Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Directed" Contributions

T. Slothrop writes:

All Intensive Purposes: Deborah Howell is still at it. : It's not clear to me that Howell's response is much better. She continues:

Lobbyists, seeking influence in Congress, often advise clients on campaign contributions. While Abramoff, a Republican, gave personal contributions only to Republicans, he directed his Indian tribal clients to make millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.

Records from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff%u2019s Indian clients contributed between 1999 and 2004 to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats. The Post has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with specific directions on what members of Congress were to receive specific amounts. One of those lists can be viewed in this online graphic, while a graphical summary of giving by Abramoff, his tribal clients and associated lobbyists can be viewed here. The latest developments in the Abramoff investigation are available in this Special Report.

But take a look at her evidence. That "online graphic" is a short excerpt (apparently only the Bu - Da portion of an alphabetically organized list) of entities to whom Abramoff told the Louisiana Coushatta tribe to give money in 2002. I count 3 Democrats on the list, and 9 GOP/conservatives. Abramoff apparently recommended contributions of $2000 each to 2 of the Democrats (if you can read the figure for Sen. Daschle, you have a better computer than mine). For the GOP/conservatives, I see $155,000 in suggested contributions. That Howell could look at the gigantic disparity in the recommended contributions on this graphic and think that it supports some sort of claim of equivalence is astounding. On one side is a mountain, and on the other a molehill.... Nor does this graphic establish Howell's claim that Abramoff "directed" contributions to both parties, unless you assume that the Coushatta tribe was simply an unwitting pawn, incapable of acting on its own in ways like, oh, donating money to politicians. (Would journalists be so quick to ignore the client's agency here if it were not an Indian tribe? I wonder.)

No, to show Abramoff's hand here, you need to establish two more things: first, that the tribe acted on his advice -- something not shown here but that I assume the Post's reporters have tracked down -- and, second, that in doing so it wasn't doing what it would have done anyway. Indian tribes donated money to Washington politicians before Jack Abramoff was on the scene, and they will keep doing so after he is a guest of the federal correctional system. To claim that Abramoff "directed" these contributions, you need to show that the Coushatta tribe would not have otherwise donated, e.g., a few thousand dollars to a few Democratic politicans. It's not at all clear to me that the Washington Post has thought about this problem, or wants to think of it, but it's not that hard. The information is out there for those who care to look for it.... All of it just goes to show that it takes an awful lot of work to sustain the illusion that Abramoff was corrupt in a bipartisan sort of way, but that Deborah Howell and The Washington Post are up to the challenge.

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