And you thought it was safe? Today, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and violate federal lobbying laws and to making false statements. Ney, formerly known as the Mayor of Capitol Hill, is the first lawmaker to plead guilty in the ongoing investigation into the activities of uberlobbyist Jack Abramoff. (Please read TPM Muck’s Tribute to Bob Ney.) This guilty plea comes one day after the House passed a miniscule earmark reform, a lame replacement for lobbying and ethics reform. Not long ago the Washington Post wrote this, "Some lawmakers and political analysts believe that voters could punish incumbents during the November elections if Congress passes a minimalist ethics bill. The chances of such a backlash could rise, these critics say, if there are more indictments or guilty pleas later this year." Polls are already showing that individual lawmakers involved in the Abramoff scandal are suffering in their chances for reelection.
Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., is one lawmaker who is deeply tied to the Abramoff scandal (not to mention his ties to Duke Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes). Doolittle, a recipient of Abramoff’s largesse, was called the "hero" of Abramoff client the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. protectorate that specializes in sweat shop labor and forced abortions, and also wrote supportive letters for Indian tribal casinos across the country despite being adamantly opposed to gambling. A recent poll shows Doolittle, a conservative Republican in a conservative Republican district, suffering to hold his seat against opponent Charlie Brown. Doolittle leads Brown 41%-39%. Augh, indeed.
Just south of Doolittle’s district in the East Bay region of California another Abramoff ally Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., is fighting a similarly tough battle for reelection. The last poll released in this race showed Pombo’s opponent Jerry McNerney leading Pombo 46%-42%. Pombo’s ties to Abramoff, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and the oil and gas industry are hurting the seven-term Congressman chances in what looks like an anti-incumbent election season.
In Montana the largest recipient of Abramoff cash, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is looking like a stone in the water. Abramoff told Vanity Fair that he got "every appropriation we wanted" from Burns. The Montana Democrats wasted no time in tarring Burns with Abramoff’s misdeeds last year and it looks like their early efforts have born fruit. Burns’ opponent, State Sen. leader Jon Tester is locked in a tight race with the three-term Senator, although most polls show Tester with the edge.
Congress watchers consistently predicted this summer that ethics have had little to no impact on the congressional races this year. These are just three races in which they have. DeLay’s former district, Texas-22, looks like it will flip to the Democrats as well. With Ney’s guilty plea all eyes should turn to the four competitive Ohio elections in OH-15, OH-02, OH-01, and Ney’s district, OH-18. Congress should also take a look at itself and decide if it has done enough after the convictions of two sitting members of Congress and at least five former Hill staffers in the past year.