Abramoff’s Election Meddling

Here’s an underreported angle to the Jack Abramoff investigation: his repeated efforts to undermine democratic elections. At least three instances of this have been reported over the last couple years, and in two of the three, cooperation from Tom DeLay’s office was essential to Abramoff’s strategy.

Here’s how it worked: a lot of Jack Abramoff’s business came from small governments like Indian tribes and U.S. territories. In a number of instances, rather than sit on his thumbs while they elected a potentially unfriendly government, he decided to move in and make sure his guy got elected.

As far as I can tell, he tried this at least three times – and was successful twice.Guam: As was recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, Abramoff tried to sabotage Guam’s Democratic candidate for governor in 1998. How? By instigating a corruption investigation (ah, the irony). This one didn’t work. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. On Oct. 26, 1998, Abramoff emailed DeLay’s aide Tony Rudy to see if DeLay could call for a corruption investigation:

Within a few hours, [Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon (then an aide to DeLay)] released a statement from Mr. DeLay and a letter to the Department of the Interior’s inspector general calling for a federal investigation into the Democratic governor. “The allegations and materials I reviewed point to serious corruption” by the governor, Mr. DeLay said in the letter.

The Marianas: At the end of 1998, Abramoff’s contract with the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) had been allowed to expire, and Abramoff wasn’t happy about it. In late 1999, he saw his opportunity to change that: the CNMI’s legislature was selecting a new speaker, and Beningo Fitial, a friend of Abramoff’s needed two votes to win. So Ed Buckham (formerly Tom DeLay’s chief of staff, then at Alexander Strategy Group) and Michael Scanlon (who at the time was still working for DeLay) flew over to the Marianas to sway two of the legislators. How? With promises that their pet projects would get funded. The two legislators voted for Fitial; and Fitial, once elected, saw to it that Jack Abramoff was once again hired as the CNMI’s lobbyist. And the legislators, possibly through DeLay’s intervention, saw their projects funded.

Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewa Tribe: In the fall of 2001, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan, not yet an Abramoff client, was having elections for its 12-member tribal council. Scanlon and Abramoff came up with what they called their “Slate of Eight” – eight candidates whom they’d throw their force behind. They threw $100,000 into the race to help their candidates campaign, and seven out of their eight candidates won. “We now control 9 out of the 12 seats on the council” wrote Scanlon after the election. Two days later, the tribe voted to hire Abramoff and Scanlon.