Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

When wealthy casino tribes sought to derail a would-be competitor, campaign donations were the currency of the day

"He [Ickes] laughed and just said, 'I told you I would. I will,'" said Schneider.

Ickes' staff began contact with Interior on May 18 and continued to call through the first week of June.

The three tribes and the dog-track partner seeking the casino permit did not mount a national lobbying effort until the closing moments of the drama, when they realized they were about to be torpedoed. They simply, and naively, went through the regulatory process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior.

In contrast, O'Connor mounted a no-stone-unturned effort in which he pushed the following buttons on behalf of his clients: President Bill Clinton, Clinton aide Bill Lindsey, White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, DNC chairman Don Fowler, DNC finance director David Mercer, Democratic senators and fund raisers Bob Kerry and Tom Daschle, the chief fund raiser for Clinton-Gore '96 and national finance co-chair of the '92 Clinton campaign, Tom Schneider.

As O'Connor's lobbying with the Democratic party's financial apparatus began to congeal into opposition against the Hudson casino, Paul Eckstein strolled into this web of campaign fund raisers on May 2 like a sheep about to be shorn by a rough-handed Basque.

On July 13, Paul Eckstein flew to Washington, D.C.
That evening Tom Schneider hosted a fund raiser in his yard for Clinton that raised $420,000; the president attended.

The next day, the Interior Department killed the Hudson casino. Paul Eckstein left Bruce Babbitt's office, their friendship in ruins and Babbitt's stature in the Democratic party poised to fall from pillar to pariah. Babbitt's own comments about White House intervention and campaign contributions had set the stage for the ugliest chapter in Babbitt's political career.

Astroturf Opposition
After contacting the Interior Department, White House aide Jennifer O'Connor (no relation to Patrick O'Connor) wrote a memo to her boss, Harold Ickes. She informed him that the Hudson casino application was ready to be killed.

O'Connor noted that Interior's justification for the casino denial focused on three areas of concern: political opposition from the Minnesota congressional delegation as well as that state's tribal casino interests; political fallout from the expansion of Indian gaming; and, finally, the excuse Interior would settle upon publicly to scuttle the casino, sentiment in the town of Hudson.

"The local community is almost uniformly opposed to the casino," wrote O'Connor.

Following an inquiry from a senator, Babbitt asked special assistant Heather Sibbison to write a memorandum in reply.

Sibbison confirmed the importance of local resistance as a justification. It was the first line of defense in her response.

"The Common Council of the City of Hudson adopted a resolution expressing opposition to casino gambling at the dog track . . . ," wrote Sibbison.

Indeed, when the announcement of denial was issued on July 14, the deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Michael Anderson, wrote in his three-page order: ". . . the Common Council of the City of Hudson adopted a resolution expressing its opposition to casino gambling . . ."

None of which is true.
Hudson's city fathers never adopted a resolution opposing the casino.
Like any controversial issue, gambling had its supporters as well as detractors in Hudson.

Voters, however, had approved gaming at the polls and the town had signed a contract with the casino operators contingent on Interior's approval. Opponents refused to accept the results, pushing a resolution through the council that said that while the casino was not opposed, neither was it supported.

Still not satisfied, anticasino forces attempted to get a resolution passed that specifically opposed the casino.

Unfortunately, the momentous council vote that both the White House and Interior hid behind was a clumsy charade covered in the greasy fingerprints of the rich tribes and their antigaming allies in Hudson. As much as an expression of local community will, the council's behavior had its roots in gambling interests in Minnesota. In the end, the antigaming initiative was so transparent, so beyond the law, that its sponsors in Hudson were forced to drop the matter.

Meet the Tilsen family.
Ken Tilsen is an attorney who practiced for decades in Minnesota before taking up arms in Wisconsin.

Asked in a deposition about Tilsen's identity, lobbyist Patrick O'Connor is vague.

"He has done some work for some of the Indians. I can't recall which tribe," said O'Connor.

More to the point, the minutes for the March 16, 1994, meeting of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association reflect Tilsen's presence and participation:

". . . Mr. McCarthy took the roll, a quorum was present. Mr. Ellis (chairman) introduced Mr. Ken Tilsen who gave a report on the (Hudson) dog-track issue. Doug Twait made a comment thanking Mr. Tilsen for his comments. Mr. Townsend asked some questions on the financial issue and on the position of the Governor of Wisconsin. Mr. McCarthy was instructed to set up another meeting with Mr. Tilsen."

Back in Wisconsin, Tilsen served on two informal committees: A Better Future for Hudson and the Friends of Hudson.

The Better Future committee stirred up opposition to the casino and even purchased a full-page ad in the local daily; Tilsen wrote the ad's text.

The other committee, the Friends of Hudson, worked to get John Breault, an antigambling candidate, elected mayor.

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