Are Local Congressmen Spending Taxpayer Money On Themselves?

WTOV.com, February 22, 2006:
Each Ohio member of the U.S. House of Representatives represents about the same number of constituents.

Each gets about the same amount of taxpayer money to run the office and pay the bills.

But, as we discovered, each has a much different idea about how to spend that money.

Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution says the U.S. House is in charge of raising taxpayer money.

NEWS9 found out they're pretty good at spending it, too - especially the over $1 million they're each given to run their own offices and pay their bills.


In Ohio, Rep. Bob Ney charges taxpayers $1,078 each month to lease a 2005 Lincoln. He also spent more than $1,000 in the last year on taxi fare, even though he works in a city with a top-notch mass transit system.


However, Ney did spend $11,400 for a service to obtain all of his constituents e-mail addresses.

This prompts critics to wonder if lawmakers could spend less for the sake of a nation deeply in debt. But, all local members of Congress we spoke to said that these expenses - including cab rides, food and beverages, and direct mail - are necessary to serve constituents.


Ney faces unexpected challenge in GOP primary

The Hill, February 16, 2006:
James Brodbelt Harris, a financial analyst from Zanesville, Ohio, stepped forward Thursday to challenge legally embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) in the Republican primary.

"I think this is an unusual opportunity for someone like me to get into the race," said the 36-year-old political neophyte. "I believe any good Republican could hold this Republican gerrymandered district and the only way a Democrat could win this district is in the midst of a scandal."

Meanwhile, top Ohio Republicans worried about a scenario in which Ney could be indicted because of his connections to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who admitted last month to bribing public officials. Ney is referred to as "Representative #1" in the Abramoff plea agreement.

Fearing that an unknown candidate could defeat an indicted incumbent and certainly lose to a well-funded Democratic in November, Ohio GOP Party Chairman Bob Bennett made a slew of phone calls to Ohio GOP lawmakers, the White House, and Ohio legislators to consider whether an established candidate, such as GOP State Sens. Jay Hottinger or John Carey, should enter the primary.

"There were numerous back up plans and back up plans to the back up plans," said an Ohio Republican. "Scrambling is an understatement."

Despite Ney's vulnerability, nobody else jumped into the race. The primary will be held on May 2.

Carey said he filed papers to run for reelection to the state senate and Hottinger, who has reached his two-term limit in the senate, told The Hill he would run for the Ohio state legislature.

"We've always maintained that the ball was in court of Congressman Ney," Hottinger said. "We are not going to file, we will not be filing. It's our hope that the congressman gets cleared."

And the GOP political establishment has lined up behind Ney.

"Bob Ney is our guy," said Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland.

Ney told The Hill that he was confident he would win the primary and did not expect to be indicted, and seemed irritated by Bennett's phone calls.

"No matter what phone calls Bob Bennett made, no one considered running," Ney said. "Bob Bennett gets phone call dialing fever, but he did not call me."

Harris indicated he plans to make ethics an issue for Ney.

"If this bad news is in the papers for the next six to seven months, Republicans could lose 30 to 40 seats nationally."

Ney has said he will continue to seek reelection if he is indicted.

Four Democrats have lined up to seek Ney's seat.



Bob Ney's most recent FEC report.


Link up with Jack Abramoff on Bob Ney's Virtual Golf Junket

Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 14, 2006:
Ever wonder what it was it was like to be a pampered VIP on one of rogue lobbyist Jack Abramoff's swanky junkets? An email that the federal government released on Feb. 10 listed a tentative travel itinerary for the August 2002 golf trip to Scotland that Abramoff took with GOP Rep. Bob Ney, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and others.

The July 23, 2002 email from Abramoff said the group was scheduled to leave Baltimore Washington International airport on Saturday, Aug 3, 2002, on a Gulfstream jet run by New World Aviation.

After arriving in Edinburgh in on Sunday, Aug. 4, they were slated to check into the Old Course Hotel and scheduled to tee-off at Kingsbarns links at 4 PM. The day was to conclude with dinner at the hotel's Road Hole Grill.

The group was scheduled to leave the hotel at 9 AM on Monday, Aug. 5 for an 11 AM tee-off at Carnoustie links. After dinner at an unspecified Edinburgh venue, possibly with the Conservative Party, Abramoff's crew was to attend a "Military Tattoo" performance at Edinburgh Castle.

