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Dorgan Tangled in Abramoff Web

By James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt
Monday, December 5, 2005

Revelations about the activities of Jack Abramoff continue to cause discomfort for the many lawmakers who received meals, trips and campaign contributions from the former powerhouse GOP lobbyist.

Democrats are hoping to capitalize on Republican ethical woes. But as The Washington Post reported in June, some prominent Democrats, including former senator Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), Sens. Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), were among beneficiaries of the largest campaign contributions from Abramoff's associates and clients.

Now Dorgan, ranking Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee, is receiving some heightened attention.

Dorgan has asked some of the toughest questions in the committee hearings probing the $82 million Abramoff and Michael Scanlon charged their tribal clients. As the Associated Press reported last week, Dorgan had his own dealings with Abramoff's circle. Dorgan acknowledged to the AP that in the fall of 2003 he pushed Congress to approve legislative language urging government regulators to decide whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition. About the same time, Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and Michael D. Smith, an Abramoff associate.

Dorgan's spokesman said the tribe asked him to be involved and that Massachusetts senators supported his taking action.

In 2001, Dorgan held a fundraising event in an MCI Center skybox during a hockey game. The fundraiser was organized by Smith and the skybox was leased by an Abramoff company. The senator said he believed that the box was controlled by the Greenberg Traurig lobbying firm, not by Abramoff.

Dorgan also signed a letter to the Interior Department urging the continuation of a program that would have the federal government and tribes share the cost of building tribal schools, a program pushed by Abramoff's clients. The Post reported earlier this year that a $3 million grant from the program went to an Abramoff client, one of the richest tribes in the country, as a result of pressure from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

The biggest break for the Abramoff prosecutors has been the guilty plea of the lobbyist's former partner, Scanlon, a onetime aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Scanlon is cooperating with investigators, but so far there is no indication that he has implicated any Democrats.

Bayh the Bayh

As Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) turns 50, he is not just getting older, his campaign is getting richer.

Bayh marked the impending milestone last week in his home state, collecting more than $600,000 at a black-tie gala to benefit his reelection committee.

So why would a senator who won reelection with 62 percent of the vote last November and had $7.2 million in the bank at the end of September choose to celebrate a half-century on Earth by collecting campaign cash?

Two words: presidential politics. Bayh is an all-but-announced candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and his leadership political action committee -- All America PAC -- raised $1.2 million in the first six months of the year, more than the leadership PAC of any other potential 2008 contender except Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The money can be transferred to a presidential committee.

Bayh's actual birth date, by the way, is Dec. 26 -- not the best day to raise campaign cash.

Washingtonpost.com staff writer Chris Cillizza contributed to this column. His column on politics, The Fix, appears daily athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.

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