The Associated Press reported last week that members of Congress pressured the U.S. Department of the Interior on tribal casino issues while receiving campaign contributions from tribes.
Reporters John Solomon and Sharon Theimer reported what appeared to be a quid pro quo pattern.
“Almost three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to reject an Indian casino in Louisiana while they collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff,” they wrote. “The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sent a letter to [Bush Interior Secretary Gale] Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by Senator John Ensign, a Republican of Nevada. On March 6, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid’s tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff client tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid’s group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in donations related to Abramoff from 2001 to 2004.”
The Bush administration initially vetoed the casino but later reversed itself. The project is now ensnarled in litigation, and Abramoff is under investigation for influence peddling by federal prosecutors and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain.
The AP report received wide attention, from the Boston Globe to the London Guardian.
In an editorial Monday, the Denver Post used Ensign and Reid as an example and then observed, “And so the story goes, even as U.S. prosecutors investigate whether Abramoff’s contributions illegally influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration.”