Tuesday, August 6, was to be spent doing nothing but golf. After checking out of the Old Course Hotel, they scheduled a warm-up trip to a driving range, before a 10:20 tee-off at St. Andrews' Old Course golf course. Lunch was to be at the hotel's Clubhouse restaurant.

At 3:30 PM, the group was slated to tee-off at St. Andrews' Jubilee golf course, before driving to the Gleagles Hotel and Golf Resort by luxury coach where they checked in for the night.

Wednesday, August 7 was also devoted exclusively to golf, according to the group's schedule. At 10:20, they were to tee-off at the resort's Championship Course. At 4:20, they were supposed to tee off at the King's Course before eating dinner at the hotel.

On Thursday, August 8, the group was to check out of that hotel and return to St. Andrews to play a morning round at either Old Course or Crail, depending on availability. In the afternoon, the group planned to golf either at Old Course, or at Elie.

That night, the group was scheduled to fly to London and check into the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel. Dinner was to be from Yo, a sushi restaurant chain that offered delivery to the hotel.

In London, the trip became more serious. The schedule indicates the group was to meet on August 9 with Alexander Koulakovsky, a top executive at the Russian energy firm NaftaSib, who met with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on a prior congressional trip organized by Abramoff.

On August 10, a "to be confirmed" meeting was scheduled with Patrick Spiteri, whom foreign publications identify as an attorney from the Mediterranean island of Malta who specializes in tax havens. Reports in Malta Today describe Spiteri as having "far reaching ties into the world of money laundering and international stock fraud." The next day, the group was to leave London for Baltimore.

The trip's $166,634 cost was paid for by a sham charity of Abramoff's called the Capital Athletic Foundation. Abramoff declined comment on the trip through his attorney's spokeswoman.

Ney's spokesman, Brian Walsh, said Ney didn't get a copy of the scheduling email that Abramoff sent former General Services Administration official David Safavian, and can't comment on its contents. Safavian is fighting criminal charges for allegedly lying to the federal government about his contacts with Abramoff. The scheduling email was submitted as evidence in his case.

"As part of his own trip, the Congressman met with people associated with the Scottish Parliament, and attended a military tattoo to meet U.S. servicemen," Walsh said. "He did not meet with, and is not familiar with, the two individuals listed on the itinerary allegedly sent to Mr. Safavian."

Walsh said Ney is "more than willing to review this trip with the appropriate investigative bodies line by line and is confident that he acted in accordance with all House rules."


Charities Offered Fertile Fields for Abramoff Schemes

LA Times, February 11, 2006:
Abramoff used the $1 million as seed money forhis athletic foundation, which he had formed in 1999 and was his favorite "charity." It was established with the stated mission of funding sports programs in the Washington area. Tax records show that little money went for that purpose.

In early 2002, the bank account grew when another tribal client -- the Mississippi Choctaws -- made the first of two $500,000 payments to the athletic foundation. Tribal leaders testified that they had been led to believe it would be "passed through" to other organizations that would educate voters about American Indian gaming issues.

Around the time the first $500,000 was received in the foundation's bank account, $200,000 was transferred out of the account to Livsar, the holding company that Abramoff had set up to establish Signatures, a high-end restaurant he was opening the following month in Washington, the Los Angeles Times learned.

An e-mail exchange with his restaurant partner showed that Abramoff was anxiously awaiting the Choctaw money to get the restaurant opened. The Choctaw money arrived Jan. 3. His partner wrote that night that a banker "really saved us today" by transferring money from the athletic foundation to the restaurant account. The money was transferred back a few weeks later.

The restaurant became a centerpiece of Abramoff's lobbying operation, where he wined and dined congressmen as part of his bribery schemes.

The athletic foundation gave Abramoff access to millions for his pet causes, many of which dovetailed with his orthodox Jewish beliefs. The biggest beneficiary was Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish boys school he founded in Columbia, Md., which one of his sons attended. The foundation also sent $100,000 to an Israeli settler who ran a sniper training workshop for militant Jews.

