This is an election year and Republican leaders know they are going to have to be seen cleaning house to counter the Democrats' "culture of corruption" campaign offensive that they will flog for all its worth in the months to come. Campaign contributions from Abramoff and his cronies are being returned left and right, but that's just for starters. Expect reform legislation to be passed relatively quickly in the coming weeks, too.
But the idea the public sees this as just a Republican problem, as the news media seems to be playing it, is dead wrong.
When the Washington Post/ABC News poll asked voters last month which party was more ethical in its political and legislative dealings, both sides received failing grades: 12 percent said Republicans were better on ethics and 16 percent said the Democrats.
Notably, a whopping 71 percent said there was little if any difference between them.
Meanwhile, we need to keep some of the emerging details in all this in perspective. First, it is not illegal for someone, even a lobbyist, to make a campaign contribution to a member of Congress within the limits set by law. It is not illegal for former members of Congress or their staff members to set up a lobbying practice, providing they abide by the time limits before they can lobby members of Congress. It's also not illegal for lawmakers to attend a charity golf event or some other fundraising gathering and have one's expenses picked up by the sponsoring group, provided you abide by all the reporting requirements.
But Abramoff and his cronies were allegedly engaged in conspiracy to bribe officials, obtain kickbacks, defraud clients, and, according to authorities, got at least one lawmaker to provide their clients with a congressional contract or to insert special provisions into legislation.
Yet, as cynical as this sad story may make some of us feel about our lawmakers, let's remember that a good majority of the 535 members of Congress are honest and ethical. And most lobbyists here are performing an important public service for the interest groups they faithfully represent at the highest councils of government.