Propaganda 101

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corruption, Democratic Party, Republican Party

Did Democrats take money from Jack Abramoff? “Yes they did!” yell the righties. “No they didn’t!” say the lefties. Who is telling the truth?

You will be astonished to learn Republican claims that “Democrats did it too” are based on a sleight-of-hand that counts money not coming from Abramoff as “Abramoff money.” Yes, you are astonished. And shocked. Cough.

This is how it works: Indian tribes were clients of Jack Abramoff. Therefore, all money donated by Indian tribes is “tainted” by Abramoff, even if the money didn’t go through Abramoff but was donated directly by a tribe to a Democrat and Abramoff had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Matthew Continetti wrote in The Weekly Standard:

“THIS IS A REPUBLICAN scandal,” Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace in December. Wallace had asked Reid about his relationship with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who last week pleaded guilty, in two separate investigations, to five counts of mail fraud, tax evasion, wire fraud, and conspiracy. Reid said there was no relationship. “Abramoff gave me no money,” he said. “So don’t lump me in with Jack Abramoff.”

Reid might not have taken money directly from Abramoff, a lifelong Republican and conservative activist, but he did accept donations–some $66,000 worth–from Abramoff’s clients, Indian tribes operating casinos throughout the United States. And Reid’s willingness to do so, and his reluctance to return the Abramoff-related funds, as many of his Republican colleagues have done, suggests that Washington’s latest lobbying scandal may be more complex than partisans have let on, and more difficult for Democrats to make partisan hay out of than pundits now think.

The paragraphs above would make sense only if Jack Abramoff owned and operated the Indian tribes, like one of his bogus charities.

Mary Beth Williams of Wampum points to this bit from an Associated Press article:

Some watchdog organizations that specialize in tracking campaign money have linked former Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Brad Carson and the Oklahoma Democratic Party to Abramoff because both received money from Indian tribes that had been represented by the lobbyist or his firm.

Among the tribes was the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. According to Senate records, Abramoff’s firm was registered to lobby for the Cherokee Nation briefly in 2003. A spokesman for the Cherokee Nation could not be reached Thursday.

Mary Beth notes that not only did these contributions not go through Abramoff, Brad Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation. She continues,

In the interest of full-disclosure, Eric and I purchased gas from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe last summer in Michigan. The Saginaw-Chippewa were clients of Jack Abramoff’s lobbying firm. Thus, we here at Wampum have been tainted by the receipt of an Abramoff-linked commodity. Hence, the Koufax Awards must also be tainted, as are all the recipients of Awards from the past four years. And if FEC blog-linking rules go into effect, we’ve poisoned everyone on our sidebar as well. Isn’t that how it works, according to new GOP “they did it too” rules?

ReddHedd writes,

Let’s get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Donations directly from specific tribal groups are not only proper, but it’s just like the National Chamber of Commerce or the UAW or any other specific, targeted group that is trying to advance the interests of its members. It is the illegal scamming of the money and then the bribing of officials that Abramoff and his cronies did that is illegal.

Can we say that the “Democrats did it too” argument is, essentially, racist? I believe we can.

Some Republican apologia should be preserved in a “Creating Effective Propaganda” textbook. Let’s look at this article from Investor’s Business Daily:

Nearly all Senate Democrats took money steered their way by Jack Abramoff, and Hillary Clinton’s fundraising committee has agreed to a $35,000 fine. Republicans aren’t the problem. The system is.

This is the lede. A casual reader would assume that nearly all Senate Democrats took money steered their way by Jack Abramoff, wouldn’t they? But that’s not true. A casual reader would assume that Hillary Clinton is being fined because of her association with Abramoff. But that isn’t true, either.

The false “steered their way by Jack Abramoff” claim is not explained in this article. This is as close as the writer gets to an explanation, buried several paragraphs down:

The DSCC and Hillary’s campaign jointly set up the New York Senate 2000 committee for the express purpose of bypassing the $2,000 limit on contributions from individuals. It’s that phony limit that empowers the likes of Abramoff, whose clients and associates gave Sen. John Kerry close to $100,000, according to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid apparently got nearly $70,000 from Abramoff sources, and Schumer himself benefited to the tune of nearly $30,000. All but five Democratic senators have taken Abramoff cash, says the NRSC.

But it wasn’t “Abramoff cash,” and Abramoff did not “steer” the cash to the recipients. These transactions did not involve Abramoff.

While we’re here, let’s look at the claim “The DSCC and Hillary’s campaign jointly set up the New York Senate 2000 committee for the express purpose of bypassing the $2,000 limit on contributions from individuals.” This statement is true, as explained here:

In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton’s campaign set up a joint fundraising committee with the national party’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) to raise unlimited soft money contributions.

The joint committee — called New York Senate 2000 — then transferred the soft money funds to the DSCC, which transferred the money to the New York Democratic state party. The state party then spent the soft money on ads promoting Hillary Clinton….

Mayor Rudy Giuliani has just set up a similar joint fundraising committee with the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) to raise soft money. The Mayor’s committee is called Giuliani Victory Fund.

In these circumstances, the joint fundraising committees at the DSCC and NRSC function, in effect, as “bank accounts” for the Senate candidates. The candidates could just as easily establish these “bank accounts” with the New York Republican and Democratic state parties, with no impact on the raising or spending of unlimited soft money.

