Fred Wertheimer, the President of government watchdog Democracy 21 has already filed two ethics complaints against Doolittle, but heard nothing back. Undeterred, he'll be trying again in the new Congress. âWe believe the case against Rep. Doolittle is very powerful," he told me, "and that the House has a clear responsibility to address and reach decisions on these serious ethics issues early and expeditiously.â He added that he won't have any more confidence in the ethics committee of the new Democrat-controlled Congress than in the old one, and so is supporting the idea of an outside Congressional ethics enforcement panel.
"If the ethics committee wants to be taken seriously (though there is no evidence that it does) it would look at Doolittle," observed Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The case against Doolittle -- which involves more than just his closeness to Abramoff, but also a key figure in the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal -- has been outlined in a number of news stories, and you can see it laid out in all its glory and knotty specifics in Democracy 21's ethics complaint and our reference section. But it's fairly easy to summarize.
Doolittle's wife was on Abramoff's payroll on and off for approximately two years, and the payments suspiciously align with actions Doolittle took on behalf of Abramoff's clients. On top of that, Abramoff, his associates and clients were very generous to Doolittle, contributing $140,000 to his various committees dating back to 1999. Doolittle himself saw a cut of that, thanks to the fact that for a number of years he's paid his wife a 15% sliver of contributions to his campaign.
In return, Doolittle went to bat for Abramoff clients. He delivered $400,000 in federal funds to the Northern Mariana Islands, for example, the Abramoff client known mostly for its garment sweatshops; Abramoff referred to him as a "hero" for the islands. And he wrote letters to help out Abramoff's tribal clients. In 2002, he wrote a letter that sought to prevent a Louisiana tribe from building a casino, an action which he explained as consistent with his anti-gambling position. And in 2003, he wrote letters seeking to help Indian casinos open up; he explained there that he was "just trying to ensure a fair process" for the tribe. The list goes on.
Will Doolittle, who narrowly survived a spirited re-election challenge in his very conservative district, be able to emerge from the 109th Congress without anything worse than a hefty legal bill?