Dorgan returns tribal gifts
BISMARCK - Stung by recent news that he accepted money tainted by a high-powered Washington lobbyist he's charged with investigating, Sen.
BISMARCK - Stung by recent news that he accepted money tainted by a high-powered Washington lobbyist he's charged with investigating, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday he's returned $67,000 in political contributions to donors tied to the man.
Dorgan said he returned all political donations that may have been connected to Jack Abramoff, who is under investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for allegedly bilking American Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars.
Dorgan is the ranking Democrat on the committee and has blasted Abramoff as "crooked" and "corrupt," saying he and Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have "uncovered a disgusting tale of greed and outright fraud."
Tribes donated the campaign funds to Dorgan over a four-year period. It was all returned last week, he said.
While the money was legally donated and properly reported to the Federal Election Commission as required, Dorgan said Monday, "I don't want one cent related to this guy. I think returning this money is the right thing."
Dorgan directed staff at his campaign committee and Great Plains Leadership Fund political action committee to go through the books and identify and return all contributions "from tribes represented by Mr. Abramoff's law firm and from individuals employed by his law firm during the time he was at the firm," he said.
"I will not knowingly keep even one dollar in contributions if there is even a remote possibility that they could have been the result of any action Mr. Abramoff might have taken."
Dorgan's campaign committee returned $24,000 and the Great Plains Leadership Fund returned $43,000, he said.
Starting with an Associated Press story published Nov. 25, Dorgan and other members of Congress have been the subject of what Dorgan called "pretty unpleasant" articles questioning the timing of political donations from tribes Abramoff represented.
The AP reported Dorgan received nearly $95,000 in Abramoff-related money between 2001 and 2004.
Asked about the discrepancy between the amount he returned and the amount the AP said he received, Dorgan said, "There are all kinds of figures out there."
Dorgan said a Washington Post story put his Abramoff-related donations at $44,000, and other reports mention $70,000.
Dorgan said he had his staff figure out the correct amount and that's what he reimbursed.
The donations often came just days after Dorgan or other lawmakers took significant steps to push legislation helping certain tribes.
For instance, a lawyer for one tribe, the Louisiana Coushatta, told the AP in November that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Dorgan's political group three weeks after he urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program the Coushatta wanted.
The March 6, 2002, check was among more than 60 the tribe issued that day to various lawmakers' campaigns and political groups, the AP said.
"If he (Abramoff) was directing any of his clients to make a political contribution to me, it was done without my knowledge," Dorgan said Dec. 1 in a prepared statement.
Dorgan said the various actions favorable to tribes began long before the questionable donations were made. He has "worked for many years to improve the lives of American Indians," he said.
When the senator first answered the AP's stories, he did so at Bismarck's United Tribes Technical College, where President David Gipp praised Dorgan as having worked for the benefit of Indians since he was state tax commissioner in the 1970s.
The Forum called four tribes listed by the AP as donating money related to Abramoff lobbying to see if they had received any of Dorgan's returned money.
No one at the tribal offices of the Saginaw Chippewa, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; Louisiana Coushatta, Elton, La.; Mississippi Choctaw, Philadelphia, Miss., and the Mashpee Wampanoag, Mashpee, Mass., could be reached late Monday, and they did not immediately respond to messages left seeking comment.
Dorgan said some of the other lawmakers identified by the AP have announced they will not return Abramoff-related donations because all were legally contributed and reported.
Dorgan also said Monday that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation into Abramoff's dealings with tribes is "very close to being done."
He has dismissed suggestions that he should step aside from the investigation in light of the donations, saying he had aggressively pursued Abramoff's activities.
"We (the committee members) are the ones that turned up this fraud," Dorgan said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830