Papers Show Tribe Paid to Try to Sway Bill
Thursday, November 18, 2004
A Texas Indian tribe desperate to reopen its shuttered gambling casino paid two Washington insiders $4.2 million to try to persuade Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to slip crucial language into a bill, according to documents released at a congressional hearing yesterday.
The language did not end up in the 2002 Election Reform Act, but the tab for doing business in Washington came due anyway for the Tigua tribe of El Paso. The millions went to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations executive Michael Scanlon, who are embroiled in investigations by Congress and a federal grand jury over the $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees they collected from six tribes that operate gambling casinos.
The documents also show that the Tiguas paid $25,000 into Ney's political action committee, gave $300,000 to the two political parties and signed on to a plan to enlist the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee to approach Dodd on their behalf.
Yesterday, Tigua representatives told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that it is unclear what Abramoff and Scanlon did in return for the multimillion-dollar payment.
Dodd issued a statement saying he never agreed to help the Tiguas. Ney, who has been close to Abramoff but now says he was duped by him, said he agreed to help the Tiguas only because Abramoff told him it was something Dodd wanted. The two men were chairmen of a House-Senate conference committee finalizing the election reform bill.
Scanlon, 34, a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), was subpoenaed to appear before the committee. Like Abramoff, who appeared at a hearing in September, he declined to answer questions on the grounds that they could incriminate him.
Yesterday's hearing was the first time that details emerged of how Abramoff and Scanlon planned to carry out their promise to help a tribal client win favors on Capitol Hill. The documents and testimony provided an unusually stark look at the way Indian gambling riches have become part of Washington lobbying and fundraising.
The Washington Post previously reported that Abramoff and Scanlon quietly worked with conservative religious activist Ralph Reed to help persuade the state of Texas to shut down the Tigua casino in 2002, then persuaded the tribe to pay the $4.2 million to try to get Congress to reopen it.
As they had in September, committee members struggled to express their disdain for the way the pair treated the tribes, with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) branding their efforts "incredibly, deeply cynical." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is leading the investigation, vowed to pursue it wherever it leads -- a path that increasingly is heading into the halls of Congress.
Panel Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said he was "horrified" to learn how far Abramoff was allegedly willing to go in pursuit of tribal dollars. Documents released yesterday show that when the Tiguas were out of money in 2003, Abramoff came up with a plan to provide term life insurance to tribal elders, who would make their beneficiary a Jewish school Abramoff founded in Wheaton. The school would pay Abramoff's lobbying fees at the firm of Greenberg Traurig, from which he was ousted earlier this year.
Campbell expressed dismay that Abramoff allegedly schemed to make money "by putting prices on the lives of tribal elders." The Tiguas rejected the plan.
The tribe also was asked to pay $50,000 for Ney and several others to accompany Abramoff on a golfing trip to St. Andrews, Scotland. According to testimony yesterday, however, two other tribes ultimately paid $50,000 each for that trip. Among those who accompanied Abramoff and Ney was Reed.