The Associated Press reported last week that the scandal of jailed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff reaches fairly far into Mississippi. Abramoff's former deputy Todd Boulanger told U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts that he provided thousands of dollars worth of goodies to Capitol Hill aides who could help him land legislation favorable to his clients. He also explained that he clearly knew the gifts were banned because he intentionally disguised the aides' identities in expense reports.
Relying on an unnamed attorney familiar with the case, AP identified Boulanger's "staffer E" as Ann Copland, a former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Boulanger said he arranged for lavish seats and food at a hockey game, as well as tickets to Green Day, N*SYNC and Paul McCartney in an effort to gain congressional votes favorable to Boulanger's client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Copland, Boulanger said, would often direct his firm on how many tickets she needed and where she would like to sit. The 30-year-staffer eventually amassed $25,000 in gifts from the firm.
Boulanger told an associate to see that she got everything she wanted and wrote in an e-mail that "she's more valuable to us than a rank-and-file house member."
Copland left Cochran's office last year and worked at Mississippi Public Broadcasting for $92,000, according to the Associated Press. She left MPB in January, according to MPB spokeswoman Mari Irby, but continued to collect her nearly $140,000 salary from Cochran's office for the first two months of her MPB employment.
Boulanger's confession is not an indictment of Cochran for selling his influence, although Cochran later authored a 1999 bill that would designate land bought and placed in a trust by the Mississippi Band of Choctaws as reservation land, even though it was not part of a reservation.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with watchdog group Public Citizen said the gift violated the gift rules for congressional members. "This easily runs up against integrity in public service laws," said Holman. "Things like this are why the rules have been rewritten on Capitol Hill even banning a cup of coffee as a gift from a lobbyist or lobbying organization to a member of congress or a staffer."
Holman said the rule change was a first step in removing money from government that would eventually culminate in the public financing of elections. The states of Arizona and Maine have been using public financing for statewide campaigns for six to eight years, while Connecticut adopted public financing after Gov. John Rowland resigned in 2004 while facing possible impeachment amid a federal corruption probe.