Tribe wants contributions back

The Tigua tribe of El Paso wants campaign contributions it gave
while employing disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff returned to the tribe,
not given to charity.

Arturo Senclair, governor of the tribe
officially known as the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, said Friday that the
tribe isn’t demanding its donations back but that anyone returning
money should check with the Tiguas first.

“It’s up to them and
their conscience. They’ve got to live with it,” Senclair said. “But if
they are going to donate it back to a charity, I’m sure the tribe would
rather have it back than the charity, because we could use the money

Abramoff pleaded guilty this week to federal charges in a
bribery investigation that is now focusing on members of Congress and
their aides. Since his plea deal, lawmakers have been ridding
themselves of donations from Abramoff, his clients, former employers
and associates.

The tribe, based in El Paso, Texas, operated the
Speaking Rock casino for nearly nine years before it was shut down in
2002 by a ruling in a lawsuit filed three years earlier by then-Texas
Attorney General John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator.

The Tiguas paid
Abramoff and his former business partner Michael Scanlon $4.2 million
to lobby lawmakers and allow them to reopen the casino. The tribe
contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 to congressional campaigns
between 2002 and 2004 based on Abramoff’s direction, Senclair said.

though he was hired by the Tiguas, Abramoff has admitted he never told
the tribe he had also been working with former Christian Coalition head
Ralph Reed to lobby for closure of the casino. He also admitted to
telling the tribe he would work for free, while he was taking half the
net profits Scanlon’s public relations company he told the tribe to

Now, Senclair said, the tribe needs that money.

than 900 jobs were lost when the casino closed and the tribal council
has been forced to cut jobs on the reservation. The tribe has about
1,300 members, with 450 families on the reservation. Also, tribes are
facing 5 percent reductions in money the federal government provides
for health, education and social services, he said.

Senclair said
with the exception of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-El Paso, no lawmakers had
contacted the tribe by Friday afternoon to ask whether they want their
contributions returned. Cuellar received $500 from the Tiguas in 2002
and is returning it.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is
keeping $3,000 from the tribe, saying she does not know Abramoff and
returning the contributions would be an insult to the tribe.

Sam Johnson, R-Plano, received $1,000 from the tribe and said Thursday
he would give it to the USO of Dallas-Fort Worth. His office was
unaware of the tribe’s preference when contacted.

Spokesmen for
the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican
Senatorial Committee, which received $20,000 and $30,000 in 2002
respectively, said the groups are not returning contributions.

The Democratic Senatorial Committee received $3,000 from the tribe. A spokesman there had no comment.

Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth, co-chairman of the congressional Native
American Caucus, has letters from tribes saying they did not want
contributions returned. The Tigua did not send such a letter to
Hayworth, who has received $2,000 from the tribe.

“If they’ve
changed their minds and let us know they want to have their
contribution back, we’d be glad to do that,” spokesman Larry VanHoose

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana, recently gave up his
Abramoff-connected contributions, which included $21,000 from the
tribe. Any money linked to Abramoff through his clients went back to
the tribes, spokesman Matt Mackowiak said.

The tribe is not alone in wanting money back.

Thomas, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta of Livingston, said the tribe
wants its $50,000 it gave to the Capital Athletic Foundation to help
pay for a trip Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio took to Scotland. The foundation
was started by Abramoff.


Associated Press writer Jennifer Talhelm in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press