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Presidential Dinner Sparks More Accusations

Two years ago, Democrats began beating the drum that Republicans had been fostering a “culture of corruption” during their reign on Capitol Hill. The Republicans tried to turn the tables on them recently, setting off charges and counter charges about “tainted” money.

The latest charge emerged from the GOP’s annual President’s Dinner, for which the National Republican Congressional Committee sets fundraising goals for each Member. The event benefits the NRCC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was quick to note that the NRCC asked about a half-dozen Members with possible ethical or legal troubles to contribute, despite the NRCC’s recent call for the DCCC to give back any money it received from indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).

“They called upon the NRCC and Members to return money from [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas], calling it ‘tainted money,’” NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. “Then they went on the campaign trail saying they are going to have the most ethical Congress in history.

“They aren’t living up to their own standard.”

DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell pointed out that the committee stopped accepting money from Jefferson after the FBI raided his home in August 2005. The DCCC also returned a $20,000 check from him.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) is under federal investigation and has not paid any DCCC dues since the probe was revealed, said one knowledgeable Democrat who did not want to be identified.

In contrast, the NRCC asked eight Members either under federal investigation or being scrutinized for questionable actions to kick in $635,000 for the dinner, which was held Wednesday night.

(The NRCC would not say if all Members met their goals, which were set in January.)

GOP Reps. Tom Feeney (Fla.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and John Doolittle (Calif.), all of whom are under federal investigation, collectively were asked to raise $175,000, according to the packets the NRCC distributed to Members and obtained by Roll Call.

“House Republicans are riddled with hypocrisy and saddled with credibility problems,” Thornell said. “Last week they attempted to play dress-up as ethics reformers but went conveniently silent after news of [Rep.] Don Young’s [R-Alaska] $10 million earmark for a campaign contributor.

“This week they peeled that same costume off the floor to play partisan, political games with our homeland security while asking Members under investigation to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a party to celebrate Bush’s lack of accomplishments.”

Doolittle and Renzi voluntarily declined to participate in the program, according a knowledgeable GOP source.

The DCCC still has “$132,000 that they received from Jefferson” before he came under FBI investigation, Shutley fired back.

Other GOP Members who have received negative media attention were not barred from participating.

They include Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), Tim Murphy (Pa.), Young, Ken Calvert (Calif.) and Gary Miller (Calif.).

Their problems vary from connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to accusations of using official time and resources for campaigning purposes to questions about earmarks.

Shutley said those Members, who are not under investigation or indictment, should not be barred from helping their party.

“The Democrats can’t live up to the ethical standards they set for themselves — even after a 16-count indictment,” Shutley said. “Why are they making excuses for keeping the Jefferson money — do they have it locked in a freezer somewhere?”

Shutley said the back-and-forth over contributions takes away from the NRCC’s accomplishment.

“We really think our Members have shown continued commitment and excitement since January when they raised almost $5 million for our debt retirement program,” Shutley said. “That is something that we never asked Members to do before.”

The NRCC exceeded its $7.5 million goal by bringing in $7.9 million as of Wednesday, but that is almost half as much as it raised for last year’s dinner.

“We think the more our base conceptualizes the real consequences of the Democrat majority, the more they will be energized and we believe on Election Day we will have every resource we need to be competitive and successful,” Shutley said.

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