Sen. Gordon Smith of Pendleton has joined the stampede by federal lawmakers who want to distance themselves from one-time power broker lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Sen. Smith last week identified some $8,500 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and clients of his lobbying firm. Money from clients went back to the clients. The $2,000 that came directly from Abramoff has been donated to the North American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, a Portland-based agency that works to combat alcoholism among American Indians.
At $2,000, Sen. Smith is not far behind President George W. Bush who announced he's donating $6,000 of "tainted" Abramoff money to the American Heart Association. Abramoff was named a "Bush-Cheney Pioneer" when he raised $100,000 for the president's re-election campaign in 2004.
Abramoff twice last week pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, once in Washington, D.C., where he promised to assist investigators looking into his conspiracy to bribe public officials. The second plea, in Miami, Fla., came from that promise as he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of mail and wire fraud in a riverboat casino scam.
It was his plea in Washington that started lawmakers looking to clean the sleaze off the money by giving it to charity.
From Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who decided to give $18,500 of Abramoff's money to a Christian mission to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who chose to send $2,000 to unnamed New York charities, there has been a mad scramble to get rid of the swag.
It would be a mistake to assume that every lawmaker who got money from Abramoff was bribed, but it would be just as big a mistake to think that lawmakers who accepted trips and other gifts from Abramoff on behalf of interested parties never paid back with a vote.
It would be a mistake to think that because of his personal conservative passions that only Republicans were targeted or accepted such gifts. The truth is that money is the key to re-election and re-election is the real priority of every lawmaker. That combination makes Congress and the Senate ripe for plucking by operators such as Abramoff.
Voters contemplating mid-term elections must be careful in assessing if the Robin Hoods of Washington were shedding themselves out of fear of disclosure or distaste for the source of their donation money.