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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Abercrombie intends to hold on to donation

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, will not return a $2,000 campaign contribution from an Indian tribe that contracted with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a spokesman for the congressman said yesterday.

But Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, a long-serving member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said that if any tribe requests it, he will return contributions from any year.

Abramoff, 46, pleaded guilty this week in federal court to fraud, conspiracy and tax-evasion charges stemming from his dealings with Indian tribes. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in a Florida business deal to buy the SunCruz casino boat business.

Over the past six years, Abramoff and Indian tribes that he represented gave more than $4.4 million in political contributions to more than 240 lawmakers. Lawmakers in both parties have rushed in recent weeks to return the money or give it to charity.

But it is not uncommon, or improper, for tribes to make political donations to lawmakers who oversee tribal issues. The amount of tribal political contributions has increased in recent years with the spread of Indian gaming, as tribes attempt to compete with corporate gaming interests.

Three Indian tribes that contracted with Abramoff contributed a total of $6,000 to Inouye's 2002 and 2004 re-election campaigns. The $2,000 contribution to Abercrombie from one tribe was for his 2002 campaign.

Inouye said he had "no interaction" with Abramoff until he appeared before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2004. The former lobbyist refused to answer the committee's questions, asserting his right not to testify against himself.

"It became very apparent that Mr. Abramoff did not work in the best interests of his Indian tribe clients," Inouye said in a statement.

Inouye received $1,000 in 2002 and 2004 from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, Calif.; $2,000 in 2004 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians near Philadelphia, Miss.; and $2,000 in 2004 from the Pueblo of Sandia in central New Mexico.

"Those tribes have contributed to my campaigns for a number of years before they were retained by Mr. Abramoff," Inouye said. "I believe I have the support of those three tribes and dozens of others because I have worked for the betterment of Indian Country."

The Agua Caliente also contributed $2,000 to Abercrombie's 2002 campaign but the February contribution came before the tribe formally hired Abramoff in July.

"Once Abramoff became involved with the tribe, we did not receive any money from them," said Mike Slackman, spokesman for Abercrombie, who serves on the House Resources Committee with jurisdiction over Indian affairs.

Slackman said the congressman did not plan on returning the contribution.

"It's a perfectly legitimate, legal contribution and it's untainted by any association with Abramoff," he said. "To give it back implies that there is something wrong with the donor or the contribution and these guys were the victims of Abramoff."

Advertiser staff writer Derrick DePledge and USA Today writers Jim Drinkard and Kevin Johnson contributed to this report.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.