'It Was a Big Draw'
The skyboxes were available to members of Congress for the asking, Jennings said. "The word was out among fundraisers," he said. Politicians could sell skybox tickets to supporters for $500 to $1,000, said Jennings, who arranged six events in the skyboxes for two of his clients, House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.). "It was a venue that was fun to use," Jennings said. "It was a big draw."
Abramoff or one of the lobbyists who worked for him at Greenberg Traurig, and earlier at the firm now known as Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, arranged the fundraisers, former Abramoff associates said.
"It was kind of Jack's box. It was owned by Jack, not Greenberg Traurig. He was very proud of it," said a former associate from Greenberg Traurig. "Everything was always catered; Jack would pay for the catering. It was about $1,000 an event."
Keeping track of events, catering and ticket distribution required the nearly full-time attention of an administrative assistant, said two former Abramoff associates familiar with the logistics of the box management. Abramoff billed the tribes for the costs associated with the skyboxes through a company he created called Sports Suites LLC.
Doolittle, one of dozens of House members to use the skyboxes, was particularly close to Abramoff, former Abramoff associates said. The fundraiser list, obtained by The Washington Post, indicates that he was signed up to use boxes at MCI Center and Camden Yards on five occasions. Doolittle's spokeswoman, Laura Blackmann, said the congressman used the MCI Center box for a fundraiser, but only once, on Feb. 25, 1999.
Of the other four occasions Doolittle is listed on Abramoff's fundraiser log, Blackmann said: "Abramoff may have reserved it, but we did not use it."
In enacting limits on congressional gifts, Congress set the value of skybox tickets at $49, under the $50 limit. Using that calculation, the donation of a box with space for 20 people for a fundraising event would have a value of almost $1,000.
Doolittle's federal election records do not show that he paid for the use of the boxes or reported their value as an in-kind contribution, a lapse Blackmann acknowledged. "It was an in-kind contribution, and it was an oversight that it wasn't reported, but we are taking steps to correct that," she said recently.
An event planning firm operated by Doolittle's wife, Julie, which did work with an Abramoff-sponsored charity, was issued a subpoena for documents this summer in the Justice Department inquiry.
A candidate for office who does not fully disclose such contributions can be subject to a fine to be determined by the Federal Election Commission. The more flagrant the violation, the steeper the fine tends to be.
Abramoff's most powerful ally on the Hill, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), another gaming opponent, held a fundraiser in the MCI Center box for the performance of the Three Tenors on May 7, 2000, according to the list of events maintained in Abramoff's office. The list also shows he held an event in a box at FedEx Field on Sept. 18, 2000.
DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said that DeLay's fundraising aides remember sending out invitations for the Three Tenors event to reward donors and that the event probably occurred. There was no obligation to report the use of the box under federal law, he said, because the site was used for an event that benefited DeLay's state political action committee.
The office found no record of the use of Abramoff's box for a fundraiser at a Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game on Sept. 18, 2000, as listed in Abramoff's records. "We don't have anything indicating it was offered or utilized," Roy said. "We just don't know."
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) hosted four fundraising events in Abramoff boxes but did not pay for the use of the boxes or report them as gifts, his spokesman confirmed. After he was asked about the fundraisers, Hayworth's chief of staff said the congressman intends to amend his FEC reports to correct the oversight.