The Choctaw money was intended to help the center create a program to build support for the idea that Indian casinos could drive prosperity for poor tribes, Ridenour said. "We were trying to tell the Choctaw story," she said. On its Web site, the center attributes the following statement to DeLay: "The National Center is The Center for conservative communications."
Asked about the DeLay trip to Britain, tribal lawyer Bryant Rogers said: "The tribe did not authorize the use of any money for this purpose. . . . If it occurred, it occurred without the tribe's knowledge."
_____Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)_____
DeLay Moves To Protect His Political Base Back in Texas (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2005)
Prosecutor Balks When Asked If DeLay Is Target of Tex. Probe (The Washington Post, Mar 6, 2005)
S. Korean Group Sponsored DeLay Trip (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
DeLay Treated for Irregular Heartbeat (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2005)
Texas Trial Begins Against Treasurer of DeLay Group (The Washington Post, Mar 1, 2005)
House Ethics Panel in Gridlock (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2005)
An Educational Trip to Britain
ELottery is a Connecticut company that provides Internet services to state lotteries. One version of the gambling legislation contained a provision that would have severely restricted state lottery sales over the Internet. Edwin J. McGuinn, president of eLot Inc., the parent of eLottery, said the provision would have killed his company. "We wouldn't have been able to operate," he said.
McGuinn said he was unaware that eLottery's $25,000 check was meant to pay for DeLay's trip. Of the donation to the National Center, he said: "It certainly was our impression that any and all moneys were being positioned to get the attention and focus of our cause."
DeLay today describes himself as a longtime opponent of any expansion of gambling. But in a House floor speech six months after his trip to Britain, he praised the head of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians as a "champion of peace and prosperity" and placed in the Congressional Record an editorial praising chief Phillip Martin for enriching the tribe through the "construction of a casino."
The editorial, from the magazine Indian Country Today, noted that Martin had also wisely positioned his tribe "to solidify friendships with Republican powerhouses." It said -- in an apparent reference to Abramoff -- that the tribe and its chief had hired "quality lobbyists as their new wealth allowed" and successfully persuaded Republican leaders that the tribal revenue from gambling and other ventures should not be taxed.
Three and a half weeks after DeLay's Jan. 3, 2001, speech saluting Martin "for all he has done to further the cause of freedom," at least one of DeLay's aides went on a trip via private jet to the Super Bowl in Tampa arranged and financed by one of Abramoff's companies. Sources familiar with the trip said the guests were also taken out to an Abramoff-owned gambling ship that was anchored near Tampa.
No one on DeLay's staff filed a report disclosing the trip, a task required by House rules for "the receipt of travel expenses from private sources" but not for government-funded or political travel.
DeLay spokesman Allen said: "The staffer went down to participate in a National Republican Congressional Committee party, so it was considered political travel. The staffer never saw Abramoff during the trip."
The Internet gambling legislation was the only issue Abramoff and his employer at the time, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, mentioned in lobbying disclosure records when they reported earning $440,000 in fees from eLottery in 2000. The Internet gambling bill was one of several legislative issues listed in a separate lobbying disclosure for the firm's efforts on behalf of the Choctaw, which paid Preston Gates $880,000 in 2000.
Expense Voucher Submitted
The trip to Britain by the DeLays previously attracted notice because Abramoff submitted an expense voucher to Preston Gates seeking a reimbursement of $12,789.73 to cover expenses for meals, hotels and transportation incurred by the DeLays, the Hirschmanns and a former DeLay chief of staff -- lobbyist Ed Buckham -- who also went on the trip.
House ethics rules prohibit registered lobbyists such as Abramoff from paying for a lawmaker's expenses. But the Preston Gates records state that Abramoff told his firm he paid $4,285.35 for the DeLays' stay at London's Four Seasons Hotel, plus $5,174.64 for the Hirschmanns' stay. He also reported spending $800 on transportation for the group between May 25 and May 29.
The existence of the voucher and a portion of its contents were reported last month in the National Journal. The voucher's tally of expenses differs from the account given by DeLay in a signed report to the House clerk on June 30, 2000, in which he reported that total lodging for the couple over nine nights cost Ridenour's group $3,840. Susan Hirschmann's separate, signed report also gave a different figure from Abramoff; she stated that lodging expenses for her husband and her for this period amounted to $3,360.
Both the DeLays and the Hirschmanns reported their meal expenses during the trip as $2,000 per person, or roughly $200 a day.
Last week, DeLay told reporters that he had reported the trip "as we are supposed to do." He said that, to his knowledge, the National Center "paid for the trip."
DeLay told Cox News Service earlier this month: "I went to London to meet with conservatives in England and Scotland and talk about the things we had been doing in the Republican, conservative House. They wanted to dialogue to see if they could adopt some the things that we had done."
A person who went on the trip but spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the controversy said that DeLay talked with Thatcher about her efforts to help end the Cold War and with others about trade issues. An aide to Thatcher confirmed that the meeting occurred.
Abramoff was a member of the board of the National Center from about 1997 until last October, when the center accepted his resignation.
Stanley Brand, a former Democratic counsel to the House and an ethics specialist, said arrangements in which funds are passed through an intermediary to pay for a lawmaker's travels breach ethics rules if the lawmaker who benefited "knew or should have known" the origin of funds.
Brand said the House ethics committee, if it opens an investigation, would have to decide whether the circumstances of the travel "should have put a reasonable person on notice that it was paid for by someone else."
Researchers Alice Crites, Lucy Shackelford and Don Pohlman contributed to this report.