With Jack Abramoff apparently ready to deal and kick his eponymous probe into high gear, it's worth clarifying a key point about criminality and campaign contributions. As you can see with all the politicians unburdening themselves of Abramoff-related campaign contributions, Abramoff and his clients spread money around pretty widely. And this has led to some misunderstandings -- some intentional -- about what this case is about.
A comparison to the Duke Cunningham case is instructive.
At the beginning of the Duke scandal it was clear that he'd gotten a lot of campaign contributions from the likes of Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. When all the facts came out, though, those contributions were revealed as little more than window dressing, an early ante up for the real bribery and pay-offs. (There's actually a surreal comedy in some of the details of the Duke case since he was making mind-numbingly precise disclosure filings about travel and knick-knacks while pocketing 5-figure bribes.)
In any case, I doubt we'll see quite the cartoonish level of bribery that we saw in Cunningham's case. But the underlying pattern will be the same. Abramoff and his clients gave contributions to a lot of people; a substantially smaller subset of those people were actively on the take. And it's from those quarters that you hear the sound -- metaphoric if not real -- of muscles constricting with the news of Abramoff's impending cooperation.