By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 28, 2007
Jack Abramoff may be serving a six-year sentence at a federal prison camp in Cumberland, Md., but the former lobbyist has emerged in the race for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
With less than six weeks until Election Day, Democratic incumbent Gerald E. Connolly and Republican challenger Gary H. Baise have each tried to spatter the other with some of Abramoff's legacy of fraud and influence peddling.
In each case, most of it doesn't stick.
At a debate sponsored by the McLean Citizens Association on Tuesday, Baise confronted Connolly with a $1,000 campaign contribution the chairman received last year from Joe R. Reeder, managing shareholder for the mid-Atlantic region of Greenburg Traurig, the law firm where Abramoff worked before he was fired in 2004.
Reeder, a former undersecretary of the Army in the Clinton administration, was traveling yesterday and did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Although Baise sought to connect the dots, Reeder was not considered a part of what became known as "Team Abramoff," the group of former Capitol Hill aides who lobbied for Abramoff's Indian tribal clients and contributed money to politicians. Abramoff was dismissed from the firm after an internal investigation, prompted by a Washington Post report, found that he had secretly collected millions of dollars in fees from tribal clients through a public relations firm operated by Michael Scanlon, a former press aide to then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
Campaign finance records showed that in 2005, Reeder also contributed $5,000 to the successful Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Timothy M. Kaine (D) and $250 to the unsuccessful state legislative campaign of James E. Hyland, a Greenburg Traurig lawyer and now chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee.
Connolly said he had "no knowledge" of any connection between Reeder and Abramoff. He said he knew Reeder from his service as co-chairman of the Virginia Commission on Military Bases, set up by former governor Mark R. Warner to support state installations during the federal base realignment and closure process.
Baise brought up the donation to counter Connolly's criticism of his honorary membership on the board of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a pro-administration group with connections to a couple of figures in the Abramoff scandal.
CREA was co-founded by Italia Federici, a girlfriend of J. Steven Griles, a coal industry lobbyist and deputy interior secretary during President Bush's first term. Government prosecutors said Abramoff tried to win access to Griles by steering $500,000 from his Native American lobbying clients to CREA. Federici and Griles both ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about their relationship with Abramoff.
Baise sat on an eight-member "honorary board" that included Douglas Wheeler, former executive director of the Sierra Club, and Linda Porter, a member of the board of the Land Trust of Virginia. Baise said that although he signed letters on CREA's behalf to defend Bush administration policies, he never met Abramoff and had no idea how the organization was financed.
For Connolly to suggest otherwise, Baise told the audience at the McLean Community Center, was "old McCarthyism, guilt by association." He said he had been warned by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) that Connolly "was going to wrap Jack Abramoff around my neck."
Wheeler, a former California secretary of natural resources under Gov. Pete Wilson, verified Baise's contention that honorary board members had little or nothing to do with CREA's inner workings. Wheeler said he doesn't even recall being asked to serve as a board member before seeing his name on the Web site.
"We didn't have anything to do with the governance of the organization," said Wheeler, now a lawyer at Hogan and Hartson.
Baise, a trial lawyer who has represented numerous private- and public-sector clients who have had regulatory issues with the Environmental Protection Agency, also attempted to challenge Connolly's depiction of his legal career as one serving "dirty industry."
He pointed out that SAIC of San Diego, the government contractor for which Connolly works as vice president of community relations, has had its own environmental problems. In 1991, the firm, then known as Science Applications International Corp., pleaded guilty to falsifying test results of samples from Superfund toxic waste sites around the country. The company, which has offices in Tysons Corner, paid $1.3 million in restitution and penalties.
"If we want to talk about . . . dirty industry, I think you should check your own house," Baise said.
Connolly did not join SAIC until September 2002. He said that he has nothing to do with the firm's contracts and is solely involved with raising the company's profile in charitable and community activities.