Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Over the past four years, the Democrats blamed the Republicans for ushering in "a culture of corruption" that they charged had infected every nook and cranny of the government.

The lobbying payoffs and influence-peddling scandals did indeed bring down a number of Republicans, though it turned out that many Democratic lawmakers also had received tainted contributions from the same lobbyists or their clients. But that got less attention from the national news media.

Now the tide has turned against the Democrats on two fronts, and it is they who are being investigated on corruption charges just as they were poised to take over the White House and strengthen their legislative grip on Congress.

Rod Blagojevich's pay-to-play scandal, in which he has plotted to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, has pushed the Illinois governor to the brink of impeachment. But it has also embarrassed and distracted the president-elect and his transition advisers, and a top election analyst says the GOP could end up winning the vacated seat.

Obama is not implicated in the scandal, but many questions were raised about whether his designated chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel -- a hard-hitting practitioner of Chicago-style politics -- is the "president-elect adviser" mentioned in the U.S. Attorney's complaint that details Blagojevich's plans to put Obama's seat up for sale.

Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the powerful chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is being investigated for, among other things, failure to pay his taxes and helping a rich donor to obtain a tax loophole in return for a large contribution to a public-service center named in Rangel's honor.

Last week, Republicans were attacking Democrats with a vengeance for being corrupt -- unleashing a barrage of press releases promoting a flood of newspaper stories about their latest troubles with headlines that read, "Democrats web of corruption continues to grow," "Rangel's troubles create a problem for the Democrats" and "Did Obama team have contact with Illinois governor?"

The smell of a scandal "might be building, though it's not there yet," said Jennifer Duffy, senior political analyst at the Cook Political Report. "But Democrats who have won on this message of culture of corruption now find the tables have turned on them, and they do have to be very careful that it doesn't get bigger," Duffy told me.

For Barack Obama, "it's a distraction he doesn't need right now," she said.

Scandal-wise, this has been a bumper year for the Democrats, who have seen some of their biggest names brought down by one investigation after another.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.