News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Shreveport Times | Some La. congressional delegates benefitted from Abramoff events

By Ana Radelat

WASHINGTON -- Besides giving lawmakers hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash and urging his clients to do the same, lobbyist Jack Abramoff also booked fundraisers for dozens of lawmakers at his now-closed restaurant and arranged for other campaign events to be held in luxury suites at Washington-area sports venues.

Campaign finance records show dozens of lawmakers benefited from the fundraisers, including several Louisiana lawmakers. Some are returning the cost of those events to charities and American Indian tribes.

U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, R-Shreveport, was the beneficiary of two fundraisers in 2003 and 2004 held at Signatures, Abramoff's tiny Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant. One was hosted by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association. The other was arranged by the Washington law firm of Akin Gump, the lawmaker said.

"I just showed up," said McCrery, who said he's returning about $35,000 in donations from Indian tribes who were Abramoff's clients.

McCrery also said Abramoff did not attend either fundraiser.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, was also a recipient of a fundraiser at Signatures in September 2003. But he didn't pay for the event until April 2005. He said he did not realize it hadn't been charged to his campaign credit card. He also said he was unaware Abramoff was the host of the fundraiser.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion and has been accused of bilking his Indian clients, most of whom ran gaming casinos, out of tens of millions of dollars.

He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to lawmakers and urged his Indian clients to do the same.

Every member of the Louisiana delegation received contributions from Abramoff's clients, including U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, who received $11,500 and former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-Crowley, who received $13,750.

Many lawmakers had returned the contributions from the Indian tribes, including U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who is giving the equivalent of a $2,000 donation from the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana to the hurricane recovery effort. Boustany has also decided to give back money from PACs run by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who are closely linked the lobbying scandal.

Boustany is also returning a $1,000 donation from former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who is co-operating with authorities after pleading guilty in a corruption case.

Besides giving political donations, Abramoff's clients spent hundreds of dollars to rent skyboxes to host fundraising events at Washington's MCI Center, Baltimore's Camden Yards, home of the Orioles major league baseball team and Fedex Field, home of the Washington Redskins football team. Some of the tribes who footed the bill for these sports suites included the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, was among those who benefited from a skybox fundraiser, held in September 2003 at Camden Yards. He plans to give $904, the amount the lawmaker determined was the cost of that fundraiser, to charity.

"He's not determined what charity, but it will be donated to charity," said Alexander press secretary Adam Terry.

Terry also said Alexander never attended the fundraiser or met Abramoff. He received $2,000 from the Chitimacha tribe.

Others who were treated to sports-box fundraisers include Reps. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.; J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.; Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas; and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, is among those who have held fundraisers at Signatures.

In 2002, Tauzin held two events in the restaurant for his leadership PAC, the Bayou Leader Political Action Committee. Tauzin received $30,000 in political cash from Abramoff's tribal clients.

Former Rep. Chris John, D-Crowley, also used Signatures to hold a fundraiser in May 2002 for his Gumbo PAC. John who is weighing whether to challenge Boustany received $15,000 in donations from Abramoff's Indian clients.

The upscale restaurant between the Capitol and the White House was a popular watering hole and fundraising site for mostly Republican lawmakers before it closed last year.

Among the dozens of lawmakers holding fundraisers at Signatures were House Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri, Robert Ney, R-Ohio, John T. Doolittle, R-Calif., Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Tiahrt.

Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, the Republican conference chairman, held 10 fundraisers at the restaurant.

"It had good food, good service and a good location," said Pryce press secretary Sean Spicer.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the flow of money in politics, said the much of the fundraising at Signatures probably did not have much to do with Abramoff directly, unless he hosted an event or discounted the price of food and drink.

Noble surmised that Abramoff opened Signatures to increase his prestige in Washington and increase his access to lawmakers.

"It let him get cozy with a whole lot of lawmakers," Noble said.


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