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FEATURE K Street Croupiers How Two of Tom DeLay’s Players Beat the House at the Grand Coushatta Casino BY LOU DUBOSE 0 n May 9, 2001, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff did President George W. Bush a small favor by directing a modest sum of money to Grover Norquist. Norquist was bringing a group of Republican state legislators to the White House to sell them Bush’s proposed tax cuts. He decided to use the event to make a little money for his organization, Americans for Tax Reform. So he had Abramoff ask two American Indian clients for $25,000 each for the privilege of meeting the president. This money ATR raised at the White House three years ago is a small part of a big scandal involving Abramoff, his partner Mike Scanlon, six Indian tribes, $66 million in questionable lobbying fees, and millions of dollars in political contributions. Also entangled in the scandal is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose Washington “network” was offered to Indian casino clients by Abramoff and Scanlon, if the tribes would hire them. DeLay is the only member of Congress associated with Abramoff and Scanlon’s extensive casino tribe dealings. After DeLay used his leadership position to kill a bill that would have taxed Indian casinos, Abramoff and Scanlon used their access to “the Leader” to attract Indian casino clients. \(Neither of the two men seemed to have any interest in Indian almost half of the lobbying fees collected by Abramoff and Scanlon contributed more to DeLay’s political action committee than they did to any other member of Congress in 2002. Because of his close ties with the two men, DeLay is the only member of Congress whose conduct has been questioned in an ongoing Senate committee investigation of the lobbying scandal. Other federal and state agencies are investigating the two men as well. The Indian lobby fee story moved DeLay toward center stage in the Senate shortly after three of his fund-raisers were indicted in Austin and he himself was handed three separate admonishments by the House Ethics Committee for transgressions unrelated to Abramoff and Scanlon. So for DeLay, who is lawyered up and nervously watching a grand jury in Austin, Abramoff and Scanlon represent a third front in what now seems like an endless war over ethical and legal questions involving his fund-raising operations. The paper trail that leads from Norquist’s office to the Coushatta Nation and to the White House illustrates how easily Abramoff and Scanlon extracted money from clients who were flush with casino cash and convinced that any political contributions the Washington lobbyists suggested, and the outrageous fees they charged, would serve the tribes’ interests. Norquist is the brains and muscle behind the policy of a Republican House defined by the “Class of 94,” which made Newt Gingrich speaker and elected DeLay whip. By the time George W. Bush took his constitutional oath in January 2001, Norquist’s weekly meetings between lobbyists and congressional staffers implementing the Gingrich-DeLay revolution were an extension of the permanent Republican government in Washington. He was also overseeing the K Street Project, a DeLay operation which ensures that only Republicans are hired for high-paying jobs on K Streetthe D.C. strip of lobby shops, trade associations, and law firms. He was the most powerful policy advocate in Washington in 2001 and still is today. Norquist’s discreet approach to the Indian tribal leaders provides rare insight into the elaborate lobbying and fund-raising machine that American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein describes as a modern-day Tammany Hall: a pay-to-play operation that moves congressional Republicans into high-paying lobby jobs and then requires them to contribute to the party and its various ancillary groups. While Abramoff and Scanlon enriched themselves, they never forgot who provided them their opportunity to plunder. Both men gave lavishly to Republican PACs and candidates. Abramoff, for example, was a Bush Pioneer, raising $100,000 for the 2004 presidential campaign while giving $40,000 to DeLay’s PACs. Before he was run off the reservation, Abramoff was ranked 93rd nationally among Republican Party donors. Scanlon, only a few years after he finished paying off his college loans, contributed $500,000 to the Republican Governors’ Associationthe single largest donation it received in 2002. The influence the two men wielded in Republican circles was further leveraged by the money they persuaded their Indian clients to contribute. For his go-between with the Indians in the spring of 2001, Norquist logically turned to Abramoff. At Norquist’s request, Abramoff went to the tiny Louisiana Indian tribe that was his most lucrative account and asked for the $25,000 contribution that would also serve as a ticket into the White House. For Chief Lovelin Poncho of the Coushattas, $25,000 was a small request from his go-to guy in Washington. But it was part of a process by which Abramoff and his partner Mike Scanlon moved huge sums of Indian money to political candidates, political action committees, and pet charitiesand to shadowy businesses and nonprofits from which the two 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER .11/19/04