January 23, 2006

In Montana, poor tribes avoid tainted lobbyist funds

By Ellen Thompson

HAVRE, Montana (Reuters) - Does anyone want Senator Conrad
Burns' money?

More than a month ago, the Montana Republican said he would
return about $150,000 in campaign contributions from disgraced
lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in early January in
a U.S. corruption probe, and from Indian tribes.

When that plan failed, the senator tried to give away the
money to Indian tribes in the American West that have not
realized huge profits from the advent of casino gambling.

That didn't work either. Calling the funds "tainted," the
Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council have rejected a donation
of $111,000 from Burns. No other takers had appeared as of
Monday, his campaign manager said.

Tribal leaders in Montana and Wyoming fear the impact
Abramoff's dealings with wealthy tribes in other parts of the
country will have on them. They are concerned federal
appropriations for reservations may become more unpopular and
worry harmful stereotypes of Indians could worsen.

Fort Belknap Reservation vice president Raymond Chandler
described the money as a hot potato and said the "poor tribes"
did not want to be stuck holding it.

The money rejected by the council was given to Burns by
Midwestern and Southern tribes with lucrative casinos, and from
Abramoff. Burns chairs the Senate's Appropriations subcommittee
that oversees federal monies for tribes.

Earlier this month, Abramoff admitted to accepting millions
of dollars in fees from the tribes and then defrauding them of
millions more. He also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and

Montana tribal government leaders want to be as far from
the Abramoff scandal as they already are from the resources of
wealthy tribes with millions to spend on lobbyists.

The growth of Indian gaming in recent years has brought
great wealth to some tribes located near major U.S. population
centers. Such a bonanza had eluded tribes in sparsely populated
sections of the country such as Montana, and Indian poverty is

"We're totally night and day different," said Rocky Boy's
Reservation vice chair Bruce Sun Child. "When we do gaming,
we're thinking more of employment. We're not going to become

Burns campaign manager Tom Bunnell said his office is
trying to get in touch with the four Michigan, Texas, Louisiana
and Mississippi tribes that gave the bulk of Burns' $150,000 so
they can choose recipients. He declined further comment.