Thursday, September 01, 2005

Abramoff's Homies

I've spent a lot of time the last month digging up stuff on the disgraced, indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and many of his co-horts for Raw Story, and John Byrne posted the first installment earlier today: Beyond Abramoff: Gambling lobbyist joined with anti-gambling congressman, derailed gambling bills."

The article spotlights David Safavian, who worked as a lobbyist with Abramoff at Preston, Gates & Ellis, then formed Janus Merritt with Grover Norquist (Abramoff's college roomie), then left to work as chief of staff to Utah Republican Congressman Chris Cannon, then left to serve for a brief spell as chief of staff of the General Services Administration until he was appointed by President Bush last year as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Safavian's clients were largely in the gambling industry, and even though Rep. Cannon, a Mormon, has a strong anti-gambling reputation the record seems to suggest that the congressman profitted from the unusual alliance.

As Byrne writes:

"Safavian was an aggressive player online, too, spearheading a campaign called “Log on 4 choice” that allowed visitors to contact Congress and “urge them to preserve the freedom of the Internet, and your rights to gamble online.”"

"Thus, his decision to become chief of staff to a vocally anti-gambling Utah congressman appears something of a career anomaly. But taken in the larger pattern of events to come, the unexpected alliance was a coup for online gambling firms that put a lobbyist on the “inside” of the gambling debate."

"As Cannon’s chief of staff and top legislative aide Safavian set the stage for their ultimate victory: the death of two bills that would have likely cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars."

While serving as the General Services Administration chief of staff, Safavian took part in a controversial trip to Scotland in 2000 where he golfed with Abramoff, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, although Safavian's spokesman later told WaPo that he "paid back $3,100 for his expenses" (but did that cover the caddy fees?).

While it's been widely reported that the trip had been "largely underwritten by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians," one of Abramoff's lobbying clients, Safavian also once lobbied for them.

Coincidentally I unconspiratorially imagine, Chris Cannon, Congressman for Utah, raked in some campaign donations from the Choctaws, even though they are based in Mississippi.

More to come later on Abramoff and his homies.


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