November 19, 2004

Cowboys And Indians

NOW with Bill Moyers just aired their investigation into the fleecing of a Texas Native American tribe by lobbyists closely connected to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. I guess some people just don't think Native Americans have been punished enough over the last few hundred years for having the worst geographic luck ever.

The Tigua tribe of El Paso were desperately poor, and then they opened a casino. The revenue paid for better housing, schools, healthcare, and jobs. When a lengthy court battle ended with an order to close the casino, the tribe turned to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who offered to work on their behalf pro bono to get allies in Washington. Abramoff traded off on close connections to DeLay and other power players in Republican circles to assure the tribe that he could help.

Abramoff recommended the tribe pay $4 million and change in consulting fees to public relations executive, and former DeLay aide, Michael Scanlon. He suggested an additional $300,000 in political contributions, which made its way to various Republican campaigns and organizations, including one of Grover Norquist's tax reform projects. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said the following in the Senate hearings on the matter:

It appears, from their own words, Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon held their tribal clients in absolute contempt clients, mind you, that paid them millions of dollars. E-mails obtained by the committee show that they regularly referred to their clients using contemptuous, even racist language.

Unsurprisingly, none of Abramoff and Scanlon's efforts paid off on the tribe's behalf. But the story gets worse. Here's the knockdown:

...While the casino business continued on Tigua land, the Texas state attorney general sued the tribe to shut down Speaking Rock. In January 2002, the Tiguas argued their case before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to no avail. When the casino closed in February of that year, close to 800 employees were left without jobs. It was at this time that Jack Abramoff approached the Tigua tribe offering his lobbying expertise and Washington insider status to get the casino reopened. Later, it would become public that the Tiguas weren't the only tribe taken advantage of; there were five others. It is believed that Abramoff and Scanlon managed to bilk more than $66 million in fees from the six tribes. ...

The setup was that Scanlon and Abramoff had been hired by a Louisiana tribe to lobby behind the scenes to get the Tigua casino closed in the first place. They used the help of former Christian Coalition leader and Republican campaign coordinator Ralph Reed to provide grassroots kick. Reed boasted in a correspondence viewed by NOW that he'd gotten his "pastors riled up", and the long time moral values crusader was the perfect front man for such an effort.

Not that Reed would want to be seen to be taking money from gambling interests. The money trail goes from Scanlon to the tribe's 'pro bono' consultant Abramoff, and a think tank set up in a small beach bungalow that employed at least two former exercise instructors. Reed was paid by the think tank. You can view the correspondence here. [pdf]

They followed the story up with a segment on DeLay's shady fundraising for TRMPAC. The story included organizational brochures that lobbied corporate clients for donations by seeming to claim they would use the money specifically for activities that violated Texas laws against using corporate contributions for campaign or political activities.

Republican leadership values in action.

Posted by natasha at November 19, 2004 11:07 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |