Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.
Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found.
And this wasn’t chump change that Democrats, as well as Republicans, got in exchange for their pen-pal campaigns with Norton.
Reid got $66,000 from Abramoff, for example.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004.
Now, more Republicans than Democrats, especially higher up the leadership ranks, participated in this. But, with Reid himself signing off, it’s a lot harder for Democrats to raise this as a partisan issue. That means it’s much less likely that, outside any trials, Congress will take any official further looks at it.
Oh, let’s not have anybody try to defend Reid (and Ensign) on grounds that they were defending Nevada gaming. A number of California Indian tribes, much closer to Las Vegas and Reno than Louisiana is, already have casino gambling.
The one plus? It may put Norton under more pressure to straighten out the 100-year-old plus Bureau of Indian Affairs financial mismanagement problem before she gets criminal contempt charges, with trial, on top of the civil contempt citations she’s already gotten. It may not do that, but there’s always hope.
And, of course, the hidden story is related to that — the continued jerking that many tribes get at the hand of government agencies and elected officials.
Update: I also posted this at Daily Kos, where (as I halfway expected) it drew some degree of flak from the “run the Democrats up the flagpole and salute them” crowd. That's me the contrarian progressive as well as the skeptical one. Not all of the 70-plus comments (including my own) as of 5 p.m. are knee-jerk, but certainly some are.
Update 2, Nov. 21: Now that Abramoff lobbying partner Michael Scanlon has pled guilty to one conspiracy count and has revealed he has been cooperating with the government for five months, I don’t get why Reid doesn’t have a sense of urgency and seriousness about this. (And I would like to see knee-jerk Democrat Kos posters respond to this now.)
Update 3, Dec. 4: In response to a post by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, I did yet more thinking about this, and what follows is taken from what I e-mailed him.
Reid has plenty of Indian casino gambling over his shoulder in California, as I noted above in the original post. Beyond that, he's got more of it in front of him in Arizona. Further away, but still closer than any of the Abramoff-connected tribes, there's a fair amount in New Mexico.
When Angelinos and San Diegans can gamble in the area around Palm Springs rather than Vegas, some rural Louisiana casino isn't going to be any serious ding on Nevada gaming. Besides, many Nevada houses have non-Indian casinos elsewhere -- such as Shreveport/Bossier City, speaking of Louisiana.