April 20, 2004
Lobbying fees investigated

I know, that's not exactly the kind of headline to make you swoon with anticipation, but in this case we are talking about a couple of DeLay cronies and the millions of dollars they've apparently bilked from various Indian tribes.

The FBI and a U.S. Senate committee are investigating the possible misuse of $14 million paid by a wealthy Michigan Indian tribe to two Washington firms to try to influence legislation in Lansing and Washington.

Investigators are trying to determine whether anyone benefited personally from the lobbying and public relations contracts or whether the money was squandered with little benefit to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe.

New leaders of the tribe cut off the contracts when they were elected in December, turned over documents to Senate investigators and talked to FBI agents.

The investigators are looking at what well-connected lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations firm owner Michael Scanlon did for the money the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe paid them beginning in December 2001, U.S. Sen. John McCain told the Free Press in a recent interview.

Investigators also are looking at another $31 million that three other tribes paid the two men's firms in 2001-2003. Like the Saginaw Chippewas, all the tribes own successful casinos.

After revelations surfaced about the payments, Abramoff was forced to resign from his lobbying firm last month.

Michigan lobbyists and pollsters familiar with the tribe's legislative concerns in Lansing said they saw few results from the huge sums of cash the tribe's leaders paid. The money was to stop bills to allow slot machines at race tracks, a major concern of all casino operators in the state.

The new leaders of the Saginaw Chippewas also say they got little for their money.

"No one seems to know what our money was being spent on," Bernie Sprague, the sub-chief of the tribe, said last week. Sprague said he spent more than a year trying to find out where and why the money was spent. What he got was a huge binder with poll results and other binders full of material that came off the Internet. No one has been able to find a political database Scanlon's firm said it produced with the money, Sprague said.

McCain, vice chairman of the Senate's Indian Affairs committee, said the fees were outrageous. The $4.1 million the Saginaw Chippewa tribe paid for lobbying over the two years was more than Wal-Mart ($2.6 million), the world's largest corporation, or General Motors ($4 million), spent on outside lobbyists during the same period, according to federal lobbying records.

It's a long article, and worth reading. It really is hard to see what Scanlon and Abramoff did for all of the money they got.

One thing they advised doing, apparently, was to buy a few elected officials.

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana campaigned behind the scenes in an unsuccessful effort to keep the state's last riverboat casino license from going to Lake Charles, according to a published report.

The American Press of Lake Charles said Tuesday that it obtained a copy of an internal tribe memo written by Capitol Campaign Strategies, the tribe's public relations firm, that outlined the campaign.

The tribe operates a reservation casino at Kinder, near Lake Charles. In 2001, the state's 15th and final riverboat casino license was granted to Pinnacle Entertainment for a $325 million gambling resort now under construction in Lake Charles.

The Coushattas are one of five tribes being investigated by Congress for excessive spending on lobbyists and public relations. The Coushattas reportedly spent more than $32.4 million on lobbying in about three years.

The American Press said the memo, written by Mike Scanlon of Capitol Campaign Strategies, was sent to the Coushatta's tribal council and Jack Abramoff, the tribe's Washington lobbyist.

The memo recommended that the tribe wage an effort to help "hand-picked candidates" running for the legislature and other state races.

The memo also talked about efforts to prevent a 2001 local option election for the Pinnacle project. Eventually, the project was approved by Calcasieu Parish voters in April 2002.

But, as with everything else, the clients got bupkis in return for their payments. Well, that's not totally true. They got fined eleven grand for their role in creating "Concerned Citizens Against Gaming Expansion".

More background on Jack Abramoff here and here. Thanks to AJ Garcia for the tips.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 20, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Was there anyone from these tribes lobbying to keep gambling casinos out of Texas? I do know of several special sessions called of our legislature to try and legalize gambling casinos/horse races together. We here in texas need help with school funding, the casinos almost won out, but something happened to stop it. thank you for info. Judy kolafa

Posted by: Judy Kolafa on October 2, 2004 6:45 PM