In yesterday's press conference , the president hedged when asked whether he had ever met Jack Abramoff or taken any photos with him. And when asked whether he met with lobbyists, he joked, "I try not to." Bush's evasions aside, the issue underlying the push for the release of any photos of Bush and Abramoff is whether the White House was in cahoots with an unscrupulous lobbyist. We don't need photos to answer that. A new report helps connect the dots.
<!--StartFragment -->The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit group that churns out investigative journalism, released a study  yesterday that uncovers "a myriad of personal, business and political ties between the Bush administration and K Street." George and Jack may or may not have smiled for the camera together. And the president himself may or may not savor meetings with lobbyists. But CPI's data shows that Abramoff and other lobbyists are enjoying unprecedented access to the White House.
<!--StartFragment -->Abramoff, of course, didn't just donate to Bush's campaign. CPI found evidence that he also lobbied the White House:
<!--StartFragment -->Jack Abramoff raised $100,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign as a Pioneer and represented 15 clients that were lobbying the White House, including such business enterprises as Tyco International Ltd. and Unisys Corp. Abramoff is also listed among those lobbying the Executive Office of the President and the White House on behalf of three American Indian tribes, including the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The Bush White House didn't invent the practice of accepting visits from well-paid lobbyists, but CPI reports that such lobbying has increased significantly since Bush became president. In September of 2005, CPI reported  that "lobbying the White House...has become an increasingly preferred tactic in Washington:"
More than one in five of those lobbying the federal government since 1998 have lobbied the offices of the White House, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity. More than 4,600 companies, trade associations and interest groups have directly lobbied the 14 offices of the White House, including those of the president and vice president. In fact, over the past seven years, the White House has been lobbied by more parties than have the Federal Communications Commission  and the departments of Education and Veterans Affairs  combined.
The ability of the rich and powerful to plead their case to the Bush White House is not exactly news to TomPaine.com readers. One of the most egregious incidents early on was Dick Cheney's secret energy task force, which now seems like ancient history. And last June, Lou Dubose in The Texas Observer wrote "The Pimping of the Presidency  ," an article that reported in rich detail about how Abramoff and Grover Norquist used their White House access to squeeze money from clients. But now Abramoff is a convicted felon. The Republicans in Congress are squirming under the glare of the corruption spotlight. And one of the policies concocted to please their corporate patrons—the Medicare drug plan—is a disaster that's now reverberating way beyond the Beltway. And Abramoff's connections  to that disaster are getting more and more attention.
Which brings me back to those photos everyone's so interested in. True, we don't need a photo to prove that Abramoff had dealings with the White House. But there's nothing like the symbolism of a strong visual image—Smarmy Jack and George doing the old grip-and-grin—to make an inside-the-beltway scandal come alive for the public.