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D.C. system needs ethics cleansing Reid, Bush shown to have Abramoff contact; Congress should act fast

Revelations of extensive contacts between clients of Washington super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Sen. Harry Reid, who has led the Democratic effort to paint the Abramoff case as a Republican scandal, simply confirm what most Americans already believe -- the whiff of corruption permeates Washington, and doesn't just stink up one party or the other.

Reid's staff insists his interventions, some of which benefit Native American tribes who were Abramoff clients, reflect Reid's own long-held beliefs and had nothing to do with the $68,000 in donations he received from those tribes. That's what they all say. Except, maybe, for President Bush, who denies even knowning Abramoff -- despite a picture of the two released over the weekend and Abramoff's assertion they met several times and the president talked about his children.

Although the scandal is, in fact, largely Republican-owned -- most of the lobbying contacts were with that party, although several Democrats were in the lobbyists' address books as well -- it is not an aberration. It's a culture. Washington's K Street lobbyist enclave is a portal through which campaign contributions pass because the clients expect favorable results. On the innocent side of that coin, such interests are simply and validly supporting lawmakers of like viewpoints; the dark side is something much worse, and obviously poorly guarded against.

The partisan volleying will continue. Citizens will benefit only when it forces stricter ethical rules, and not just promises of better enforcement of rules that already exist. That path would simply lead once again to backsliding, because money talks in Washington and the expense of campaigns makes both sides listen. More transparency in contributions and tighter safeguards on gifts are needed, to restore faith in government.

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