Post ombudsman Howell twice falsely claimed Democrats received contributions from Abramoff

Deborah Howell, the Washington Post ombudsman, falsely asserted twice that Democrats received contributions from Jack Abramoff.

In a January 15 column touting The Washington Post's coverage of the influence-peddling scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Post ombudsman Deborah Howell twice claimed that Democrats received campaign contributions from Abramoff. Howell wrote that research by staff writer Susan Schmidt showed Abramoff “had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties,” and that articles by Post business reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum showed that Democrats “have gotten Abramoff campaign money.” In fact, as reported in the Post articles Howell cited, Democrats received money from Abramoff's clients and associates but not from Abramoff directly.

In her January 15 Post column, Howell wrote:

In the fall of 2003, a lobbyist called to tip Schmidt that Abramoff was raking in millions of dollars from Indian tribes to lobby on gambling casinos. Schmidt started checking Federal Election Commission records for Abramoff's campaign contributions. Lobbyists also file forms with Congress that give information on clients and fees.

Schmidt quickly found that Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties.


The second complaint is from Republicans, who say The Post purposely hasn't nailed any Democrats. Several stories, including one on June 3 by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, a Post business reporter, have mentioned that a number of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), have gotten Abramoff campaign money.

Howell mischaracterized the articles she referred to. Birnbaum reported in his June 3, 2005, article that Abramoff “directed” campaign contributions from the Indian tribes he worked for “to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.” Schmidt, in a December 5 article, cited Birnbaum's article from June in reporting that “some prominent Democrats, including former senator Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), Sens. Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), were among beneficiaries of the largest campaign contributions from Abramoff's associates and clients.” Contrary to Howell's assertions, neither Schmidt nor Birnbaum reported that any Democrat received direct contributions from Abramoff. A Media Matters for America search of the Center for Responsive Politics database of campaign contributions did not find any contributions from Abramoff to Reid or Dorgan or to any Democratic leadership political action committees.