Abramoff's Specter Rises Again, Troubling GOP Hopeful

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gary H. Baise said he had "not a clue" that the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, the group that still lists him as an honorary board member, was in the middle of the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, as federal investigators now allege.

Baise, a Washington lawyer and Republican candidate for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, "hardly ever saw" CREA co-founder Italia Federici, who, according to Legal Times, has been told by prosecutors that she might be charged with fraud, tax evasion and giving false testimony to a Senate committee.

Federici had a romantic relationship with J. Steven Griles, a coal industry lobbyist and deputy interior secretary during President Bush's first term. Griles pleaded guilty last month to lying to Congress in 2005 about his relationship with Abramoff. It was Federici who introduced Griles to Abramoff, and it was CREA that received $500,000 from Abramoff's clients, which included Native American tribes, and from energy and mining interests.

Abramoff is serving nearly six years for fraud, tax evasion and bribery of public officials.

Baise, a former Nixon-era Environmental Protection Agency chief of staff who frequently represents industrial and agricultural clients in environmental litigation, said he got involved with CREA through two friends, James R. Moseley, a former deputy secretary of agriculture, and Douglas P. Wheeler, a former California secretary of resources who serves on what CREA's Web site called its Honorary Board.

Baise said he reviewed drafts of papers and press releases, and offered advice to CREA for its main mission, to promote what it called the Republican environmentalism in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt. This included defending the Bush administration's record on the environment and exposing what the group calls flaws and hypocrisies of liberal environmentalists.

Baise said he knew Federici largely through phone consultations.

"I never met Mr. Griles, I can say," Baise said, adding that it was the same in the case of Abramoff.

Baise added that he is not surprised about the inquiries he has received. He said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) told him that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Gerald E. Connolly, intended to "hang Abramoff around my neck."

Davis did not return a phone message. Connolly said he made no such statement.

"Certainly not," Connolly said. He did say, however, that he mentioned to Davis recently that his campaign's research had revealed Baise's connection to CREA.

"I remember telling Tom we were surprised to discover what we discovered about CREA. That may have been Tom saying, 'You better watch it,' " Connolly said.

This is not the first time the odor from the Abramoff affair has wafted down to local government. Former Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) had some explaining to do about $20,000 in donations to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign from Guam- and Saipan-based clients of Abramoff -- as the county was considering leasing a school to a Jewish organization Abramoff supported. Duncan said he returned the money.

You Could Be Living On Long Island

Fairfax County residents are a pretty happy bunch, at least when it comes to their government.

That's the message Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly has been imparting in recent public appearances, based on a new survey comparing public attitudes toward local government on Long Island, N.Y.'s Nassau and Suffolk counties and Northern Virginia's Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Nearly nine in 10 Fairfax and Loudoun residents rate local government services as good or excellent, compared with 75 percent on Long Island. This comes from a survey of 600 Virginians that was conducted by Stony Brook University for the Long Island Index, an organization that compiles information about the region.

Researchers sought out what they regarded as "peer" counties to determine whether a more centralized local government structure provides a higher degree of citizen satisfaction. According to the index, Long Island has 239 jurisdictions; Fairfax and Loudoun have 17.

Fairfax and Loudoun residents regard police, schools and parks as better managed by a significant margin, and feel overall that they get better value for their property taxes. They also tend to be optimistic about the future, researchers found.

"I think the county is in very good shape," Connolly said at a March 24 town meeting in Springfield. "We were superior to Long Island by a mile."

But Connolly's sunny assessment was not necessarily what town hall attendees wanted to hear. They had come to the Franconia Government Center with a long list of grievances about zoning code enforcement and traffic. In a recording of the meeting, a scattering of derisive laughter and skeptical murmurs could be heard from the crowd as Connolly spoke.

A closer look at the survey reveals a few less flattering findings for Northern Virginia officials. Only 51 percent of Fairfax and Loudoun respondents said they felt they could count on the county government to do what was right all or most of the time. Forty-six percent said "some of the time" or "almost never." Forty-five percent said it would be "very easy" or "somewhat easy" to get the attention of a county official in case of a problem.

One thing Long Islanders and Northern Virginians had in common: More than half said they were likely to move in the next five years. Housing costs were the primary factor on Long Island. In Fairfax and Loudoun, housing, crowding and lack of job prospects figure to send people packing.

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