If the scandal involving super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- who pleaded guilty to scamming clients, conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and tax evasion -- doesn't hurt Republicans during the 2006 elections, it will be because voters have figured out that Democratic leaders don't really care about ethics.
Consider how the left has targeted Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., in the Abramoff scandal. This month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation of Pombo and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., while admitting she couldn't cite a single fact as to why a probe is needed.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Pombo one of the "13 most corrupt members of Congress." Its list targets 11 Repubs, some of whom are clearly dirty -- Rep. Duke Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes, and Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who is knee-deep in the Abramoff plea agreement. Other Republicans, however, seem guilty mostly of being targeted by Democrats for defeat in 2006. Take the prim Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. He is cited -- get this -- because his kids attend a Pennsylvania charter school (instead of a school in Virginia) and because he supported legislation to clarify the mission of the National Weather Service after a group gave his campaign $2,000. Oooooooo. (CREW's Melanie Sloan did not get back to me by my deadline.)
That's chump change, and that distracts from the real corruption in Washington and in the GOP. Go after Tom DeLay for his luxury golf travel -- now known to have been on Abramoff's dime. Stories linking Doolittle with Abramoff and other big donors make me want to know more.
But Pombo? Since 1999, the Center for Responsive Politics found, Pombo received $40,500 from Abramoff or his client tribes. The center also found that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., received $40,980 from Abramoff tribes -- but Pelosi and CREW aren't calling Murray corrupt.
"I've read that I was one of his closest allies in the House," Pombo told me over coffee last week. "I know that I've met him three times. I may have met him another time or two."
Pombo knows why Democrats don't like him. He's chairman of the House Resources Committee, and he has promoted opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Now, since the Dems have failed to unseat him in a fair fight on issues, they're trolling in the muck and trying to tie Pombo to Abramoff.