Funds from the Coushatta Indian Tribe paid to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) at the suggestion of lobbyist Jack Abramoff appear to have paid for a public opinion survey provided to U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and others at the Department, according to documents released Thursday by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The documents are part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation of the dealings of Abramoff and Michael Scanlon with the Coushatta and other Indian Tribes. Abramoff, Scanlon and others are under investigation for fraud, tax evasion and other charges related to their billing the Indian Tribes more than $80 million in lobbying fees.
An email exchange between Abramoff colleague Kathryn Van Hoof and Eric LaRoque of the Coushatta Tribe obtained by the Senate Indian Affairs committee documents a payment of $50,000 to “pay ½ the cost of a poll conducted by the Council for Republican Environmental Advocacy, which is being conducted on behalf of Gayle Norton, Secretary of Interior.” Additional emails document the provision of the check to Jack Abramoff, who passed it on to CREA President Italia Federici.
According to documents obtained from the Justice Department by the National Resources Defense Council, CREA provided the Interior Department with public opinion research (dated 5/16/01) from focus groups in several cities suggesting how to talk about energy issues and emphasizing using rising gas prices to promote increased drilling. The research concludes, “language that . . . emphasizes price increases in gasoline and natural gas and the California situation resonates with voters and makes the case that “Gasoline price stability is the single most potent argument for opening up ANWR.” ANWR is the Alaskan National Wilderness Refuge, and opening it to oil drilling has been a priority for the Bush Administration.
The survey was apparently the featured topic of discussion at a fund raising dinner hosted by Republican rainmaker Julie Finley on September 24, 2001 and attended by Secretary Norton and other top level officials at Interior, as well as by industry interests and representatives of the Coushatta and other Indian Tribes. The emails indicate that the tribes paid $50,000 each to participate in dinners set up by CREA.
At Thursday’s Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Federici denied any wrongdoing. But the documents released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committe indicate that she intervened on multiple occasions with top level contacts at the Department of Interior at the request of Abramoff on behalf of the interests of his Indian gaming clients. CREA reportedly received at least $250,000 from Indian gaming interests at Abramoff’s behest. “I am letting EVERYONE know that you are the only reason we have the funding to do this,” said Federici in an email to Abramoff. The documents also indicate that Abramoff considered Federici as essential to his operation, writing in one email to a colleague “did we not request money for CREA from them? (Indian Tribe) That’s our access to Norton. We need $ for them more than many of these others.”
John McDonald writes a political blog called RockThrower. Read RockThrower at www.rockthrower.blogs.com