Debra J. Saunders

 The Contra Costa Times took an exhaustive look at the charges hurled at Pombo. The paper reported how Pombo used his clout, at times excessively -- take taxpayer-funded pro-Bush mailers he sent out to snowmobile owners in battleground states before the 2004 election -- but there is no smoking gun.

 Do I have issues with him? Yes. As I told Pombo, some of his decisions emit the odor of having hobnobbed in D.C. for too long. Pombo's wife has worked as a paid fund-raiser for his committee, and his brother as a treasurer. He told me: "I have had family on the payroll from the very beginning. When no one else would take my campaign, my brother left his job ... and worked for me."

 As Pombo sees it, they are paid a fair wage -- an average of $48,000 a year for his wife, $43,255 for his brother, according to the Contra Costa Times -- and "I can trust them." Where he sees only $40-something, I think voters may see nepotism. Pombo should understand that it looks bad.

 Ditto Steve Ding, who also makes more than $150,000 as chief of staff for the Resources committee, but also makes money as Pombo's congressional chief of staff and on the side working for GOP candidates. It's odd for a committee chief of staff to live outside of the Beltway and let taxpayers foot the bill -- some $30,000 a year -- when he visits the Capitol.

 Pombo believes it's better to get committee staff out of Washington. He wants his aides to live in "the real world." Ding noted that his travel is covered by an operating budget. It doesn't cost extra, and it is customary for taxpayers to fund staffers' travel either to or from a member's district.

 Cunningham's graft netted him a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode. DeLay traveled and golfed in high style on Abramoff's dime, as he conveniently turned against a bill to curb Internet gambling. Pombo is made of different stuff. His idea of a good vacation is taking his family to Yellowstone in an RV.

 As for Nancy Pelosi, she has shown that corruption doesn't bother her nearly as much as losing House seats. As long as she picks on Pombo, not the real Abramoff cronies, she deserves to lose more.

Debra J. Saunders

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