News

Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

Page 4 of 12

After a recitation of his clients' fears that a new casino would harm existing tribal casinos, O'Connor cut to the chase:

"I would also like to relate the politics involved in this situation:
"1. Governor Thompson of Wisconsin supports this project.
"2. Senator Al D'Amato supports this project because it bails out Delaware North, the company that owns this defunct dog track and also operated another dog track in Wisconsin. Delaware North is located in Buffalo, New York.

"3. The chairman of the Indian tribe in the forefront of this project is active in Republican party politics; this year he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Wisconsin State Senate.

"4. All of the representatives of the tribes that met with Chairman Fowler are Democrats and have been so for years. I can testify to their previous financial support to the DNC and the 1992 Clinton-Gore Campaign Committee.

"5. The entire Minnesota (Democrats and Republicans) Congressional delegation oppose this project. The Wisconsin Democratic Congressional delegation (including Congressman Gunderson in whose district the dog track is located) oppose the project."

The correspondence with Ickes is extraordinary. O'Connor's brazenness in asking Ickes to break the law is exceeded only by his fiction.

Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson was mentioned no doubt because he was rumored to be a possible GOP vice presidential candidate and therefore, according to O'Connor, this should be a factor in White House thinking. But an ally of O'Connor's said the governor was not supportive of the casino.

In a May 23, 1995, memorandum between lobbyists working with O'Connor, Ann Jablonsky wrote, "I guess I would not say Thompson supports this project because he has not publicly made that statement, far from it."

Nor were the relevant congressional delegates united in opposition to the casino. Three members of the House from Wisconsin were insistently neutral, saying this was a matter among Indians.

And the fight was not between Republican Indians and Democratic Indians, as O'Connor would have Ickes believe. Not that it is pertinent to the decision, but in fact all of the tribes in this issue are strongly Democrat.

And the Delaware North smear is a flat-out lie.
Throughout the lobbying process, O'Connor's operatives quietly circulated newspaper articles that recounted the alleged mob ties of the Buffalo firm's founder, a man who passed away in 1968.

Delaware North does not, and has never, owned the Hudson dog track under consideration.

The Hudson track owners have filed a libel lawsuit for having been linked to the Mafia.

Delaware North is considering similar action.
It is against the law for Interior policy to evolve out of partisan politics or campaign contributions, and yet these are precisely the issues O'Connor asked Ickes to focus upon. It is also illegal for the White House to insert itself into the decision-making process at Interior.

Yet Ickes aides repeatedly contacted Interior on his behalf.
Patrick O'Connor did not rest simply because he'd managed to get the attention of the President of the United States.

On April 28, he took tribal leaders opposed to the casino to Washington, D.C., to meet with Don Fowler, chairman of the DNC.

Tribal leader Lewis Taylor recalled in his deposition discussing the casino and offering to raise cash for the DNC.

"I told Mr. Fowler that, you know, that we've got a number of heavy-duty issues," said Taylor. "We needed help and our friends are the Democrats and, therefore, I think we should donate to assist in some of these causes."

Because the DNC raises millions of dollars for Democrats, Fowler has incredible clout and access, yet any effort to influence decisions would lead to a grand jury or a special prosecutor.

Fowler testified that he was merely letting his old friend O'Connor vent and had no ulterior motives.

Yet a recently released memorandum conveys some insight into DNC thinking.
Before Fowler met with O'Connor and the Minnesota tribes, an aide wrote him a note outlining what the delegation wished to discuss. The memo is covered in handwritten notes, including questions about fund raising among the Indians.

"What happens to our relationship with Wisconsin tribes? Do they donate to DNC? Minnesota Indians give to DNC. WI doesn't," read the margin scrawl.

Fowler contacted Ickes asking for assistance and reminding the White House aide that he was calling on behalf of DNC supporters.

Fowler testified that he also contacted someone, he can't remember who, at Interior.

Babbitt's chief of staff, Tom Collier, said in his deposition that although he could not recall talking to the head of the DNC, if Fowler contacted anyone, it would have been him.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey