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Politics
Lobbying Report: Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians


Thanks to Indian gaming, tribes have emerged as major players in Washington, D.C. In the past two election cycles alone, tribes poured $13.8 million into Republican and Democrat interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But this figure doesn't include the money tribes and tribal organizations spend to lobby Congress and the executive branch. So to find out more about this area, Indianz.Com is taking a look at who's spending Indian money in Washington, who's getting it and what they're spending it on. Today we're taking first of a two-part look at one of the tribes at the center of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Who's Lobbying?
Starting in the late 1960s, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians built an economy based on manufacturing, technology and government contracting. Throughout this time, Chief Phillip Martin, the tribe's longtime leader, functioned as the Choctaws' primary lobbyist. It wasn't until the introduction of gaming in the 1990s, and the need to protect the high-stakes industry, that the tribe obtained separate representation in Washington.

In 1998 and 1999, the tribe hired John Lundy, a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) who was at the Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis firm, and the well-known Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker Indian law firm to advance its interests. Total spending on these two firms from 1998 and 1999 ranged between $165,000 and $185,000, according to the records.

The figures are drastically different for the tribe's other lobbyist -- the Preston, Gates & Ellis firm, which employed Abramoff at the time. In 1998, Abramoff filed a lengthy mid-year report on the tribe, disclosing that he and six other lobbyists -- including Shawn Vasell, who refused to testify at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last Wednesday -- were paid $600,000 from January to June of that year. In the 1988 year-end report, Abramoff and his associates took in $800,000.

In 1999, the spending was even higher. According to the mid-year report, Abramoff and his associates were paid a whopping $2.4 million by the tribe. The year-end report disclosed an additional $720,000. [Note: All figures are rounded to the nearest $20,000, per Senate filings.]

By 2000, the tribe kept working with Lundy, now with the Capitol Resources firm, which was paid a total of $100,000 that year. The tribe retained Hobbs Strauss, whose lobbyists were paid less than $30,000 that entire year. The tribe also paid Parker-Malvaney Consulting of Mississippi a total of $140,000 in 2000.

Preston Gates, however, continued to receive a very large chunk of Choctaw cash. The 2000 mid-year report disclosed a $920,000 payment to Abramoff and his team. The year-end report showed an additional $880,000 payment from the Choctaws. As of this year, the firm received $6.23 million from the tribe.

The year 2001 saw the tribe maintain its relationship with Lundy, who was paid another $100,000 that year. The Hobbs Strauss firm received far less, reporting less than $20,000 over the entire year. Parker-Malvaney received a total of $200,000.

By this time, Abramoff moved to the Greenberg Traurig firm, taking the Choctaws and other tribal clients with him. Abramoff's mid-year 2001 report -- the first in which Kevin Ring, who also refused to testify, shows up -- disclosed an $860,000 payment. The year-end report saw Abramoff, Ring and the others receive $1.04 million in 2001.

In 2002, Lundy received $120,000 for his services. The same year, Hobbs Strauss was paid $40,000. The tribe's relationship with Parker-Malvaney ended by this time, according to the records.

Greenberg Traurig, on the other hand, was paid $860,000 in the first half of 2002 and $880,000 for the second half.

In 2003, Lundy was again paid $120,000. Hobbs Strauss was paid less than $20,000.

According to the 2003 mid-year report, Abramoff and his associates were paid $880,000 by the Choctaws. The year-end report saw another $820,000 flow to the Greenberg Traurig firm.

The year 2004 saw a spike in spending on Lundy, who was paid $60,000 in the first half of the year and $180,000 in the second half. Hobbs Strauss was paid less than $20,000.

The negative press reports on Abramoff began to appear in February 2004. During the first half of this year, he was paid $640,000. But by the end of the year, the Greenberg Traurig firm severed its relationship with the disgraced lobbyist -- his name doesn't appear on the year-end report disclosing a $500,000 payment from the tribe.

Vasell and Ring, however, continued to be employed by the firm. It was Ring who filed the year-end report. As of this year, the tribe paid Greenberg Traurig a total of $6.48 million.

Later in the year, the tribe severed its relationship Abramoff after having boasted of his influence among GOP circles and after having paid him and his associates a total of $12.8 million from 1998 to 2004. The tribe is now in negotiations with Greenberg Traurig and Preston Gates over allegedly fraudulent billing practices unearthed as part of the Senate investigation.

The tribe, however, hasn't ended its relationship with Abramoff's associates. In 2005, the tribe rehired Ring, who now works at the Barnes & Thornburg firm along with Neil Volz and Edward Ayoob, who worked with Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig.

The $12.8 million figure doesn't include the money the Choctaws spent on Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's partner. According to the Senate committee, Scanlon was paid at least $15 million by the tribe -- $5 million of which went back to Abramoff.

The $12.8 million figure also doesn't include the money the tribe gave to Republican organizations like the Americans for Tax Reform and the National Center for Public Policy Research. The tribe is not required to disclose these payments, and the groups aren't necessarily required to either.

What Are They Lobbying?
The lobbyists hired by Mississippi Choctaws had a lot of their plate, according to the Senate records. The second part of this report will look at what the tribe hired Abramoff and the others to do for them in Washington.

For More Information
To find out more about tribal lobbying in Washington, visit the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records (http://sopr.senate.gov). The office maintains the most recent information for lobbying expenditures reported to the Senate.

Information for this story was obtained by utilizing the "Registrant Name" and "Lobbyist Name" fields in the database. The records can be found by following this link: http://sopr.senate.gov/cgi-win/m_opr_viewer.exe?
DoFn=3&CLI=MISSISSIPPI%20BAND%20OF%20CHOCTAW%20INDIANS&CLIQUAL==

Other lobbying information can be found at the U.S. House of Representaties, Office of the Clerk (http://clerk.house.gov/pd).

Relevant Links:
Senate Office of Public Records - http://sopr.senate.gov