Abramoff used the foundation to pay the $166,000 cost of a trip to play St. Andrew's golf course in Scotland, which included Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, two top aides and others. Abramoff admitted in his plea agreement that the trip was part of a bribery scheme intended to offer "things of value" to Ney in exchange for a series of official acts. Ney, who has denied any wrongdoing, is under federal investigation.
Source and Additional Source


Abramoff Pressed GSA Contact on Getting Land

Washington Post, February 11, 2006:
In their filing, prosecutors produced e-mails showing that Abramoff engaged in an aggressive campaign to secure for himself and clients the use of GSA-controlled property, including the Old Post Office in downtown Washington. Among his efforts, Abramoff considered trying to get a provision backing the land acquisition added to a bill being managed by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who also went with Abramoff on the golf trip, which prosecutors have called "lavish."


The e-mails show how Abramoff and members of his team were strategizing among themselves and with Safavian about how to acquire or lease part of 600 acres of the Naval Surface Warfare Center-White Oak in Montgomery County. Abramoff wanted the property for a Jewish school he operated. He also wanted to gain use of the Old Post Office for a tribal client. A key strategy involved getting members of Congress, at Safavian's suggestion, to press the GSA on the issue.

At one point, Abramoff asked a member of his lobbying team, Neil G. Volz, if he could get a provision inserted into an election-reform bill to advance the acquisition of the land. The bill was sponsored by Ney, Volz's former boss.

Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed was also on the trip with Abramoff, Ney, and Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton. Ney, who reported to the House that the trip was paid for by a think tank, is under investigation for allegedly promising to add a provision to the same bill for an Indian tribe attempting to reopen a shuttered Texas casino.

"If we were to craft something oblique, any chance of slipping into the election reform bill?" Abramoff asked Volz. "I know we are loading that up, but I thought I'd ask." Volz replied by saying he wanted to call Safavian at home to discuss it.


Ney trips to London drawing renewed scrutiny

Thomson Dialog News Edge, February 10, 2006:
Rep. Bob Ney once described himself as a hardliner on Iran, enthusiastically supporting sanctions that isolated the country and its radical Islamic rulers.

Over the years, though, his stance changed; he came to favor more engagement with the country where he had once lived and taught English. In the winter of 2003, Ney flew to London and met with two men who, according to people familiar with the visit, were interested in selling aircraft parts to Iran's crash-prone national airline, something prohibited under U.S. sanctions without a special exemption.

One of the men, Nigel Winfield, was a U.S. citizen with a long criminal record, alleged mob ties and a $2.9 million federal tax lien pending against him. The other was Fouad al-Zayat, described by the British press as a "go-between" for Middle East defense contracts and one of the biggest casino gamblers in the country, whose nationality has been variously reported as Syrian or Portugese.

Some time after that meeting, Ney's staff says he returned to London, visited an exclusive casino frequented by al-Zayat and parlayed a $100 initial bet into $34,000 in winnings on just two hands of a card game, which gambling experts say would be extremely good luck.

While the win raised eyebrows when Ney reported it on his 2003 financial disclosure statement, his dealings with Winfield and al-Zayat have received even more intense scrutiny since the Heath Republican became embroiled in the bribery investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon.


Ney's office has never disclosed the name of the game the congressman played at Les Ambassadeurs, though Walsh, his spokesman, described it in 2004 as similar to draw poker. I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School and a noted authority on casino gambling, said Ney may have been playing three-card poker.

Based on the London casino's payout formula, Ney could have been dealt a straight on the first hand and a straight flush on the second hand to amass the winnings he reported, Rose wrote in an email.

"For a casino to pay 6 to one on the first bet and 56 to one on the second as he reported, the odds have to be less than 340 to 1," Rose wrote.


Handful of Races May Tip Control of Congress

Washington Post, February 6, 2006:
Ohio Rep. Robert W. Ney (R) appears to be at the center of the pay-to-play schemes of Abramoff and has been informed by federal investigators that he may be indicted. Ney has pledged to run regardless but is trailing his two little-known Democratic opponents in internal GOP surveys.


For a change, incumbents feel the heat

Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2006:
The congressional corruption scandal has stirred waves of anxiety across the country for politicians whose names appear on the November ballot, but perhaps no place in America is the power of incumbency as wobbly as in Ohio.

Republicans are rattled by ethical lapses and criminal charges throughout the ranks of state government here, topped by Gov. Bob Taft's pleading no contest last summer to four counts of state ethics violations. Now they find themselves facing credible congressional opponents for the first time in years as Democrats eye a handful of seats they believe could be among the ripest targets in the battle for control of Congress.


