Philadelphia Inquirer | 01/07/2006 | Santorum donating Abramoff money: "Posted on Sat, Jan. 07, 2006
Santorum donating Abramoff moneyThe Pa. senator, seeking to "set an example," will give away contributions received from the lobbyist.By Carrie BudoffInquirer Staff WriterU.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) will shed the remaining $9,000 of his contributions from tribes connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff - a decision that Santorum's campaign said was prompted by his plans to take a lead in tightening lobbying rules.
"He wanted to set an example by donating all the contributions to charity," Virginia Davis, Santorum's campaign spokeswoman, said yesterday.
Santorum's move to return the money and put forward lobbying bills underscores the potential potency of ethics issues in the 2006 campaigns here and across the country.
Within hours of Abramoff's guilty plea Tuesday in a federal influence-peddling case, dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers started giving away campaign donations tied to the Washington lobbyist.
At first, Santorum returned only $2,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, a former Abramoff client, because the tribe was specifically mentioned in Abramoff's plea agreement.
"Because we are having difficulty determining the role Jack Abramoff may or may not have had in these contributions, we are going to err on the side of caution," Davis said yesterday of the remaining $9,000, which came from two other tribes.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked Santorum, the No. 3 Republican Senate leader, in November to write legislation that could address some of the excesses exposed by the Abramoff case. For years, Abramoff showered lawmakers with trips, entertainment and millions of dollars in contributions.
"It is a very real possibility" Santorum could work on an agreement with Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who already has drafted lobbying legislation, said Robert L. Traynham II, Santorum's Senate spokesman.
By involving himself in the ethics debate at a time when incumbents seem vulnerable on the issue, Santorum "can insulate himself and say he is ahead of the curve," said Berwood Yost, a Franklin and Marshall College pollster.
But already, Santorum's leading Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., is questioning the senator's standing on the issue.
Larry Smar, Casey's spokesman, said Santorum should first sever his ties with the K Street Project, an effort led by Santorum and other GOP lawmakers to build strong ties with the lobbying community and persuade those firms to hire Republican job applicants. K Street is a Washington address favored by lobbyists.
"If you talk about lobbying reform, that is a pretty good first place to start," Smar said. "Until he ends his association with the K Street Project, he has no credibility."
Traynham said the senator would continue the gatherings, which occur as many as 10 to 15 times a year. "He has no intention to stop meeting with, bouncing ideas off of or seeking advice from strategists based in D.C. that can further advance the agenda of moving this economy forward, protecting our homeland, and helping Pennsylvania's interests," Traynham said.
It was at one of those gatherings in 2001 that Santorum apparently encountered Abramoff, according to articles that year in National Journal and Roll Call that reference a meeting between the senator and more than a half-dozen lobbyists and lawmakers.
However, Davis said Santorum, who meets with hundreds of people every week, "does not recall being personally introduced or meeting Jack Abramoff.""