accurately. If it does, then I expect the public to grasp the real story here, that the corruption in national politics is almost entirely Republican (true at the state level also). After all, the GOP controls all the branches of the government right now. The arrogance of power is on naked display right now.

With real journalists on the job, the GOP should not be able to duck the fact that it is primarily responsible for these problems, despite the what the right-wing demagogues on TV or talk radio say as they shout their obvious GOP talking points.

I just hope the press can get past their blinders and report the truth on this, not just the he said/she said faux debate that passes as news these days. The reportage on the botched response to hurricane Katrina was a good start in this direction. If this occurs, we'll see the poll numbers move as the people realize the broad scope of corruption in their leaders and which party is almost entirely responsible.

Posted by: Joe D. | January 4, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I dont think it matters. Congress or not, we have a King.

For example, would the PRESIDENT of a DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY bypass laws passed by Congress to BAN TORTURE?!?!??!

Bush could bypass new torture ban
Waiver right is reserved

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | January 4, 2006

When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a "signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.

"The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President... as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote...

So let's DISSOLVE CONGRESS. And permanently do away with elections. And ALL BOW DOWN TO OUR FEARLESS KING GEORGE II.

It appears we literally have no other choice.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 4, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Sorry I beg to disagree. It's precisely a partisan thing, because the entire operating structure of the Republican Party is predicated on a revolving wheel composed of lobbyists for businesss interests, elected Republican officials, laws that benefit those interests (c.f. energy bill, bankruptcy bill, etc.), huge government contracts to selected firms, and then sweetheart positions in the lobbying firms for the retired politicians. Abramoff is merely a flamboyant version of the normal course of business. The amount of money involved in staggering contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil industry (Halliburton = Chalabi), the Department of Homeland Security's various boondoggles, and Katrina is huge, even by Washington standards, and you can be sure that it will doled out based on political connections. People point out the symmetry between today's scandals and the actions of former Democratic leaders Jim Wright and Danny Rostenkowski, but the scales of the relative crimes are in no way comparable (Wright's book deal was worth considerably less than what Abramahoff spent on one Scottish golf junket.) As many have pointed out, the confusion in the public mind arises from the media's attempt to create a false sense of equivalence between the relative magnitudes of corruption in the two parties, even when a simple recitation of the facts would indicate otherwise.

Posted by: Chris Francklyn | January 4, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Bush could partially neutralize the ethics scandal by taking credit for aggressively prosecuting these cases. He could start with Enron, which his administration refused to bail out, contrast his cooperation with Mr. Fitzgerald with others' noncooperation with Mr. Starr, note the prosecution of Rep. Cunningham, and, if Rep. Delay is not convicted, note that his prosecutors get convictions unlike partisan state prosecutors. He could also note the aggressive investigation of the lobbyist scandal. In all these instances, he can argue he is not protecting anyone but letting the chips fall where they may, including Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove if he is indicted.

Posted by: Ashland | January 4, 2006 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I think these polls show that voters simply believe that they have no way to stop corruption. It's a big problem, but it always has been, and even if they vote based on corruption, the new guys will be corrupt soon too. This isn't a partisan thing, it's an issue that speaks much about American's frustrations with money and power. The fact that so few will vote based on it, is a testiment to how negatively (and probably correctly) voters view our political system.

Posted by: adam | January 4, 2006 8:26 AM | Report abuse

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