The Abramoff Echo

Monday, August 7, 2006

Are Ohio voters fed up with Mike DeWine's ethics problems? If so, it might not seem fair. After three decades in political life, Ohio's Republican senior senator has not been accused of any improprieties.

Nonetheless, DeWine is in a tough fight for a third term, and his race against Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown is one that will test the potency of the corruption issue. National and state scandals have tarred members of Congress and even the governor, and Ohio is among the places where Republicans are most vulnerable to the charge that they are an entrenched party that has lost its ethical compass.

This will be the first election after a long and ripe season of Washington scandal. Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partners illegally exploited their ties to senior Republican lawmakers in the capital's most noxious influence-peddling scheme in a generation. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), once the most powerful man in the House, resigned as majority leader and later left Congress after being indicted on charges of improper fundraising.

Certainly, this issue will be a major factor in isolated races. Evidence of its potential to affect the November elections came last week when Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, lost the Republican primary for Georgia's lieutenant governor after getting pounded for his close relationship with Abramoff.

The politican who was most at risk was Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who has been identified as the accused but so far unindicted "Congressman #1" in Abramoff's plea agreement. But on August 7, Ney announced that he will not run for re-election. Ney said he would serve the remainder of his sixth term in the House. A state senator has been asked to run instead. But Ney said that he owed it to his family to withdraw. "Ultimately this decision came down to my family," Ney said in a statement. "I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal."

Ney had faced a difficult race against Democrat Zack Space in the traditionally Republican 18th District in central and eastern Ohio.

For the corruption issue to have national impact, politicians would be dislodged who are only in the vicinity of ethics controversies, rather than being central characters. In Montana, Sen. Conrad Burns (R) is apparently not under investigation but has been roasted in the news media by Democrat Jon Tester because of his ties to Abramoff. A former top aide to Burns worked with Abramoff's firm, and the senator received about $150,000 from Abramoff's lobbying team and clients.

Among Democrats with ethics problems are Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.) and Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), who are targets of federal probes.

-- Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

© 2006 The Washington Post Company