Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tribes, 'tired of being used,' reject senator's donation

Tribes, 'tired of being used,' reject senator's donation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council has rejected a $111,000 donation from the campaign of Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, with some saying the money is tainted because it originally came from lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients.

James Steele Jr., also chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said yesterday that the council voted not to accept the donation, which was made up of contributions from Abramoff, his associates and his tribal clients.

Julia Doney, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council, a member of the tribal leaders council, said that some tribes are "tired of being used" and do not want to appear as if they are helping Burns.

In a statement Wednesday, Burns campaign chairman Mark Baker called the decision "disappointing" and said Burns would redirect most of the funds to the tribes that originally donated the money. Burns, a Republican, said in December that he would give away and return $146,700 in donations in order to avoid the appearance of improper connections to Abramoff, who pleaded guilty two weeks ago to federal corruption charges.

Abramoff admitted to conspiring to defraud Indian tribes, which he sometimes directed to make contributions to lawmakers. Since his plea agreement, many lawmakers have rushed to donate money connected to him and his clients or return it.

"To us it's tainted money," Doney said Wednesday. "If he wanted us to have extra money, he would have given it to us in other ways."

Burns returned some of the funds directly to Abramoff's tribal clients. But Baker, the campaign chairman, said last week that they were not able to return some of the larger donations — $20,000 from the Tigua tribe of El Paso, for example — because the account where the money landed has since been closed. A total of $111,000 was designated for the Montana-Wyoming tribal council instead.

Arturo Senclair, governor of the Tigua tribe, said then that Burns should have returned the money by donating to a charity that benefits the Tiguas, who hired Abramoff to help reopen a casino that had been closed down.

In his statement, Baker said Burns will contact the tribes that originally donated the campaign dollars "and determine from their counsel which charitable organization a comparable contribution should be given."

Burns has denied he was influenced by donations from Abramoff.

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