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The Muddying of the Greens

New York Times, January 22, 2006:
OF all the lessons to emerge from the Jack Abramoff scandal, the most culturally consequential may be just three words long. And it is already being taught as part of an ethics training session for special agents at the F.B.I.

"I'm going to go over a lot of things today, and I can take all of your questions, but let me give you the all-encompassing rule," a lawyer teaching the course began at a recent session in Miami, according to one of the participants.

"Golf," he said, pausing for effect, "is bad."

Golf is bad. The ominous warning can almost be heard echoing across the greens of the political establishment, where the game is not only a cherished pastime but has increasingly become a critical cog in the wheels of campaign financing and lobbying. Lavish political fund-raisers are built around golf tournaments. Fact-finding Congressional trips are tailored to cross paths with golf resorts. Candidates and their supporters spend tens of thousands of dollars on golfing costs each campaign cycle - more and more each year, it turns out - as part of the cost of doing political business.

But now, as the Abramoff ordeal in Washington unfolds, golf is acquiring the whiff of scandal, its exclusive fairways and cozy clubhouses redolent of an improper commerce between money and influence.