Thursday, January 12, 2006

GOP Group to Give Up $500,000 in Abramoff-Related Donations

ABC News
GOP Group to Donate Abramoff-Related Funds
AP Newsbreak: GOP Group to Give Up $500,000 in Abramoff-Related Donations
The Associated Press

BOSTON - Days after calling on his party to exhibit higher ethical standards, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association said his group will donate to charity $500,000 in campaign contributions linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, said Wednesday the association will give the money to American Red Cross chapters in five hurricane-ravaged states.

"When influence peddling is alleged, a political institution like the Republican Governors Association wants to be above any possible shadow of complicity," the governor said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

The move allows Romney and the association to avoid questions about the contributions while they are trying to help Republican governors win elections in 36 states this fall.

The Republican Governors Association received the $500,000 in October 2002 from a public affairs company owned by Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's business partner.

Scanlon, like Abramoff, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges as part of a federal probe of influence peddling on Capitol Hill. President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert all Republicans have already given charities sums equal to donations they received from Abramoff or his associates.

Nationally known groups including the Salvation Army and American Heart Association as well as organizations such as shelter for battered women in Colorado, will share more than $430,000 in now-unwanted campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates.

Romney said an internal review, triggered by questions about the donations from the AP, deemed the donations legal. But he and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, the association's vice chairman, decided not to keep the money.

Romney on Monday urged his party to emerge from what he termed its "ethical scandal" by seeking resignations of top leaders associated with Abramoff, and by pushing for a line-item budget veto. He said that would allow the president to eliminate special-interest spending supported by lobbyists.

Romney, who gained national prominence for his work to repair the scandal-ridden 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, announced last month that he would not seek re-election this fall and has already visited early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire.

Romney also said he would continue to travel on corporate aircraft, as he did in December when he flew to a governors association meeting on a Gulfstream jet owned by Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical firm. Massachusetts is currently debating a health care overhaul, although Romney said Pfizer is not a party to the deliberations and the use of the plane was legal.

"I'm not going to propose to you a new series of laws," he said. "But I can say the best efforts in campaign finance reform to date seem to have driven money into secret corners, and it's had unintended consequences."

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