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�Truthy’ Exchange Did Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) take money from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff? Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s popular faux news show “The Colbert Report” was convinced he had. In a recent interview, Engel was asked by the “truthy” Colbert — who does a wicked parody of Bill O’Reilly — if he took money from Abramoff. “No, I’ve never met Jack Abramoff,” replied the nine-term congressman. Colbert persisted. “OK, how much money did you take from Jack Abramoff?” “I’ve never taken money from Jack Abramoff,” pleaded Engel. “OK, let’s go on to a different subject: Why did you take money from Jack Abramoff?” asked Colbert. In a statement to Legal Times, Engel said he had a great time filming the piece in his native Bronx, but added that a shot of him offering Colbert Centrum vitamins — produced in his district — was cut from the final clip. Oh, and his communications director, Rebecca Gale, again insists that the congressman has never met or taken any money from Jack Abramoff. Still unanswered at press time is why he met with him. — Joe Crea
FARA Fees Year-end filings from lobby shops across Washington are starting to trickle in to the Foreign Agent Registration Act office. Among early filers, Weber Shandwick leads the pack in FARA fees, taking in just north of $1 million during the last six months of 2005. Its biggest clients: the Bahamian government, from which it netted $873,665, and the Colombian government, from which it collected $150,000. The Loeffler Group collected $658,230 in fees in the second half of 2005, with a $450,000 payday coming from perennial FARA funder Saudi Arabia (the firm worked on World Trade Organization issues for the kingdom). The D.C. operation of the Texas-based law firm also pocketed $208,230 from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. Covington & Burling, which has seen its lobby operation grow in the past year, reported $396,774 in FARA fees for the second half of 2005, with $366,774 coming from the Cyprus government. The law firm also worked on visa issues for the Australian government for a more modest fee of $30,000. Orion Strategies took in $245,000 in FARA cash in the last six months of 2005; $100,000 of its haul came from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative’s Office, $80,000 from the Republic of Georgia, and $64,000 from Macedonia. Law firm Chadbourne & Parke collected $102,203 from the Asian Development Bank in the last half of the year. — Andy Metzger
Backgrounder With an “anything goes” attitude on Capitol Hill over lobbying reform, the ethics suggestion box is wide-open. One idea floated on K Street recently called for Congress members serving on the Intelligence, Appropriations, and Armed Services committees to be required to obtain security clearances. One Republican lobbyist, who asked not to be named, says the extensive background check required for such clearance would weed out bad seeds like former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who resigned from the House last fall after pleading guilty to one count of tax evasion and taking more than $2 million in bribes. His lavish lifestyle included a Rolls Royce and a yacht named the “Duke-Stir.” Presently, members of Congress are not subjected to such scrutiny, and a Senate Armed Services Committee staffer shrugged off the proposal, saying it was unlikely to gain any traction. Some lobbyists also dismissed the idea as ridiculous and ineffective. “A background check is not going to turn up that kind of stuff,” says Steve Elmendorf, president of Bryan Cave Strategies and a former senior aide to retired House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). He notes that congressional corruption often follows the power members gain through serving on various committees. Others see more merit in the idea of background checks, but raise practical and constitutional questions. “Cunningham might have gotten away with it longer than he should have, but he’s been punished, and he left Congress,” says Thomas Susman, a partner at Ropes & Gray and chair of the Ethics Committee of the American League of Lobbyists. “In retrospect it [security clearances] seems obvious — some members live beyond their means. But who would do this investigation? Will it be the executive branch investigating members of Congress?” — Joe Crea

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