Politics & Government

GOP tries to limit campaign impact of Stevens indictment

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday became the latest GOP senator facing re-election to donate to charity money his campaign had received from indicted U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

McConnell's campaign spokesman, Justin Brasell, said McConnell will donate $10,000 to Wayside Christian Mission in Louisville, the same charity to which McConnell gave $18,500 in donations from clients of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2006.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have agreed to give their Stevens-based donations to charity and GOP senators running for re-election in Maine and Minnesota are likewise being urged by their Democratic rivals to return Stevens-based money.

While McConnell, Dole and Roberts are favored to win re-election, the speed with which they unloaded Stevens' contributions underscores the concern Republicans have about their vulnerability to charges of corruption heading into the November election. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was also quick to point out that he and Stevens have had their differences over the years.

"Like every American, Senator Stevens is entitled to the presumption of innocence," McCain's campaign said in a statement. Then the statement noted: "Sen. McCain and Sen. Stevens have clashed famously over the appropriations process that Sen. McCain views as broken and subject to the type of corruption that has caused voters to lose faith with Washington. . . This is a sad reminder that the next president will have his work cut out for him in rebuilding public trust by ending once and for all pork-barrel spending, and by reforming the federal government top to bottom."

Stevens was indicted on Tuesday on charges that he failed to reveal on financial disclosure forms $250,000 worth of gifts he'd received from Alaska businessmen over an eight-year period. The indictment was part of a four-year investigation into political corruption in Alaska that has resulted in indictments of seven other prominent Alaskans, including the former chief of staff of a former governor and several state legislators.

Stevens' political action committee, called Northern Lights PAC, has given more than $1 million to Republican politicians over the last decade, tens of thousands of which came from top executives of VECO Corp., the controversial company at the center of Stevens' indictment. VECO founder and former chief executive Bill Allen — a major donor to Stevens' PAC — pleaded guilty last year to bribing public officials and is now cooperating with the FBI and prosecutors.

Dole turned Stevens' donation to her campaign over to charity within three hours of his indictment and Roberts moved shortly thereafter.

McConnell has taken $20,000 from Stevens' PAC in his current election cycle — $10,000 for his re-election committee in recent months and $10,000 for his own PAC, called the Bluegrass Committee.

Bruce Lunsford, McConnell's Democratic challenger in the November election, in a statement called for the senator to "do the honorable thing and donate these funds to a charity here in Kentucky immediately. ... Sen. Stevens and his potentially nefarious relationship with an energy company is a textbook example of what is wrong in Washington."

McConnell called Stevens a longtime friend and colleague after his indictment. Last year, the Kentucky senator led a half-hour tribute to Stevens on the Senate floor, recognizing him as the longest-serving Republican senator and praising him for his billions of dollars in earmarked projects back home. Stevens' so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" became a potent symbol for critics of earmarks.

But Wednesday afternoon McConnell campaign spokesman Brasell said the campaign would make the $10,000 donation to Wayside. There was no word on the other $10,000 given to McConnell's Bluegrass Committee PAC by Stevens' PAC.

Related stories from McClatchy DC