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Democrats Also Got Tribal Donations

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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Derek Willis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 3, 2005

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate famously collected $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes and devoted a lot of their time to trying to persuade Republican lawmakers to act on their clients' behalf.

But Abramoff didn't work just with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. Moreover, the campaign contributions that Abramoff directed from the tribes went to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.

Among the biggest beneficiaries were Capitol Hill's most powerful Democrats, including Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.), the top two Senate Democrats at the time, Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), then-leader of the House Democrats, and the two lawmakers in charge of raising funds for their Democratic colleagues in both chambers, according to a Washington Post study. Reid succeeded Daschle as Democratic leader after Daschle lost his Senate seat last November.

Democrats are hoping to gain political advantage from federal and Senate investigations of Abramoff's activities and from the embattled lobbyist's former ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Yet, many Democratic lawmakers also benefited from Abramoff's political operation, a fact that could hinder the Democrats' efforts to turn the lobbyist's troubles into a winning partisan issue.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see the Abramoff controversy impact both parties," said Tony Raymond, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com, which gathers lobbying and campaign finance information.

Democratic lawmakers who responded to inquiries for this article said that any money they received from the tribes had nothing to do with Abramoff. They were quick to say they did not know the man.

Federal investigators are examining the millions of dollars in lobbying and public relations fees that Abramoff received from the tribes. They are also looking into his dealings with members of Congress and their staffs, lawyers involved in the inquiry said.

Most lobbying firms here are bipartisan, to give their clients access to key lawmakers of both major parties. Abramoff's group was no exception. Although he was recognized as a Republican lobbyist who was close to DeLay and other party leaders, Abramoff was careful to add at least two Democratic lobbyists to his group during his five years at Greenberg Traurig. By the end, seven of his lobbyists were Democrats.

"Lobbying shops typically direct contributions to both parties because they want contacts on both sides of the aisle," said David M. Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "Lawmakers in the minority can also have a lot of clout."

According to documents and tribal officials familiar with the Abramoff team's methods, the lobbyists devised lengthy lists of lawmakers to whom the tribes should donate and then delivered the lists to the tribes. The tribes, in turn, wrote checks to the recommended campaign committees and in the amounts the lobbyists prescribed. The money went to incumbents or selected candidates in open seats.

Because of the makeup of his team and the composition of Congress, the Abramoff lobbyists channeled most of their clients' giving to GOP legislators, according to a review of public records. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee that frequently deals with Indian matters, received the largest amount from the tribes as well as from the Greenberg Traurig lobbyists who helped direct those donations: $141,590 from 1999 to 2004, the study showed.

But Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) ran second, with $128,000 in the same period. From 1999 to 2001, Kennedy chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which solicited campaign donations for House candidates.


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