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Democrats Also Got Tribal Donations
The Indians' largess flowed to higher-ranking Democrats as well. Senate Democratic leaders Reid and Daschle each received more than $40,000 from the tribes and from lobbyists on Abramoff's team during the period. Gephardt got $32,500.
Of the 18 largest recipients of tribe contributions directed by Abramoff's group, six, or one-third, were Democrats. These included Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2001 to 2002, and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), a leader in Indian affairs legislation.
Over that period, while Abramoff and his lobbyists directed nearly $4 million in funds from the tribes to lawmakers, they also gave from their own pockets. Two-thirds of the total went to Republicans and one-third was handed out to Democrats, according to The Post's calculations.
The six wealthiest tribes that had hired Abramoff's group were the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and the Tigua Indian Reservation.
Greenberg Traurig declined to comment. An Abramoff spokesman said: "Each tribe has its own protocol for approving political contributions made by the tribe. Mr. Abramoff and his team provided recommendations on where a tribe should spend its political dollars, but ultimately the tribal council made the final decision on what political contributions to make."
Democratic lawmakers sought to distance themselves from Abramoff.
A spokesman for Kennedy said the congressman's donations from the tribes "have nothing to do with Abramoff." Kennedy traces the money's genesis to his family's long-standing commitment to Indian causes, to the fact that he co-founded the Congressional Native American Caucus in 1997, and to his personal relationship with Mississippi Choctaw Chief Philip Martin, whom Kennedy met in 1999 on a fundraising trip for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "They just became close friends," said Kennedy spokesman Sean Richardson.
James Patrick Manley, Reid's spokesman, also asserted that Reid's connection to tribes was remote from Abramoff. He said that Reid does not know Abramoff. But Abramoff did hire as one of his lobbyists Edward P. Ayoob, a veteran Reid legislative aide. Manley acknowledged that Ayoob helped raise campaign money for his former boss. Lawyers close to the Abramoff operation said that Ayoob held a fundraising reception for Reid at Greenberg Traurig's offices here.
"There's nothing sinister here," Manley said. Reid is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee with strong relations with Indian tribes, he explained.
Daschle was familiar with another of Abramoff's Democratic lobbyists, Michael Smith. According to Steve Hildebrand, who was Daschle's campaign manager last year, Smith "helped with a lot of Democratic campaigns." In addition, Daschle was a favorite of Indian tribes and received donations from 64, including five Abramoff clients. "We took about $150,000 in this last election cycle from Indian tribes around the country," Hildebrand said. "Tom is viewed as a champion of Indian issues. We have nine tribes in South Dakota, and they worked hard for him."
Murray also was said to have never laid eyes on Abramoff. "Our office has not had any contact with Jack Abramoff," said the senator's spokeswoman, Alex Glass. "She's been active in Indian health care and in supporting their sovereign governments; that is why they decided to contribute to her. They see her as an advocate."
During the time Murray chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Abramoff's major tribes were significant contributors. Election reports show that the grand total from the tribes to that committee in 2001-2002 reached $175,500.
In March 2001, Dorgan held a fundraising event during a hockey game in a skybox leased by an Abramoff company at MCI Center. But the senator said he believed that the box was controlled by Greenberg Traurig. The event was organized by Smith, the Democratic fundraiser, he added.
"I was unaware that Abramoff was involved," Dorgan said.
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.