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Abramoff not in NIGA's camp but lobbyist came close
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ernie Stevens, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, made a definitive statement last week about his organization's lack of connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"I have been doing this for 10 years," Stevens said at the Western Indian Gaming Conference in Palm Springs. "Never once have I seen Jack Abramoff in our camp."

Stevens was correct in his assessment. Neither Abramoff nor any of his lobbying firms ever represented the nation's largest tribal casino organization, according to government records.

But NIGA is connected to Abramoff's Washington, D.C., web in a surprising number of ways. They don't exactly put Abramoff in NIGA's camp but they bring the pair pretty close.

One of Abramoff's former associates, David Safavian, lobbied on behalf of NIGA for two years during Abramoff's heyday. Safavian, an ex-White House official and ex-Congressional aide, has since been charged with lying to investigators about his dealings with Abramoff.

Safavian's other clients included the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's first tribal client, and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. Both tribes are active, prominent members of NIGA and their interests in Washington are often in sync with NIGA's.

In 2000, for example, Safavian and his Janus-Merritt Strategies firm lobbied for NIGA and the Viejas Band on the same issue -- amendments to the Interior Appropriations Act that were considered anti-Indian.

Over at his firm, Preston Gates, Abramoff was lobbying for the Mississippi Band on Interior appropriations that same year.

NIGA and Abramoff share another big link -- Grover Norquist, the conservative Republican who runs Americans for Tax Reform, a group that took millions from Abramoff's tribes. Janus-Merritt was co-founded by Norquist, although he did not take on any tribal clients, according to Senate records.

NIGA is connected to yet another prominent figure in Abramoff's web -- Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the deposed House majority leader who once called Abramoff a "dear friend." Susan Hirschmann, DeLay's former chief of staff, lobbied for NIGA as recently as 2004, the year the Abramoff scandal broke.

Hirschmann is one of several ex-Congressional aides of interest to investigators as they delve further into the Abramoff case, according to The Wall Street Journal. She is close to Ralph Reed, the conservative Christian activist whose political career in Georgia is on the line over his ties to Abramoff. Reed also took millions from Abramoff's tribes.

During these years, from 1999 to 2004, NIGA and Abramoff weren't a team but they frequently lobbied on the same issue: to prevent the taxation of tribal revenues. That made them strange bedfellows with DeLay, who once inserted into the Congressional record an Indian Country Today editorial that praised Choctaw Chief Philip Martin.

"Hiring quality lobbyists as their new wealth allowed, the Choctaw leader persuaded a good sector of Republicans to the righteousness of the Native nations sovereignty from taxation," the December 27, 2000, editorial stated.

At the conference last week, Stevens didn't talk about any these links. But he said opponents of Indian gaming will try to use the Abramoff scandal to discredit tribes.

"It's tougher now," Stevens told attendees. "People are going to try to use Indian Country as a scapegoat."

He also praised a panel of Indian lobbyists and attorneys whom he said were definitely a part of NIGA's camp. "We don't always agree, I don't think," he said. "But I think that's what makes us what we are. I think that's what makes the team in Washington what we are."

Throughout the Abramoff scandal, NIGA has largely stayed silent. The organization's first public statement came on June 21, 2005 -- the day before the Mississippi Choctaws went before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

NIGA's second statement came on January 4, 2006. That was the day after Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding tribes, attempting to bribe a member of Congress and evading federal taxes.

"It is indeed sad and very wrong that Mr. Abramoff violated the trust of so many," the statement read. "He violated the trust of not only Indian tribes, but also politicians, banks and major corporations, charitable organizations, a federal territory, his own law firm and the public."

White House Press Briefing:
Jack Abramoff Excerpts | Full Transcript | Video

Relevant Documents:
US v. Abramoff | Abramoff Plea Agreement | Department of Justice Press Conference | US v. Scanlon Scanlon Plea Deal | Attachment

Lobbying Reform Bills:
S.2128 | S.1312

November 17, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

June 22, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits 1 | Exhibits 2 | Witness List / Testimony

November 17, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

September 29, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Association - http://www.indiangaming.org

