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Madoff money -- Why is a Democratic committee clinging to it?

March 26, 2009 |  8:51 am

Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff

Bernard Madoff, who stands convicted of fraud in a $50-billion Ponzi scheme that bilked thousands of investors, ruined lives and closed down charities, was a big giver to Democratic causes.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Madoff and his wife Ruth gave $238,200 to federal candidates, parties and committees in the years since 1991, with Democrats getting 88% of their donations. Overall, Madoff and other individuals at his company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, donated $372,100 in campaign contributions over the same period, with 89% going to Democrats.

Most Democrats who discovered they had Madoff money in their coffers rushed to give it away.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave the $29,300 he got from the Madoffs to the victims of Madoff´s fraud. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) donated his $13,000 Madoff money to an Oregon food bank. And Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) donated his $1,500 from the Madoffs to the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. (Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, was one of Madoff's victims.)

But so far, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has yet to divest itself of $100,000 in  Madoff money -- including one contribution for $25,000 received last September. "We have not returned the money yet," DSCC communications director Eric Schultz told the Washington Times.

Now pundits are piling on, charging that the organization, which raises campaign funds to help keep the Senate in Democratic hands, is "shockingly tone-deaf" and that the mainstream media are ignoring the outrage for political reasons. The Hill's Doug Heye suggested this morning that maybe the media -- which loudly exposed campaign contributions from disgraced Enron executives to Republican politicians -- find less news in a tainted Madoff donation to Democratic causes.

During the Enron scandal, returning campaign money was a daily drumbeat, as were the news stories discussing Enron’s purported ties to President Bush. Now, when the Democratic Senate campaign vehicle makes the conscious decision to keep $100K in Madoff money, stolen just as if it came from a bank holdup, there's little to no outrage. Why?

Here's a suggestion for members of the media: Ask Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who himself was robbed by Madoff, what he thinks of the DSCC keeping stolen money in order to help fund his colleagues’ Senate campaigns this election cycle.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Bernard Madoff.  Credit: Jay Mallin / Bloomberg News