A California congressman who accepted campaign cash from disgraced
ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and used his sports box for a fundraiser
interceded on behalf of two American Indian tribes that were
represented by Abramoff’s firm, documents show.
GOP Rep. John
Doolittle wrote Interior Secretary Gale Norton in June 2003 criticizing
the Bush administration’s response to a tribal government dispute
involving the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa. In
October 2003, Doolittle appealed in a letter to the secretary for
quicker action for a Massachusetts tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag, that
was seeking federal recognition.
Both tribes signed on with
Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, that year. Sac & Fox
hired the firm in May, the Wampanoags in November. Neither tribe
appears tied to Doolittle’s rural Northern California district, and
Doolittle is not on the House committee that handles Indian issues.
The letters were obtained by The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Doolittle’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
a radio interview a week ago, Doolittle said he did nothing wrong in
his relations with Abramoff. He described Abramoff as a friend who
rarely lobbied the lawmaker.
Doolittle also disputed reports by
the AP and other news organizations that his ties to Abramoff have
caught the attention of federal investigators. Abramoff pleaded guilty
this month to corruption charges and agreed to tell the FBI about
bribes to lawmakers and their aides.
“Come investigate me, come contact me, because I know what the truth is and I’ll come out with a clean record,” Doolittle said.
letters are the latest example of connections between Abramoff’s
interests and Doolittle, a conservative ally of former House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and a member of the House GOP leadership.
accepted at least $14,000 in campaign money from Abramoff from 1999 to
2001, records show, and initially failed to report a 1999 fundraiser in
Abramoff’s sky box, as required.
He took tens of thousands of
dollars more from Abramoff’s tribal clients, including $5,000 in 2004
from the Sac & Fox tribe, also known as the Meskwaki.
wife did fundraising work for Abramoff, and a former Doolittle aide
later went to work as a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig.
was among more than two dozen lawmakers who signed a February 2002
letter to Norton urging her to reject an Indian casino in Louisiana
opposed by Abramoff’s tribal clients. After that letter became public
in November, Doolittle’s spokeswoman, Laura Blackann, said he signed it
only because of his “longheld anti-gaming position.”
letter to Norton about the Sac & Fox Tribe, Doolittle complained
that the tribe’s casino was wrongly shut down because BIA refused to
recognize a newly elected tribal council. The new council hired
Abramoff’s firm after the elections.
“I fear that the Bureau of
Indian Affairs (BIA) has ignored precedent during the course of the
tribe’s governance dispute and its failure to lead has resulted in
significant economic damage to the tribe and surrounding region,”
Ultimately BIA oversaw new elections and
certified victory by the Abramoff-backed faction, and the casino
reopened. The losing faction is now suing, suggesting BIA officials may
have been influenced by Abramoff.
In the case of the Mashpee
tribe, Doolittle wrote Norton, “It appears that they have been forced
to wait too long to receive an answer to their petition for
The Mashpee tribe now appears on the verge of
attaining recognition. The federal government has promised a
preliminary decision by March on the tribe’s long-standing application.