The fallout from the ethics scandal has even dogged some incumbent members of Congress who are seeking other offices. Corruption has emerged as an issue in at least three gubernatorial races--in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada--where GOP members of Congress are on the ticket.

But here in Chillicothe, where seven churches sit along a five-block stretch of Main Street, corruption has become a local issue.

Ney, who was elected in 1994 to represent Ohio's 18th Congressional District, has been implicated in the federal fraud investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has agreed to testify against members of Congress as part of a plea bargain. Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett has said if Ney is indicted, he should not run for re-election.

Ney, however, maintains his innocence and retorted that he would not allow some "party boss" to make a decision that belongs to Ney's constituents. So he came to a restaurant here last month and announced his drive for re-election.

"I don't know all the details, but he's in some hot water, and the truth will come out," said Randy Rinehart, 52, a local minister who is trying to keep an open mind. "A lot of people have a price on their souls--especially in politics."

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the suggestion that all GOP candidates could suffer from the lobbying scandal. But he conceded that whoever is swept up in the investigation faces a challenge.

"I think Bob Ney has a tough race," Reynolds said. "It may get to a point where all the skies are clear . . . but I don't know what the future might hold."

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, recruited by Emanuel to run against Ney, said ethics would play "a huge role" in the race.

"The very reason why both political parties are sponsoring ethical reforms in the United States Congress is because of Bob Ney," Sulzer said. "The average voter here is already weary of the political scandals because of what they have seen in Columbus and now they are seeing it from their own congressman."

John Wright, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said Democrats appeared to have recruited more candidates than in most years.

"The problem Republicans are experiencing right now is a perception of arrogance and corruption, which was the undoing of the Democrats in 1994," Wright said. "Whether or not this has reached the same proportions I don't know, but I would be worried if I were a Republican."


As scandal mounted, Ney's corporate, political donors kept giving

Akron Beacon Journal, January 31, 2006:
As scrutiny of Rep. Bob Ney's role in the developing Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal intensified, the Ohio Republican's campaign fundraising improved, according to records filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

Ney's campaign raised $276,499 in the final three months of 2005, just before lobbyist Abramoff pleaded guilty to several counts of corruption and said he bribed Ney for political favors.

Ney's quarterly fundraising totals more than double the $119,220 he raised in the final three months of 2003, the last time he was a year away from Election Day. He is seeking a seventh term representing an expansive, mostly rural district in southeast Ohio.

This time, Ney relied more heavily on support from corporate political committees and those of his congressional colleagues. More than two-fifths of his quarterly total at the end of 2003 came from individual donors, whereas individuals accounted for only one-third of his fourth-quarter total in 2005.

The Back America's Conservatives PAC, run by Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., gave or transferred from others payments of more than $12,000 to Ney's campaign during the quarter.

Fellow Ohio GOP Rep. Michael Oxley's Leadership PAC 2006 gave Ney $5,000 in November, as did California Rep. John Doolittle's Superior California PAC. Ohio Rep. David Hobson's campaign gave Ney $1,000 on Oct. 27.

Ney also received more help from labor groups than he typically does this early in an election cycle. He got a total of $12,000 from groups that represent workers, such as the Ironworkers PAC, Laborers Political League and the National Association of Home Builders, which doubled its contribution from the last quarter of 2003 to $5,000.

"Labor is coming in big for me, and I'm very proud and pleased with that," Ney said.

Only 21 percent of individual Ney contributors who listed their name with the FEC put Ohio addresses. Less than 4 percent of the political groups that gave Ney money during the quarter listed Ohio addresses.


Republicans Try to Distract from Abramoff Pay-To-Play Schemes

US Newswire, January 31, 2006:
REP. BOB NEY (R-OH): Representative Bob Ney was a protégé of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, which moved him into Abramoff's orbit. Evenutally, former Ney chief of staff Neil Volz went to go work for Abramoff. Although he has since denounced Abramoff, in a 2002 meeting with one of Abramoff's tribal clients, Ney was effusive about Abramoff and his lobbying skills. A meeting participant described him as "animated about Mr. Abramoff's skill and repute as a leader in the lobbying circles." (Washington Post, 10/18/05)