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Mississippi Choctaw lawyer referred Abramoff (11/22)
Former Ney chief of staff worked with Abramoff (11/19)
High-priced lobbyist scam linked to lawmakers (11/18)
Coushatta Tribe sues ex-lobbyists for $32M (11/17)
Tigua Tribe to testify at Senate lobbying hearing (11/16)
Abramoff's assets frozen in employee case (11/15)
Vitter 'conned' by group opposing tribe (11/12)
GOP critic of McCain received tribal donations (11/08)
Author: Abramoff, Scanlon likely to be indicted (10/28)
Senate panel asks Coushatta Tribe for tapes (10/27)
Ralph Reed paid $4.1M to oppose tribes (10/26)
Two more lawyers linked to lobbyist scandal (10/21)
Online Chat: Abramoff 'close friend' of DeLay (10/20)
Christian Coalition still after Poarch Creeks (10/19)
Congressman denies knowing of tribe's backing (10/18)
Opinion: Lobbyist scandal goes all the way to Bush (10/15)
Congressman's anti-gaming push backed by tribe (10/15)
Tigua Tribe mum on Washington lobbyists (10/12)
House Resources asked to investigate lobbyists (10/8)
Another tribe considers lawsuit against lobbyists (10/7)
DeLay rebuked yet again for flaunting influence (10/7)
Coushatta Tribe to sue lobbyists for $32M (10/4)
Lobbyist scandal reaches to top levels of GOP (10/4)
Choctaw Tribe's lobbying documents kept secret (10/4)
Documents detail lobbyists' role in tribal elections (10/4)
Salon: Tom DeLay allowed tribes to be 'slickered' (10/4)
Pueblo leader says lobbyists' high fees not worth it (10/1)
Texas AG asked to investigate Abramoff, Scanlon (10/1)
DeLay rebuked for trading influence on House floor (10/1)
Ex-tribal lobbyists slammed in Senate hearing (9/30)
Abramoff mum at hearing while Scanlon a no-show (9/30)
Column: Lobbyists lurked in 'cesspool of greed' (9/30)
Washington lobbyists called before Senate panel (9/29)
Editorial: Send lobbyist hogs to the slaughterhouse (9/29)
Tigua Tribe outraged over being played as 'moronic' (9/28)
Tribes told to donate to lobbyists' foundation (9/28)
Editorial: Actions of tribal lobbyists 'loathsome' (9/28)
Lobbyists worked for, against 'moronic' Tiguas (9/27)
Group opposing Poarch Creeks tied to tribal lobbyists (09/16)
Coushattas used lobbyists to spy on tribes, critics (09/13)
Bush strategist now knows source of tribal funds (09/01)
Bush strategist claims no knowledge of funds (8/31)
Bush-GOP strategist admits taking tribal money (8/30)
Senate hearing on tribal lobbying probe set (8/26)
Coushatta member threatened over recall effort (08/09)
Coushatta Tribe's lobbying records subpoenaed (07/23)
Hearing on high lobbying fees expected in September (07/16)
GOP strategist denies secretly taking tribal money (7/15)
Tribal money secretly funneled to GOP strategist (06/25)
Busy Indian Affairs Committee hits snag on big issues (06/17)
Indian Affairs Committee activity this week (6/15)
Saginaw Chippewa leader who paid lobbyists ousted (06/04)
Indian Country awaits outcome of lobbying probe (05/18)
Tribal chairman says $120K fee to Abramoff worth it (05/18)
Republican governors report biggest donor in 2002 (05/04)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe wonders where $14M went (04/20)
McCain demands documents from lobbyist, PR exec (04/12)
Coushatta treasurer accuses NIGC of lax oversight (04/12)
Choctaw chief Martin defends embattled GOP lobbyist (04/09)
McCain pushing Choctaw tribe to cooperate with probe (4/8)
Coushatta leaders used tribal money to pay lobbyists (4/8)
Coushatta Tribe paid $32M to lobbyist Jack Abramoff (4/6)
McCain aggressive in pursuing lobbyist records (4/5)
McCain demands documents for tribal lobbyist's work (3/30)
Embattled lobbyist signs deal with another firm (03/25)
Embattled tribal lobbyist gave to Conn. Congressman (03/10)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe hires new lobbying firm (3/9)
McCain begins investigation into high tribal fees (3/4)
Pueblo governor says $1M fee to PR firm not worth it (3/3)
McCain calls for investigation into tribal spending (2/27)
Four tribes spent $45M on lobbying and PR firms (2/23)
GOP lobbyist scores big with tribes (04/03)
Embattled tribe gets new lobbyist (12/13)

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