hmmm.... how does giving the money back make you uncorrupt?????

Forgotten scandal has valuable lessons for J.D. Hayworth

Jan. 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Rep. J.D. Hayworth should stop reading the papers or listening to the so-called experts. He has nothing to worry about. Since when has a politician risked his career by taking money from a notorious backroom dealer who winds up on the wrong side of the law?

To those who believe that Hayworth's connection to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff is going to hurt the congressman's career I have two words: John McCain.

Do you remember 15 years ago, when Sen. McCain announced that he was handing over to the U.S. Treasury $112,000 in contributions that he had received from Charles H Keating Jr. and his associates? Of course you don't.

McCain has reinvented himself since then. He may be known as Mr. Campaign Finance Reform these days, but back in the late 1980s and early '90s he was known as a member of the "Keating Five," five senators who were suspected of improperly intervening with federal regulators looking into Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. The failure of Keating-controlled businesses wound up costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Senate Ethics Committee eventually said that McCain showed "poor judgment" in his dealings with regulators. Otherwise, he was exonerated. except for having received some of the worst publicity that a politician can get. Among the embarrassing revelations were trips that McCain and his family had taken to Keating's private Bahamas resort on Keating's private jet.

For the longest time, McCain refused to part with Keating's campaign contributions. At one point, he held a news conference and sternly told the assembled reporters, "What I have not done is abuse my public office and my responsibilities to the people I was elected to serve. John McCain may have made some poor judgments. But, and this is the most important aspect of this entire subject, I have never used my office to aid any individual improperly."

Nonetheless, he eventually parted with Keating's cash, just as President Bush and other politicians now are returning or "redistributing" the contributions they received from or through Abramoff.

Hayworth decided last week to donate $2,250 in personal donations from Abramoff to the Salvation Army's Katrina Disaster Fund. But he has refused to hand over more than $100,000 he collected from Indian tribes who had been affiliated with the lobbyist, saying that the tribes would have given him the money anyway. A number of tribal representatives have come forward to back him up.

The scandal will roll on, however. Luckily for Hayworth, he has two things going for him. First, voters have unbelievably short memories. Second, voters have even shorter attention spans. All that Hayworth needs to do is change the subject.

In 1991, McCain used the Persian Gulf War. Back then, Tempe pollster Michael O'Neil said, "The Gulf War was the greatest thing that ever happened to (McCain.) It gave him a national and state platform to talk about anything but Charlie Keating. And he took masterful advantage."

For his part, Hayworth has the Iraq war as a tool for diverting attention from the lobbyist scandal. Even better, he has immigration and border security, about which he has written a book. Someday, the sportscaster-turned-politician might even use his experience with the crooked lobbyist to become a "reformer" like McCain. He actually does not have to believe in reform, as McCain does. He only has to appear to believe in it.

In addition to having short memories, we're suckers for appearances.

Reach Montini at or (602) 444-8978.

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