PAY: Jack Abramoff's Capitol Athletic Foundation paid for the chartered jet that flew at least six people - including Abramoff and Ney - to St. Andrews, Scotland and London in August 2002. According to House rules, members of Congress are not allowed to receive trips that are paid for by lobbyists. In addition, a consultant to a Texas tribe represented by Abramoff testified that the lobbyist had told him he needed $100,000 to pay for Ney and his contingent's golf trip to Scotland. (Washington Post, 9/28/04; Los Angeles Times, 3/9/05) In addition, Ney's federal PAC received $5,000 in donations from the Tigua tribe of El Paso and his non-federal account received $25,000 in soft-money contributions. (Political Moneyline, http://www.tray.com)

PLAY: Ney attempted to help re-open the casino of the Tigua Indian tribe, a huge Abramoff client, by attempting to slip a provision into the unrelated Help America Vote Act. Abramoff stated that Ney was deeply involved, recalling a long conference call between Ney and Tigua tribal leaders, saying, "He (Ney) was on the phone for an hour and a half!" (Washington Post, 12/26/04; Washington Post, 11/18/04; New York Times, 5/1/05)


PAY: FEC records show that Abramoff and three men associated with Suncruz each donated $1,000 to Ney on March 15, 2001, a date that Ney used Abramoff's skybox. (Washington Post, 12/26/04; http://www.fec.gov)

PLAY: Ney criticized Gus Boulis, the owner of Suncruz a Florida based casino cruise ship fleet, in statements placed in the Congressional Record on March 30, 2000. Under pressure, Boulis sold the cruise line to a group that included Jack Abramoff, in a deal now under investigation for bank fraud. Ney praised the new owner Adam Kidan on October 26, 2000, on the floor of the House, after the sale went through. The next year, Boulis was murdered. (Washington Post, 12/26/04; Congressional Record, Thomas.loc.gov; Washington Post, 5/1/05)


The Soon-to-be-Indicted Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio's Connection To Electoral Fraud

Brad Blog, January 10, 2006:
There's been a great deal of speculation over the last several days, particularly in the light of Jack Abramoff's recent guilty pleas, concerning the connection of Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) to Election Fraud in Ohio, vis a vis his stewardship and authoring of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) back in 2001 and 2002. The heavy-handed tactics he has taken since, in order to keep the flawed act from being changed in any way over the years, along with going to great lengths to keep the nation's eyes off of massive electile dysfunction in Ohio and elsewhere since 2004, may finally get the attention it all properly deserves.

Both Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon have directly informed prosecutors of Ney's alleged wrong-doing in regard to money and gifts given to Ney, in apparent exchange for support on various legislation and even personal business deals. Ney, who chairs the important U.S. House Administration Committee, has been fingered, and now subpoenaed, for accepting illegal trips, gratuities and other apparent quid pro quo deals with Abramoff's former firms, partners, friends and groups who had paid both him and Scanlon as lobbyists.

His direct connection to the HAVA Election Reform bill passed in the wake of the 2000 Florida Election Debacle, and his various extraordinary efforts to specifically block amendments to the bill and to smokescreen attempted investigations into his home state's conduct during the 2004 Election Debacle, has been less widely reported. Until now.

While Common Cause quietly reported in December of 2004 that Diebold -- the much-beleagured-of-late American Voting Machine company -- paid as much as $275,000 to Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig for lobbying work, The BRAD BLOG has now found additional details that begin to shed new light on Ney's personal connections to Diebold lobbyists.

Such personal connections include those with Ney's former chief of staff turned lobbyist, David DiStefano, who has been working on behalf of Diebold, Inc. and at least one other Voting Machine Company as a registered lobbyist in the House going back to at least 2001. One of DiStefano's online bios crows about his having "an insider’s edge to hard-to-reach political officials." That "insider's edge" has proven to have been a very worthwhile investment for the Voting Machine Companies who'd purchased access into Ney's political office.

Congressional lobbying records reveal that Diebold, Inc. has paid at least $180,000 to DiStefano and eventually his partner, Roy C. Coffee, to lobby for the "Help America Vote Act" and other "Election Reform Issues" in Congress since 2003. Another Electronic Voting Machine Company, AccuPoll, Inc., also paid DiStefano some $70,000 to lobby for HAVA on their behalf in 2002, although that relationship was apparently terminated once the legislation was passed by Congress.

In turn, Ney's former employee DiStefano and Coffee themselves have given nearly $20,000 to Bob Ney's campaigns dating back to 2002.