This is the sort of hard money/soft money commingling that campaign finance reform is supposed to eliminate, although I’m not sure that it has. There were allegations that this was illegal in 2000, although I don’t believe that was a universally held opinion. If it was illegal, then it was illegal, and I won’t excuse what Clinton did with “Guiliani did it too,” even though he did. But Abramoff was not involved, and it seems to me the inclusion of this episode in this article is nothing but a gratuitous smearing of Hillary Clinton by working her into the same paragraph as Jack Abramoff.

Let’s go back to Senator Clinton’s $35,000 fine, which one might infer from Investor’s Business Daily is somehow connected to the Abramoff scandal. One of Clinton’s fundraising committees has indeed agreed to pay the fine, for failure to disclose $722,000 in contributions raised by Peter Paul, a convicted felon. That was wrong. Regular readers will know I’m no Hillary Clinton fan and am not going to spin my wheels making excuses for her. But Jack Abramoff was not involved in the Peter Paul fundraiser.

Investor’s Business Daily
says “Republicans aren’t the problem. The system is.” In the grand scheme of things, I agree. The system sucks. The system encourages lawbreaking and corruption, and corruption is perfectly happy to cross party lines. But the Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal. Just because, for example, Charles Rangel took $36,000 “from Abramoff’s Indian clients” doesn’t make him dirty if the donations conformed to the law and Abramoff played no part.

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13 Comments

  1. k  •  Jan 7, 2006 @3:38 pm

    Brad Carson represented a largely Cherokee and Creek disrict and ran for Senate in a state with 39 tribes so I guess this whole state is ‘Abramoff sources” ???

  2. maha  •  Jan 7, 2006 @3:46 pm

    There you go. The whole bleeping state of Oklahoma is an “Abramoff source.”

  3. erinyes  •  Jan 7, 2006 @4:09 pm

    Fun with GOOGLE!
    Google the following in any combination, the results will shock ‘N awe… Abramoff, Lapin, Wolfowitz, Lewinski, Larry Silverstein, Yukos, mossad ,silverado savings,. Bullshit filter recommended, but it’s still interesting.
    This Abramoff affair is like an iceberg, the tip is exposed but 90% of the meat is beneath the surface.

  4. The heck with hair-splitting; let’s get down to brass tacks.

    All the fuss is about “money” — so anyone who has had anything to do with “money” is just as bad as Abramoff, who also had something to do with it.

    Kind regards,
    Dog, etc.
    searching for home

  5. Swami  •  Jan 7, 2006 @6:22 pm

    According to six degrees of Kevin Bacon theory, I got some of that Abramoff money myself. Mine was a cash deal under the table with Sun Cruz bucks.

  6. renate  •  Jan 7, 2006 @7:55 pm

    Abramoff must have given some money legally, how else would he cover up the illegal donations. I would like to know excactly how money from him did wind up with Democrats, what did he get in return.

    Barbra Streisand donated to Clinton and only slept in Lincoln’s bed.

    Just the same, if Democrats broke the law they should be held accountable, SO SHOULD OUR ABSOLUTE RULER KING GEORGE.

  7. Swami  •  Jan 7, 2006 @8:53 pm

    What I find interesting is why so many are tripping over their feet to return money that came from Abramoff. They can’t shed the fact that they recieved the money and by returning money that wasn’t recieved with strings attached they create the perception that it was recieved as knowningly being dirty money. Personally, if I were in the position of some of these congressmen, I wouldn’t attempt to change public perceptions after the fact..it has an ordor of culpability to it.

  8. Donna  •  Jan 7, 2006 @9:31 pm

    Thanks for this enlightening post. Kudos to Maha for digging into the smelly spin and innuendos put out by the Rovians.

  9. Rick  •  Jan 8, 2006 @10:22 am

    The money they are returning is a literal drop in the bucket…$6k from Bushco.

    Myself, I see a huge blowback to all the scandals and dealings of this administration. People who bought their line of bull defend it so vehemiantly because it is so close to their core beliefs…when they find they’ve been betrayed…well.

  10. carla  •  Jan 8, 2006 @2:03 pm

    What I’ve been hearing is that Abramoff was directing many of the tribes as to where to send their campaign contributions. That’s the rub, I think.

    If it can be demonstrated that Abramoff was directing tribes to funnel money to GOPers or Dems for a quid pro quo…then its a legit complaint.

    Do you know anything about that, Maha?

  11. ocdemocrat  •  Jan 8, 2006 @4:26 pm

    Republican Politicians are more generous than Democrats in donating “Abramoff” monies to charitable(?) organizations!

    A perfectly true statement.

    However, since Abramoff or his family didn’t give to Democratic Politicians. it’s hard to return what you never received

  12. maha  •  Jan 8, 2006 @7:32 pm

    Do you know anything about that, Maha?

    I think the burden is on whoever is making that claim to prove it. It doesn’t make sense that Abramoff would have “directed” clients to send money to anyone but him, especially to Democrats.

  13. Donna  •  Jan 9, 2006 @12:24 pm

    So the Republicans’ strategy for deflecting the sleaze uncovered by the Abramoff scandal is to proclaim “Dems did it, too” and to pathetically twist facts to insinuate that any donations from Indian tribes to Democrats just had to be part of the sleaze! Are they saying that the tribes themselves are sleazy?
    We know how sleazy Abramoff and his buddies were from their made-public e-mails. Well, I would ask the righties, “where in any of those Abramoff/associates e-mails are there any references to Democratic politicians”. If Dems were part of the sleazy Abramoff circle, don’t you think Abramoff would have really crowed about it in his infamous e-mails?

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