Friday, August 8, 2008

An Abramoff Connection Among McCain’s ‘Bundlers’

July 16, 2008

As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, John McCain began hearings that helped bring down Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who was the central figure in a political scandal that landed Mr. Abramoff in jail.

Now, as Mr. McCain releases the names of hundreds of “bundlers” — his top money collectors — one person who popped up is Juan Carlos Benitez, a lawyer and lobbyist whom Mr. Abramoff had championed for a Bush administration post.

According to a 2006 report of the House Committee on Government Reform, Mr. Abramoff had urged the appointment of Mr. Benitez as special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices. He was named to the position in 2001.

The committee’s report said Mr. Benitez’s job at the Justice Department “gave Benitez authority” to conduct investigations into unfair labor practices that were “issues of importance to Abramoff clients.” After leaving the administration, Mr. Benitez joined the K Street lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, whose Web site says he “has exceptionally close ties to the White House.”

Mr. Benitez said Mr. Abramoff had done him no favors. They had competed for lobbying contracts, Mr. Benitez said, adding that Mr. Abramoff had sought an administration job for Mr. Benitez to get him out of the business. Mr. Benitez said he had no communications with Mr. Abramoff while working at the Justice Department.

For Mr. McCain, Mr. Benitez raised $50,000 to $100,000, according to the McCain Web site. Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, said: “Jack Abramoff was just one of several people that recommended Mr. Benitez to the Justice Department. The campaign is not aware of any hint of an allegation against Mr. Benitez.”

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