One of Jack Abramoff’s former business partners is a few years out of big house — and back to giving big bucks to the Republican Party.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has accepted $50,000 in donations from Adam Kidan this summer, taking money from a former business partner of the notorious lobbyist Abramoff who served 31 months in jail then spent three years on probation after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy.
That money came in the form of $30,000 in direct donations to the committee, and another $20,000 Kidan gave to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) joint fundraising committee that was passed along to the NRCC. Both were made in late June, according to filings with Federal Election Commission.
Those donations are completely legal, but raise questions about why the NRCC decided to accept them, given Kidan’s rap sheet.
“What they have to answer for themselves is are they willing to explain this and why they think it doesn’t taint them to take this money. Are they willing to be associated with him? Taking a contribution is a way of associating with a person,” Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, told TPM. “With all the questions about the Republicans right now, all the people who are having legal problems … It plays into a narrative that they don’t have that much concern who they’re dealing with as long as they get the money.”
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesmen didn’t return multiple calls and emails requesting comment on the donations and asking whether the organization planned to keep the money or return it. Ryan’s team declined to comment on record.
These donations aren’t chump change, and campaign committees usually have a pretty good idea of who their major donors are, if only to seek them out for more donations. While Kidan isn’t a household name, he played a key role in revealing the biggest political corruption scandal of the previous decade.
Kidan went to jail in 2005 for defrauding a bank, along with Abramoff, a friend of his since his days in the College Republicans. The pair had promised to put up more than $20 million as part of an agreement to secure a $60 million loan to buy a fleet of casino ships, but instead secretly arranged with the the company’s seller to pay him in the future without putting any money up front, and produced a fraudulent wire transfer to prove to the bank they’d given him the money.
The story gets significantly darker from there. The company’s earlier owner, Gus Boulis, kept a small stake in the business. He and Kidan were soon fighting, partly because he wasn’t getting paid back as promised. He allegedly physically attacked Kidan during one altercation, leading Kidan to hire an old friend who had close ties to New York City’s Gambino crime family to provide protection. That man ended up killing Boulis.
The story was so wild that a movie was made out of it, “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as Abramoff and Jon Lovitz as Kidan.
Kidan was never implicated in the murder, and testified against the men who killed Boulis. He was sentenced to 70 months in jail, the same sentence as Abramoff, and ended up serving 31 months, getting out in 2009 before serving three years on probation. The murder trial may be headed back to court for a retrial, which could put Kidan back on the witness stand.
The Washington Post has a good full account of the case.
Kidan told TPM that he’s served his time and portrayed himself as an an innocent citizen looking only to support causes he believes in.
“I’m not in an industry or business that needs legislation or wants anything done. I’m just looking to help,” said Kidan, who as evidenced by his generous political donations has bounced back financially since he got out of jail. He now serves as the CEO of a staffing needs company and lives in eastern Pennsylvania.
“You know my background with Abramoff. I saw firsthand what bad people can do in government,” he said. “When I do see the rare good public servant I like to make a donation.”
Kidan said he’s only met Ryan “in passing a few times” and didn’t know Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), the NRCC’s current chairman.
“I simply want from the sidelines to help organizations and individuals who’ve had a positive effect on our country,” he said.
Kidan’s case was separate from the political corruption case that helped bring down Abramoff, sent former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) to jail, ended then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s (R-TX) political career and played a key role in toppling the GOP’s House majority in 2006. But it helped shine a spotlight on Abramoff, who went from being one of the GOP’s most powerful lobbyists to the poster boy for political corruption and served his own time for his role in the fraud.
Now, 12 years later, Democrats are once again hopeful that GOP corruption could help flip the House. Besides all the legal troubles swirling around Trump and his associates, both Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA) are facing serious criminal charges, and some other GOP members are facing serious ethics questions.
Democratic candidates are spending heavily to highlight their refusal to take corporate political action committee money, while tying Republican lawmakers’ support of various pieces of legislation that have benefited the wealthy to their own campaign donations.
Kidan’s recent donations to the national party come after he gave more than $30,000 to various House candidates late last year: Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Drew Ferguson (R-GA) and Paul Mitchell (R-MI) . Those donations were originally reported by the Daily Beast in April.
TPM reached out to all of those members’ campaigns. Only Tenney’s responded. Tenney and Fitzpatrick, the two members on that list facing serious reelection challenges, have said they’ve given the amount of Kidan’s donations to local charities after the donations were originally exposed in the press.
Kidan said it would be hypocritical for Democrats to slam the NRCC for taking his money, given the party’s support for letting former felons vote.
“I’m very surprised the Democrats would criticize someone who’s back on their feet again and having a second chance,” he said. “It’s a sorry state that it is that way that a person can’t be given a second chance in life to make a contribution without it being tainted. It’s really sad.”
But Noble said that hypocrisy cuts both ways.
“It’s somewhat ironic if the party’s fighting giving former felons the right to vote but they’re also taking money from them,” he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated which of Paul Ryan’s committees had received a donation from Kidan.