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Cash back

So we have Peter DeFazio returning the bucks, while Patty Murray says she’s keeping hers. Everyone seems to have a different reaction to the tribal money.

That is a distinction worth making: Tribal money, as opposed to Jack Abramoff money.

The ever-growing scandal surrounding corrupt lobbyist Abramoff has not hit the Northwest congressional delegation especially hard, as yet. For the most part – qualifiers are needed – he seems not to have been especially close to most of this region’s congressional players, a fact for which most of them are doubtless massively relieved about now.

The members of Congress who stand in the hottest water are those who had direct dealings with Abramoff, and whose names are likely to come up repeatedly as the former power broker sings for federal attorneys. Are any northwest members of Congress in this group?

There’s no definitive answer to the positive yet. Willamette Week has taken a look at Oregon Senator Gordon Smith’s relationship with Abramoff over the years, and notes, “Smith and Abramoff aren’t strangers. The senator has held fundraisers at a D.C. restaurant that Abramoff owned until recently, and he has taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Abramoff and his tribal clients.” Smith happens to be a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, a panel of greater interest to those tribal clients. As WW notes, there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing on Smith’s part, but the situation is sure to be watched.

The discussion now is going much wider.

What we’re now seeing is another level of money activity – contributions to members of Congress from tribes which were among Abramoff’s roster of clients. Most members of Congress, spread deeply among both parties, have taken money from these tribes over the years, and there’s been no legal or ethical violation in doing that. But is the money now somehow “Abramoff-tainted”?

Evidently, there’s no consensus on that. So you have the spectacle of all these members of Congress coming to different conclusions about it.

This may constitute overreaction: acceptance of money from tribes by federal candidates is neither illegal nor unethical. It may be a measure of how poisonous money has become in Washington that even so, many feel it should gotten rid of.

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