Big Fire Law and Policy Group
Advertise:   ads@blueearthmarketing.com   712.224.5420

Abramoff Scandal
McCain blames both parties for 'out of control' lobbying


Lobbying in Washington, D.C., is "out of control" and the only way to fix it is to eliminate legislative earmarks and riders, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said on Sunday.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, blamed Republicans and Democrats for the situation in the nation's capitol. During an appearance on Fox News, he said the Jack Abramoff scandal a "bipartisan" one that implicates both political parties.

"I think it's a bipartisan scandal, because the lobbying is out of control," he said on Fox News Sunday. "But the reason why the lobbying is out of control is because of the process, the system that prevails here on Capitol Hill between Republican and Democrat, and that's a thing called earmarking or pork barrel projects."

McCain agreed the Abramoff scandal will definitely lead to lobbying reforms. He has already introduced two bills -- including one that targets tribal lobbyists -- in hopes of changing the system.

But the proposals that Republicans and Democrats have made in the wake of Abramoff's guilty plea don't go far enough, McCain said. He cited the practice of inserting earmarks and riders into legislation, often at the last minute and without any debate or discussion.

"A single provision in a line that nobody's ever seen or heard of, and most times we don't find out until days or weeks afterwards," he said. "Then you've got a process that breeds corruption. And it makes good people do bad things."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) agreed with McCain that the earmark process needs to be fixed. But he said the Democratic proposal does include provisions to prevent riders from being attached to appropriations and other bills.

"Part of our reform says that every one of these appropriations bills has to be there and lay on the calendar, on the table, for a period of time so we know what's in there before it's voted on," he said on Fox News Sunday.

Indian Country has seen the effects of this practice and, in most cases, it has been negative. In the past few years, riders have been used to interfere the Cobell Indian trust fund case, overturn court victories for tribes, block land-into-trust acquisitions and limit Alaska Native contracts.

Abramoff played the system well. With the help of sympathetic lawmakers, he was able to insert at least provisions into the fiscal year 2004 Interior appropriations bill to benefit his tribal clients [PDF: Conference Report].

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), the chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, set aside a $3 million school construction grant for the wealthy Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, one of Abramoff's clients, even though the program was meant for poorer tribes. Dorgan had no involvement with this provision, Burns' office has said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, has acknowledged meeting with an Abramoff associate as the measure was being considered. The bill included language that urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs to speed up consideration of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's federal recognition petition. The tribe had hired Abramoff's firm to make the case for recognition.

Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) took credit for language that warned Bush administration not to approve off-reservation casinos. Vitter acknowledged receiving help from Abramoff's associates in drafting the provision, which benefited the Coushatta Tribe, an Abramoff client who was opposing another Louisiana tribe's bid for gaming. The provision also had the support of House GOP leaders who wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton about off-reservation gaming as the Interior bill was being considered.

In these cases, the lawmakers received campaign contributions from Abramoff or his tribal clients. Burns, Vitter and the House GOP leaders also held fundraisers at Abramoff's sports arena suite or his former restaurant in Washington. The connections could lead to bribery or corruption charges.

According to news reports, Burns is one of several lawmakers of interest to the Department of Justice. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has said that Abramoff didn't influence the rider for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), is being investigated for trying to insert a rider to help two Texas tribes reopen their casinos. Ney also has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he was "duped" by Abramoff.

Fox News Sunday:
Interview with Sen. John McCain | Interview with Sen. Dick Durbin

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