John Fund

It's sad when someone you've known for decades gets in trouble and you're not surprised.

After the FBI raided the home of California's Rep. John Doolittle this month in search of records from the fund-raising company run by his wife, Julie, Republican House leaders didn't wait even a day before they pressured him to step down from his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Everyone knows that such a raid only occurs after a judge has issued a search warrant in response to government claims that there is probable cause a crime has been committed.

In Mr. Doolittle's case, it appears the FBI is exploring allegations that Mrs. Doolittle received thousands of dollars from lobbyist turned felon Jack Abramoff for phantom work in exchange for favors Mr. Doolittle might have performed for Abramoff clients. Mr. Doolittle insists he and his wife will be cleared.

But political observers back in Mr. Doolittle's hometown of Sacramento agree his congressional career is over. Last year, publicity about his ties to Mr. Abramoff caused his popularity to plummet. He won re-election by only 3% in a district President Bush carried by 24% in 2004. Now he is almost certain to face a primary challenge from a local GOP state legislator, as Republicans scramble to make sure the seat stays in their hands.

It will be a sad end to a political career that began with such promise. In 1980, when I met Mr. Doolittle, he was a 30-year-old lawyer and political upstart and I was a California college student. Mr. Doolittle had just defeated an incumbent Democratic state senator in Sacramento County, which had elected only one Republican to partisan office in the past generation (and she soon switched parties).

Mr. Doolittle, a confirmed Reaganite, inspired an entire generation of local Republicans to take advantage of demographic changes in the state's capital. Today, Sacramento County often votes for Republican statewide candidates, and outside of the central city elects only Republicans to the Legislature and Congress. In the state Senate, Mr. Doolittle amassed a solid record as a fiscal conservative and championed ethics reform in the wake of an FBI sting operation that sent several legislators to jail. In 1990, he ran for and won a seat in Congress.


John Fund

John Fund writes the weekly "On the Trail" column, reprinted here with permission from the Wall Street Journal and OpinionJournal.com. He is author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" (Encounter, 2004).

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