Tribe Wants Abramoff Contributions Back
By SUZANNE GAMBOA
Associated Press Writer
January 6, 2006, 9:39 PM EST
WASHINGTON -- The Tigua tribe of El Paso wants
campaign contributions it gave while employing
disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff returned to the
tribe, not given to charity.
Arturo Senclair, governor of the tribe officially
known as the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, said Friday that
the tribe isn't demanding its donations back but that
anyone returning money should check with the Tiguas
"It's up to them and their conscience. They've got to
live with it," Senclair said. "But if they are going
to donate it back to a charity, I'm sure the tribe
would rather have it back than the charity, because we
could use the money now."
Abramoff pleaded guilty this week to federal charges
in a bribery investigation that is now focusing on
members of Congress and their aides. Since his plea
deal, lawmakers have been ridding themselves of
donations from Abramoff, his clients, former employers
The tribe, based in El Paso, Texas, operated the
Speaking Rock casino for nearly nine years before it
was shut down in 2002 by a ruling in a lawsuit filed
three years earlier by then-Texas Attorney General
John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator.
The Tiguas paid Abramoff and his former business
partner Michael Scanlon $4.2 million to lobby
lawmakers and allow them to reopen the casino. The
tribe contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 to
congressional campaigns between 2002 and 2004 based on
Abramoff's direction, Senclair said.
Even though he was hired by the Tiguas, Abramoff has
admitted he never told the tribe he had also been
working with former Christian Coalition head Ralph
Reed to lobby for closure of the casino. He also
admitted to telling the tribe he would work for free,
while he was taking half the net profits Scanlon's
public relations company he told the tribe to hire.
Now, Senclair said, the tribe needs that money.
More than 900 jobs were lost when the casino closed
and the tribal council has been forced to cut jobs on
the reservation. The tribe has about 1,300 members,
with 450 families on the reservation. Also, tribes are
facing 5 percent reductions in money the federal
government provides for health, education and social
services, he said.
Senclair said with the exception of Rep. Henry
Cuellar, D-El Paso, no lawmakers had contacted the
tribe by Friday afternoon to ask whether they want
their contributions returned. Cuellar received $500
from the Tiguas in 2002 and is returning it.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is keeping $3,000
from the tribe, saying she does not know Abramoff and
returning the contributions would be an insult to the
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, received $1,000 from the
tribe and said Thursday he would give it to the USO of
Dallas-Fort Worth. His office was unaware of the
tribe's preference when contacted.
Spokesmen for the National Republican Congressional
Committee and National Republican Senatorial
Committee, which received $20,000 and $30,000 in 2002
respectively, said the groups are not returning
The Democratic Senatorial Committee received $3,000
from the tribe. A spokesman there had no comment.
Arizona Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth, co-chairman of
the congressional Native American Caucus, has letters
from tribes saying they did not want contributions
returned. The Tigua did not send such a letter to
Hayworth, who has received $2,000 from the tribe.
"If they've changed their minds and let us know they
want to have their contribution back, we'd be glad to
do that," spokesman Larry VanHoose said.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana, recently gave up his
Abramoff-connected contributions, which included
$21,000 from the tribe. Any money linked to Abramoff
through his clients went back to the tribes, spokesman
Matt Mackowiak said.
The tribe is not alone in wanting money back.
Ronnie Thomas, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta of
Livingston, said the tribe wants its $50,000 it gave
to the Capital Athletic Foundation to help pay for a
trip Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio took to Scotland. The
foundation was started by Abramoff.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Talhelm in Washington
contributed to this report.