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Fs. FEATURE No Picnic at Speaking Rock Washington lobbyists shakedown Indian casinos BY LOU DUBOSE photo: Richard Baron ril he small vignette that unfolded during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last month reads like a heartwarming tale befitting the holiday season. A rich Washington lobbyist reaches out to an impoverished Indian tribe on the Texas-Mexico border and offers to buy insurance for all the tribe’s elders. The insurance will be free to American Indians over 75 years old, even those who are not enrolled members of the tribe. The lobbyist offers to pay all premiums for the Elder Legacy Program. “It means the world to me,” he says. There’s a catch. It’s term life. And death benefits will not be paid to family members, but to a private school in Washington, D.C. The school, founded, funded and directed by the lobbyist, will then pay the tribe’s lobbying fees at his law firm, Greenberg Traurig. It was a bold, innovative plan. Public policy advocacy secured by deferred income based on cold actuarial calculation. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was both benefactor and beneficiary, speculating on the lives of the elder members of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe of El Paso and collecting death benefits in Washington. “I’m glad he didn’t send an undertaker to take measureat the hearing. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/17/04