- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

More than a dozen members of Congress intervened to help Indian tribes win federal school construction money while accepting political donations from the tribes, their lobbyist Jack Abramoff or his firm.

The lawmakers hailed from both parties, including a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, Rep. Charles H. Taylor, North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Mr. Abramoff.

Most wrote letters that pressed a reluctant Bush administration to renew a program that provided tribes federal money for building schools. Others worked the congressional budget process to ensure that it happened, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

And most received donations, ranging from $1,000 to more than $74,000, in the weeks just before or after their intervention.

As a group, they collected more than $440,000 from Mr. Abramoff, his firm or his tribal clients from 2001 to 2004.

Special interests with business before Congress commonly provide donations to lawmakers as they lobby, but ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest while performing official duties.

Lawmakers said their letters had nothing to do with Mr. Abramoff and instead were prompted by their desire to keep the government’s Indian school building program alive so tribes in their states might one day benefit.

A former federal prosecutor said the size of the donations and their proximity to official actions could affect the Justice Department investigation of Mr. Abramoff. The lobbyist has been charged with fraud in a Florida case and an associate has pleaded guilty in Washington.

“We’re going to see an awakened Justice Department after years of turning a blind eye to the tie between legislative action and campaign donations,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Sloan. “Members of Congress ought to be in general quaking today and thinking a little more about what they’re willing to do for those contributions.”

Mr. Dorgan, along with Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, signed a Feb. 11, 2002, letter asking the Senate Appropriations Committee for a “long-term extension” of funding for the Indian school building program.

One of Mr. Abramoff’s client tribes, the Mississippi Choctaw, was using the program, and his team was lobbying to extend it for other tribal clients, including the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan. The Saginaw prevailed the next year. The Burns-Dorgan letter specifically mentions the Choctaw.

Nine days later, Mr. Dorgan’s campaign got $2,000 from the Choctaw, and by late spring, his political action committee had received $17,000 more from three other tribes Mr. Abramoff represented and his firm. In all, Mr. Dorgan got nearly $95,000 in Abramoff-related money between 2001 and 2004.

Mr. Burns also benefited handsomely. In the quarter he sent the 2002 letter with Mr. Dorgan, Mr. Burns collected $70,000 in Abramoff tribal donations to one of his political groups and an additional $2,000 to his campaign.

In all, Mr. Burns collected nearly $150,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004.

Mr. Taylor, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees tribal funding, signed the 2003 Burns letter and confirmed that he sent an earlier letter March 18, 2002, signed by several colleagues. Twelve days before, Mr. Taylor received $2,000 from an Abramoff tribe and a few months later a Cherokee tribe donated $1,000.

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