Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Richard Pombo: So Much Political Muck

In today's Sacramento Bee, Peter Schrag describes Richard Pombo and John Doolittle as friends of fixers, gamblers and sweatshops.
What is it about the Central Valley that produces so much political muck?


And now we have Sacramento's two near-neighbors, members of what unsympathetic bloggers call the Abramoff Seven: Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy, who succeeded Shumway in the 11th District, and Rep. John Doolittle of Roseville in the 4th District, which runs north to the Oregon border. Both are running for re-election; both are in deep doo-doo.

Earlier this year Washington fixer Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges. Of the other five, one is already gone and another, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, is on his way. Ney pleaded guilty last week to making false statements and conspiracy to commit fraud. Former Abramoff fellow-traveler and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, facing separate charges in Texas, resigned from the House.

Neither Doolittle nor Pombo has been charged with anything illegal. But the goop trailing behind them makes the transgressions of their Valley predecessors look almost benign. Just tracing their links to Abramoff and the sweatshop-dominated Northern Mariana Islands and the Indian gambling interests that were his biggest clients would take a wall-size diagram.

In a recent debate with Jerry McNerney, his Democratic opponent, Pombo declared that Abramoff "never once lobbied me on anything." He'd barely met the guy. But records of the Northern Marianas government show that Abramoff billed his clients there for contacts with Pombo and his staff. Kevin Ring, who'd gone from Doolittle's staff to join Abramoff's K Street lobbying firm, contributed $3,000 to Pombo; Abramoff and his firms kicked in $8,000, plus another $5,000 to Pombo's PAC.

How did a rancher from Tracy get so interested in those remote Pacific islands? The low-wage garment industry on the islands, which are U.S. territory, can label its products "Made in U.S.A." When the industry fought to block legislation that would have ended its exemptions from U.S. immigration and labor laws, Pombo and Doolittle were happy to help.


Pombo got some $6,500 in individual contributions from the Marianas, but they pale beside the $250,000 he collected in the last two election cycles from Indian gambling interests, most of them Abramoff clients. Thanks to DeLay, Pombo chairs the House Resources Committee, which oversees Indian casinos. No congressman got more from the tribes in those years than Pombo.


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