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Abramoff Scandal
Abramoff scandal leaves reforms to tribes, not Congress

Tribes worried about potential restrictions on their political activities found some major concessions in a Senate Indian Affairs Committee report released on Thursday.

Since taking control of the committee in 2005, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) has been pushing for lobbying reforms. He's introduced two bills, including one tribal-specific proposal, in hopes of changing the way people do business in the nation's capitol.

But after two years of investigating Jack Abramoff's complex web of deceit, fraud and greed, McCain's committee came to the conclusion that no new legislation is needed. Instead, the report recommends tribes beef up their own internal systems to prevent future scandals.

"The committee thus finds no reason or basis to carve out or create a special category for fraud against Indian tribes under federal law," the 373-report, written by the Republican and Democratic staff, stated.

The report urges tribes to develop contracting and conflict of interest laws to ensure that legal, lobbying and other contracts are subjected to an open and transparent process. In the Abramoff case, some of the agreements were kept hidden from tribal members or tribal officials who disagreed with the hiring of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon.

"Tribal governments, as the government closest and most responsive to tribal members, are best able to develop laws and regulations that appropriately take into account the unique history, cultural and legal authorities of a particular tribe," the committee said.

The committee also urged tribes to strengthen their elections processes. For at least two tribes, Abramoff and Scanlon injected themselves into their elections in hopes of installing candidates who would be favorable to signing contracts for more and more money.

With regard to political contributions, millions of which were an issue in the Abramoff scandal, the panel likewise deferred to tribes. Rather than restrict the ability of tribes to make campaign contributions, as some Republicans have proposed, the committee suggested a bare minimum of changes.

Tribes should be required to obtain a unique identifier from the Federal Election Commission, the report said. This would enable contributions to be tracked in a more transparent manner and could be done through a new FEC rule or by legislation, according to the committee.

"In the opinion of the committee," the report stated, "these public disclosure recommendations adequately protect the public trust and confidence in the Federal election system, without unduly excluding Indian tribes from participating in that system.

The conclusion of the investigation was welcomed by the National Congress of American Indians. In a statement, President Joe Garcia said the report confirms that Abramoff violated the trust not only of tribes but of his lobbying firm, major banks and the public.

"It is our hope that Chairman McCain's report closes the door on Mr. Abramoff's activities, allowing Congress to focus on the many pressing issues facing our communities," Garcia said. "Indian Country will continue to work aggressively on areas such as providing quality and affordable health care, improving education for our youth, developing self-sustaining economies, and protecting tribal sovereignty.

The rest of the report is dedicated to retelling the now familiar story of Abramoff's rise to prominence as one of the top Republican lobbyists. It describes how he started with his first tribal client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, more than 10 years ago, and grew a multi-million dollar practice that relied on hefty fees paid by newly wealthy tribes.

The fraud apparently didn't start until mid-June 2001, when Scanlon suggested he and Abramoff enter into a new partnership. Abramoff urged tribes to hire Scanlon and other associated entities and the pair would then split half of the profits under a scheme they called "gimme five."

Six tribes ended up pouring at least $66 million into the Abramoff-Scanlon arrangement The amount doesn't include the lobbying fees that the tribes paid to Abramoff's firms and the campaign contributions they may have made at Abramoff's insistence.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Abramoff Report:

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