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Reform, Take One So the Senate passed its lobby reform bill last week. Lobbyist-bought gifts and meals? Out the window. Jaunts on private jets? Must be preapproved by the ethics committee. Grass-roots lobbyists must now play by the same rules as everyone else. And earmarks inserted during conference committee can now be cut out of bills by any senator raising a point of order. The reform train, it seems, is really chugging along. But then, maybe not. The Senate bill — which is stronger than many lobbyists expected but weaker than many senators had hoped — must still be reconciled with a House version, which shows little indications of moving in the upcoming weeks. Lobby reform in the House is coalescing around Rep. David Dreier’s (R-Calif.) plan, which is, in many ways, more lenient than the Senate version. Most notably, it would not ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers (like those Nats tickets). Most lobbyists are focusing their hopes on the House for now, but realize that since the new rules — whatever form they take — will be hammered out in conference, it doesn’t help to get worked up over last week’s developments in the Senate. “Right now you’d have to say that [the final lobby reform bill] will be an unknown amalgamation. And there are a lot of things out there that could still kill it,” says H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, president of Van Scoyoc Associates. Chief among the problems that could derail reform legislation in the House is the issue of 527 organizations. Provisions relating to 527 groups were stripped from the House lobby reform bill last week but look to move as separate legislation, throwing another wrench in the lobby reform process. — Andy Metzger
TWIA: the Letters Have you been wondering just how prison-bound lobbyist Jack Abramoff went so wrong? Blame Thomas Jefferson. “Obviously, Jack got off track in his business dealings, wrapped up in an extreme spirit of competition and disregard for �the rules,’ which may be the natural tendency of all real Jeffersonian liberals,” argued David Barron, a former national chairman of the Young Republicans in the early 1980s, in a letter on Abramoff’s behalf. In fact, Barron’s was one of 262 letters that Abramoff’s friends, family, and supporters sent to federal Judge Paul Huck to consider at Abramoff’s sentencing hearing last week in Miami. It may have worked. The disgraced lobbyist received the statutory minimum sentence of five years and 10 months on charges that he and business partner Adam Kidan faked a $23 million wire transfer to facilitate their purchase of Miami gambling-cruise company SunCruz. (Abramoff awaits sentencing on separate fraud and conspiracy charges in Washington later this year.) At one time, of course, Abramoff was among the best-connected Republicans in Washington. How things change. Of the 262 letters, only two came from old political allies: longtime Abramoff friend Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Gov. Benigno Fitial, governor of the Northern Mariana Islands and a former controversial client of Abramoff’s from his days at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. Oddly, Rohrabacher’s letter time-warped 20 years, casting Abramoff as a Cold War warrior whose time on the barricades of freedom justified leniency from the court. “Jack was a selfless patriot for most of the time I knew him. His first and foremost consideration was protecting America from its enemies. . . . Jack’s effort on behalf of those fighting Communist regimes was significant and appreciated,” the Southern California Republican pleaded. When Legal Times called Rohrabacher’s office last week to discuss the letter, Rohrabacher spokeswoman Rebecca Rudman said: “The letter speaks for itself, and Jack Abramoff is an old friend, but most recently he did some illegal things. . . . You don’t abandon a friend.” When she was asked about the political risk in writing a letter, her tone changed and the conversation abruptly ended. “Look, I really have to go right now,” she said. A source of support that didn’t go wobbly on Abramoff was Washington’s Jewish community. No fewer than nine rabbis sent letters on Abramoff’s behalf. People with connections to Abramoff from his Greenberg Traurig days also wrote in to support him. Laura Lippy Doucet, Abramoff’s former administrative assistant at Greenberg, sent a letter, as did Nathan Lewin, a partner at Lewin & Lewin, who represented Shana Tesler, a lawyer who worked closely with Abramoff on Indian tribal issues. Some new supporters materialized. In October 2004, C. Douglas Lord, who was a partner with Abramoff in a company called DL/JA LLC, which owns Abramoff’s Silver Spring, Md., home, told Influence that he didn’t know Abramoff well. But in a letter to Huck, Lord said he has “known Jack for about 10 years . . . as a neighbor and a friend.” Nearly all of the letters acknowledged that Abramoff had broken the law, but asked for mercy, portraying Abramoff as a family man whose incarceration would bring great suffering to his loved ones. One of Abramoff’s sons even wrote that he has taken to introducing himself as “Feldman” to avoid having to defend his father’s name. — Andy Metzger

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