It’s an old, old adage, but that doesn’t make it any less true: follow the money. And in Rep. Richard Pombo’s case, that money leads to some very interesting places, such as Abramoff, oil and Indians.
According to the nonpartisan Open Secrets website, which monitors campaign contributions, Pombo received some $10,000 from the Keep Our Majority PAC, which is supported by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The former Capitol Hill power broker and convicted felon is also one of the six top donors to Pombo’s RICH Political Action Committee. And Pombo has received more than $500,000 in donations from Indian tribes, members and lobbyists, despite the fact that there are no Indian tribes in the 11th congressional district. Two of the tribes linked to Abramoff, the Saginaw Chippewa and the Mississippi Choctaw, have given Pombo more than $10,000.
Pombo is such a popular fellow with Washington D.C. lobbyists that he made a very special cut. In late 2005, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal D.C. watchdog, named Pombo as one of the 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress: “Pombo’s ethics violations include: misuse of the franking privilege, accepting campaign contributions in return for legislative assistance, keeping family members on his campaign payroll, and misusing official resources,” the group said.
Pombo spokesman Wayne Johnson, not surprisingly, disagrees both with CREW and those alleging that such donations are an indicator of any impropriety. He asserts there was a lot of “sloppy reporting” that in the original Abramoff stories that made a lot of unsubstantiated allegations. “There are Congress members who had a relationship with Jack and Richard was not one of ‘em,” he stated. “Abramoff gave Pombo $7,000 over a number of years and that was returned as soon as Abramoff was exposed.” As far as the Indian tribes go, Johnson says they supported Pombo because he helped the tribes get federal recognition, not because of any connection with Abramoff.
But Abramoff and Indian tribes are not the only people who directly or indirectly gave Pombo scads of cash. The two largest industrial contributors to Pombo are the agricultural and real estate sectors—which makes sense given that those are the dominant industries in his area. But his third largest source of campaign funds is the oil and gas industry, which has given him $178,788 since 1989. Pombo is chair of the house Committee on Resources, which oversees those industries. Chevron Texaco alone gave him $21,500.
There are plenty of reasons for the oil giant to like Pombo. He opposed a Chinese bid to purchase Unocal — Chevron also wanted to buy Unocal – and has tried to lift the moratorium on oil drilling off the coast of California.
Early this year, investigative reporters with the Los Angeles Times uncovered two cases of what looks suspiciously like back scratching between Pombo and the extractive industries. In 1999, Pombo and Rep John Doolittle (R-Roseville) linked up to put the kibosh on a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation investigation of Charles Hurwitz, of Maxxam lumber clear-cutting infamy, over his involvement in a collapsed Texas savings and loan company. According to the Times the legislators, both known as “protégés of [Tom] Delay” subpoenaed documents from the confidential FDIC investigation of Hurwitz and promptly published them in the Congressional Record, styming the government’s case. Hurwitz subsequently gave Pombo $1,000 and Doolittle $5,000.
Another LA Times article noted that in late 2005, just three months before Pombo inserted language into a budget bill—without debate or hearings—that would have opened public lands, including national forests, to mining operations, Washington lobbyist Duane Gibson organized a $1,000 a plate fundraiser for Pombo. Gibson is a former aide to Pombo’s House Resource Committee and is now under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal. While the total dollar amount raised that night is unknown, the paper revealed several mining companies made donations to Pombo. Gibson, who also personally contributed $1,000, also represented some of those companies.
In 2004, Pombo wrote a letter to then Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton urging her to suspend environmental regulations that the wind-power industry opposed. He neglected to mention that his parents own a wind farm on the Altamont Pass, nor did he mention his own stake in his parent’s ranch. Although wind-farm regulation does fall under his committee, it would have been less unseemly had he acknowledged his potential conflict of interest.
In other family matters, Pombo got into hot water for trying to bill the taxpayers almost $5,000 for a two-week family RV vacation by saying it was government related business because he visited several national parks.
Pombo, like many representatives Democrat and Republican, believes in keeping it in the family. He has paid out $357,325 to his wife and brother for bookkeeping, fundraising, consulting and other services to his political activities.
Rep. George Miller (D-Vallejo/Concord) has twice written Pombo with requests that he investigate allegations of sweatshop conditions, prostitution and gambling on the Marianas Islands. No such investigation has been initiated, but readers might remember that Abramoff lobbied extensively to oppose the implementation of U.S. labor and immigration regulations in the Marianas, which are U.S. trust territories. According to Time magazine, Pombo received $8,050 from Northern Mariana islanders following a visit to the islands.
Research assistance by Erin Podlipnik