Bob Ney, Character Witness
Congressmen: the last great bargain in America.
It never fails to astonish me how cheaply a politician can be bought. Consider the case of Rep. Bob Ney, R., Ohio. Ney entered comments in the Congressional Record not once, but twice, for the sole apparent purpose of helping Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan acquire and then maintain control of SunCruz Casinos, a transaction that is now the basis for a bank-fraud indictment against Abramoff and Kidan. (Abramoff maintains that Kidan conned him; Kidan says the entire transaction was legitimate.) Kidan, Ney declaimed on Oct. 26, 2000, was an individual with
a renowned reputation for honesty and integrity. ... [He] is most well known for his successful enterprise, Dial-a-Mattress, but he is also well known as a solid individual and a respected member of his community. ... I believe that every individual who visits a gaming vessel in Florida, should know that they are gaming in an establishment that represents the community well, and gives every individual a fair shot. I hope that all casinos owners and operators share in this philosophy. I look forward to the positive changes Mr. Kidan is more than capable of brining to the gaming industry and I hope that others will follow his lead when he brings positive changes to SunCruz.
Abramoff and Kidan were both big GOP fund-raisers at the time, and Ney, it has been widely noted, received $30,000 for his political action committee, American Liberty PAC, from the Tigua Indian tribe through the good offices of Abramoff, their lobbyist, who also arranged for Ney to take an all-expenses-paid golfing trip to Scotland. But that didn't happen until two years later, and apparently it was the payoff for something else entirely—Ney was pushing legislation to help the Tiguas reopen their casino. Back in 2000, when Ney put the two statements about SunCruz into the Congressional Record, he didn't even have a political action committee. Ney offered up the Congressional Record comments at the apparent behest of Michael Scanlon, a former press aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who worked closely with Abramoff. Subsequently, Ney told Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was "furious" at Scanlon for suckering him into vouching for Kidan. Ney said he'd refused to deal with Scanlon again. (Then why did he push the Tigua legislation two years later? Because he didn't know Abramoff worked with Scanlon, he told the Plain Dealer.)
Kidan was judged by Forbes late in 2001 "to have some unsavory connections," including some indirect (possibly coincidental) ties to the Gotti family. Yet Ney had publicly praised Kidan the year before for his "renowned reputation for honesty and integrity." What did Ney get from Abramoff, Kidan, and Scanlon during the 2000 election cycle for making this extremely unwary remark? Campaign contributions totaling a big ... $4,000. (Not that there would have been any quid pro quo, understand; Ney may have acted on a deep conviction that Scanlon was an unimpeachable judge of human character.) In May, Congressional Quarterly reported that Ney tried to send Kidan his money back, but that the post office returned it because he had the wrong address!
Am I missing something here? Or is this squalid tale merely further proof that campaign contributions are the greatest bargain in America—albeit one that degrades and tries the patience of the giver? I'd like to think that it degrades the taker, too. But even after all this dismal publicity, "Ney remains a heavy favorite to win next year," according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.