New Questions About Pombo Breaking House Ethics Rules
Today’s Sacramento Bee has a very interesting article by Michael Doyle about Richard Pombo’s connections to Jack Abramoff. Although the article is nominally about the connection between Pombo and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the article gives us a very juicy tidbit that the author doesn’t seem to look at very closely—something Pombo said raises the possibility that he violated House ethics rules.
Doyle largely focuses on the allegations that under Abramoff’s direction the tribe gave large contributions to Pombo in order to get his support for legislation that would help the tribe get federal recognition. Unsurprisingly, after receiving the donations Pombo happened to propose a law that helped the Mashpee. Of course we get the typical Pombo denials about whether this was, as everyone with half a brain suspects, a case of pay to play.
There is no indication that Pombo or his staff have been linked to Abramoff's alleged misdeeds, and Pombo said he has been neither subpoenaed nor questioned by investigators. He said he didn't think his staff had been, either, and he stressed Monday that his dealings with Abramoff were strictly casual.
But later on in the piece we get this little gem:
Pombo said he doesn't recall ever visiting any of Abramoff's luxury boxes, nor did he travel with the lobbyist.
Once or twice, Pombo said, he did dine at Abramoff's pricey steak restaurant, Signatures, because some constituents had asked about it.
First, it’s important to note that Abramoff didn’t just gain influence by allowing members Congress to use his sky boxes, he also gained influence by allowing Congressional staff to use them. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over this like white on rice. Following the link you can see that at least one Pombo staffer, Doug Heye, got tickets to an Abramoff skybox (for WWF Raw is War of all things).
Also, Marshall has recently intimated that he has evidence showing Pombo (or maybe his staff) was a serial recipient of Abramoff’s largess (emphasis mine):
Perhaps there was a leadership office or committee he [Rep. Doolittle] was associated with back in 2000 and that obscures him in the references. But I doubt it. And he's nowhere close to fellow Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) as an Abramoff freebie-meister, for instance.
Marshall has a cache of e-mails from Abramoff’s old lobbying firm, and though I have sent Marshall an e-mail about Pombo, I haven’t gotten a reply yet. Still, it’s pretty clear this bears investigating.
Second, given I don’t trust Pombo as far as I can throw him (which judging by his picture wouldn’t be very far anyhow), we really need to investigate his admission that he dined at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures. As far as I know, this is the first time Pombo has been linked there. Although this might seem like a minor thing to the uninformed, this is actually a huge development.
Signatures was an extremely high-priced steakhouse where Abramoff comped up to $180,000 worth of food to members of Congress and Congressional staffers. Since there are strict House ethics rules about members of Congress accepting free meals, it’s possible a lot of Abramoff’s cronies in Congress violated ethics rules by accepting free meals at the restaurant. Furthermore, since there are records about things like this, this is an area where ethics violations can be readily proved. Again, Josh Marshall and his team have been at the forefront of this line of inquiry. Check out this piece by TPM Café contributor Austin Bonner and this longer article by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW).
I hope this is a line of inquiry that gets picked up.