Reid Aided Abramoff Clients, Records Show

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid voted in ways helpful to Jack Abramoff after taking campaign contributions from him, AP reports.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid wrote at least four letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, and the senator’s staff regularly had contact with the disgraced lobbyist’s team about legislation affecting other clients. The activities — detailed in billing records and correspondence obtained by The Associated Press — are far more extensive than previously disclosed. They occurred over three years as Reid collected nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff’s firm, lobbying partners and clients.

Reid’s office acknowledged Thursday having “routine contacts” with Abramoff’s lobbying partners and intervening on some government matters _ such as blocking some tribal casinos _ in ways Abramoff’s clients might have deemed helpful. But it said none of his actions were affected by donations or done for Abramoff. “All the actions that Senator Reid took were consistent with his long- held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents,” spokesman Jim Manley said.

Reid, D-Nev., has led the Democratic Party’s attacks portraying Abramoff’s lobbying and fundraising as a Republican scandal. But Abramoff’s records show his lobbying partners billed for nearly two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid’s office in 2001 alone. Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.

Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff’s tribal clients, once opposing legislation on the Senate floor and four times sending letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues. Reid collected donations around the time of each action.

Ethics rules require senators to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in collecting contributions around the times they take official acts benefiting donors.

Abramoff’s firm also hired one of Reid’s top legislative aides as a lobbyist. The aide later helped throw a fundraiser for Reid at Abramoff’s firm that raised donations from several of his lobbying partners.

This story encapsulates all of the problems of lobbying in a nutshell. Reid took money from a lobbyist who wanted him to do X and subsequently, Reid did X. An open and shut case of corruption, no?

No. Scott Shield correctly notes, as I have in the past, that it would be quite natural for a senator from Nevada to vote as Reid did on gaming issues. Further, it appears that Reid actually did not vote with Abramoff on the Mariana matter that was the subject of most of the calls.

Reid, however, is not totally off the hook here. His name is being, perhaps unfairly, tarnished by the association with Abramoff in the same way that dozens of Republicans have been–under Reid’s leadership. Reid has, in effect, been snared in the guilt by association trap he helped set.

Shields laments, “For a variety of reasons, some of which I still don’t get, the old fashioned media wants very badly for this to be a bipartisan scandal.” While I agree that the K Street Project and other aspects of this scandal are almost exclusively a function of abuse of power by Tom DeLay and others, the overarching story here is bipartisan because it flows from the institutional arrangements of the Congress that have been in place for decades.

Members have written rules giving themselves a massive fundraising advantage over their potential challengers and those who want access to their calendars feel pressured to fork over the cash. My instinct is that very little true corruption is involved. Most of the money exchanged goes to help re-elect Members whose positions either naturally align with that of the lobbying interest, as in Reid and gambling, or to sway those who have no natural constituency interest one way or the other. Still, when there is a close judgment to be made, one can’t help but think that Members are more likely to side with the Jack Abramoff’s of the world.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. In a February 9 article by staff writers John Solomon and Sharon Theimer, the Associated Press left out important details of two incidents that purportedly link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The AP noted that Reid opposed legislation to approve a Michigan casino for a Native American tribe that would have rivaled a casino owned by a tribe represented by Abramoff. But the article omitted the fact that Reid said at the time that he opposed the legislation because it would create a “very dangerous precedent” for the spread of off-reservation gambling — something Reid had opposed for nearly a decade. The article also suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff, without noting that, in fact, Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage.

    The AP noted that Reid “went to the Senate floor” to thwart legislation that would have harmed the Saginaw Chippewa, a tribe represented by Abramoff, because he deemed the bill “fundamentally flawed,” but neglected to mention why Reid said he reached that conclusion:

    Reid went to the Senate floor to oppose fellow Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s effort to win congressional approval for a Michigan casino for the Bay Mills Indians, which would have rivaled one already operating by the Saginaw Chippewa represented by Abramoff.

    “The legislation is fundamentally flawed,” Reid argued, successfully leading the opposition to Stabenow’s proposal.

    In fact, Reid said the legislation was flawed because it would allow the Bay Mills tribe to build an off-reservation casino “under the guise of settling a land claim.” From the November 19, 2002, Congressional Record:

    REID: [A]llowing a tribe to settle a land claim and receive trust land hundreds of miles from their reservation for the express purpose of establishing a gaming facility sets a very dangerous precedent.

    This could end up hurting Republicans even more as the facts come out, they may be seen as smearing a good senator in addition to being the sole recipient of Abramoff money.

  2. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Jeri Lynn, Reid represents Nevada. You are probably aware that Reid is a Senator from that state. Why he should be worried that there is off reservation gambling in Michigan, when the state of Nevada is grossly suppored by same is a rediculous claim. If Reid has an interest in gambling in a state he does not represent, I’ll bet it is a vested interest. You are not very good at jigsaw puzzles are you Jeri Lynn?

  3. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Just another mad jackass, caught in it’s own trap, trying to gnaw its leg off, before anybody finds it, cooks it, and eats it.

  4. Herb says:

    Reid is but another crooked politician with his hand out.

    His problem now is “He got caught”

    “I am clean as a whistle” “I did nothing wrong” where have I heard that before.