Embattled Congressman Abandons Re-Election Campaign

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The New York Sun

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Rep. Bob Ney, enmeshed in a congressional corruption scandal, abruptly abandoned his race for re-election Monday after months of prodding from Republican leaders worried about losing his seat this fall.

Ney said in a statement he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and had acted for the sake of his family. “I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal,” he said.

The six-term lawmaker has long been involved in the influence-peddling investigation spawned by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and is the second congressman to announce his retirement in the fallout from the probe. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas resigned from Congress earlier this year, but Democrats have gone to court to force his name to stay on the November ballot.

Several Republican officials said Ney had been prodded by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the current majority leader, as well as other officials to quit his race for re-election. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the details.

Democrats must gain 15 seats this fall to take control of the House, and Republicans had long considered Ney to be one of their most vulnerable incumbents.

Under state law, the vacancy on the ballot will be filled by Republican voters in a primary. GOP officials said they hope to clear the field for Joy Padgett, a state senator.

Ney, too, appeared to want to hand off his seat to Padgett. She told The Associated Press that Ney called her Saturday and asked her to run in his place.

Until his announcement, Ney had insisted he would run for a new term, even if indicted.

By accident or design, he timed his announcement to his own financial benefit. Under federal law, Ney is allowed to use any leftover campaign funds to pay his rising legal bills. As of June 30, he had roughly $417,000 in the bank. Because the fall campaign has not yet begun in earnest, he has not had to purchase television advertising time or make other significant campaign expenses.

Ney spokeswoman Katie Harbath said the congressman was not available for comment. A man who answered the door at his home in Heath said the lawmaker would not be available to talk to reporters, and asked journalists to leave the property.

“It’s a very sad time,” Padgett said of Ney’s decision, first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on its Web site.

Ney told her “just that there’s only so much he can take. He said, ‘I have to do this,'” Padgett said.

Padgett said she would run for Ney’s seat in the 18th Congressional District, a conservative region of farms, mines, Appalachian hills and Rust Belt cities in central Ohio.

Padgett faces a primary election under Ohio law that requires a primary if a candidate withdraws or dies more than 80 days before a general election. James Lee, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, said his office was consulting its lawyers to determine how to proceed. No Republican has come forward to challenge Padgett.

Ney faced a tough challenge in November from Democrat Zack Space, a law director who had made the Justice Department’s investigation into Ney a focus of his campaign. Space’s campaign did not return a message Monday morning.

Though Ney has not been charged with any crimes, court papers released during Abramoff’s plea deal detailed lavish gifts and contributions that Abramoff says he gave an unnamed House member in return for officials acts. Officials have confirmed the congressman is Ney.

Abramoff said the congressman took favors including a 2002 golf trip to Scotland, free dinners and events and campaign donations in exchange for his support of Abramoff’s American Indian tribe clients in Texas and the lobbyist’s purchase of a fleet of Florida casino boats.

Ney also supported legislation to help a California Indian tribe with taxes and a post office and, as chairman of the Administration Committee, approved a lucrative deal for an Abramoff client to improve cell phone reception in House buildings, the court papers alleged.

Ney and some of his aides, including his chief of staff, William Heaton, have been subpoenaed.

Neil Volz, who was Ney’s chief of staff before Heaton, pleaded guilty in Washington in May, admitting he participated in a conspiracy to corrupt Ney, his staff and other members of Congress. The Democratic National Committee said Volz’s plea agreement put a “Republican culture of corruption one step closer” to Ney, whom it called “Exhibit A.”

For the first three months of 2006, Ney’s campaign spent more than it raised, a deficit he blamed on mounting legal costs. In the past three months, it was unusually intense campaigning in his expansive rural district that caused the incumbent to spend $52,675 more than donors gave him, he said.

“I’m embattled and attacked; I understand that,” Ney told The AP last month after Space raised about $190,000 more than Ney for the quarter.

The New York Sun

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