Earlier this week the Montana GOP circulated a letter to the editor that had already appeared in the Helena Independent Record, authored by Chuck Baraby, of Helena, claiming that “Most Senate Democrats, 90 percent, took Abramoff-related cash.” The idea was that the media has falsely cast the Abramoff scandal as a Republican affair, while Democrats were taking the felon’s money as well.
Chuck Denowh, executive director of the Montana Republican Party forwarded Baraby’s letter to newspapers across the state Monday urging editors to reprint it. The letter lists 40 Senate Democrats along with the supposed amounts of “Abramoff-related” monies they received.
The problem is, the letter’s numbers don’t seem to jibe with published reports. For instance, John Kerry is identified as the recipient of $98,550 in “Abramoff-related” booty; the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics puts the Kerry total at $500. The Center also puts Conrad Burns at $55,000, not the widely reported—by us, among other— $150,000.
Denowh told the Independent he made no effort to verify the facts laid out in Baraby’s letter before circulating it.
“I assumed that if the Helena Independent Record had printed it, that was good enough for me,” Denowh said Tuesday.
Baraby says he got his information from a Jan. 6 article on NewsMax.com, a conservative news website. That article cited the Republican National Committee as the source of the information.
Various Internet blogs, meanwhile, cite a website run by Dwight L. Morris & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in campaign finance research, as the source. But when contacted, Morris refused to stand behind the widely-circulating report. Morris said his firm makes campaign finance data available, and the firm’s clients use it to “grind their own axes.”
In this case, he said, the client was the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“I have no idea if the numbers are 100 percent accurate or not,” Morris said from his Virginia office. “I don’t know what ‘Abramoff-linked’ means.”
Morris said it’s impossible to know if the report’s authors are including legitimate donations made by the clients of the 300 or so lawyers who work at Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s former law firm.
“The fact is, [Abramoff’s clients] gave $2 to Republicans for every $1 they gave to Democrats,” Morris said.
The Republicans’ tactics don’t appear to be paying off in Montana.
Last month the GOP urged party faithful to “vote early and vote often” in two online newspaper polls in an effort to sway public opinion in favor of Burns, but a new scientific poll released this week shows State Auditor John Morrison now leads Burns in the 2006 Senate race, and state Senate President Jon Tester is in a dead heat with the incumbent.