Abramoff E-mails Show Use of Campaign Contributions; GOP, Burns, Taylor In Spotlight


E-mails obtained by the Associated Press indicate how Abramoff’s team used the lure of campaign contributions to obtain an earmark for a school construction project desired by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan

Abramoff’s team worked with Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to get the Senate Democrats, then in control of the Senate, to request the money. Abramoff also turned to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) to write the earmarked provision for the money. The plan hit a snag when a lone GOP House staffer, Joel Kaplan, objected to the money. That is when the e-mails become of interest:

A staffer for the National Republican Congressional Committee, Jonathan Poe, suggested Abramoff’s team compile a list of tribal donations, comparing Republicans with Democrats, to help make the case for lawmakers to overrrule Kaplan, the e-mails state.

Poe’s "suggestion for me was to have a list of money contributed by tribes broken down ‘r’ to ‘d’ so that I can make the cleanest argument that we are about to let the Senate Democrats take credit for the biggest ask of the year by the most Republican-leaning tribes," Abramoff lobbying associate Neil Volz wrote.

Abramoff’s team obliged, creating a tally that showed his tribal clients overwhelmingly donated to Republicans — $225,000 compared with $79,000 for Democrats.

The Abramoff team’s pressure came the same day the NRCC, the GOP’s fundraising arm for Republican House candidates, held its major fundraising dinner with President Bush. The Saginaw were a dinner sponsor, donating $50,000.

Aside from the Republican Party getting involved in Abramoff’s contribution-for-action scheme two specific lawmakers come up for scrutiny in the e-mails:

In early 2003, Kaplan’s new boss, House subcommittee chairman Charles Taylor, R-N.C., ended any problems in the House when he signed onto the Saginaw money. Burns’ office took up the fight in the Senate.

Both oversaw subcomittees that controlled Interior’s budget, and the two lawmakers wrote a letter in May 2003 in an effort to overcome resistance inside Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was arguing the Saginaw shouldn’t qualify for the school program.

The blunt letter has caught federal investigators’ interest because it referenced correspondence that had been drafted inside Interior but never delivered. Federal agents are investigating whether an Interior official leaked the draft to Abramoff’s team so it could be used by the lawmakers to pressure the department.

In addition, both Burns and Taylor got campaign money around the time of their help.

A month before the letter, Abramoff’s firm threw Taylor a fundraiser on April 11, 2003, that scored thousands of dollars in donations for the lawmaker’s campaign, including $2,000 from Abramoff and $1,000 from the Saginaw. The tribe donated $3,000 more to Taylor a month after the letter.

Burns, likewise, got fresh donations. Several weeks before the letter, Burns collected $1,000 from the Saginaw and $5,000 from another Abramoff tribe. The month after the letter, the Saginaw delivered $4,000 in donations to Burns.

Nothing is coming up Burns these days.