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
    now.”

    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.

    Even
    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
    hire.

    Now, Senclair said, the tribe needs that money.

    More
    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.

    Rep.
    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.

    Arizona
    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
    said.

    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.

    Ronnie
    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