Antitax activist says he got $1.5m from tribes
Set up policy talks with president
WASHINGTON -- Antitax activist Grover Norquist said yesterday that his organization has received nearly $1.5 million from Indian tribes in the past five years and that he arranged for tribal leaders to attend meetings to discuss tax policy with President Bush every year for the past four years.
Indian tribes have opposed longstanding proposals to impose a federal tax on their gaming revenues. A White House official said Bush did meet with tribal leaders in small groups that also included state legislators but said that federal policy on Indian casinos was not discussed.
Norquist, who has never before revealed the extent of the money he received from Indians, said he invited the tribes to meet with Bush because they supported the president's tax cut policies, not to lobby for casino interests.
Norquist also said for the first time that his group, Americans for Tax Reform, sent $1.15 million, which came from a single Indian tribe that runs a casino in Mississippi, to two antigambling groups who were opposing rival gaming operations in next-door Alabama.
The Alabama Christian Coalition, which has a strict policy against receiving money tied to gambling interests, received $850,000, and Citizens Against Legalized Lottery received $300,000, Norquist said.
Norquist said he sent money to the two antigambling groups in Alabama because the tribe wanted to block gambling competition in that state. He said he and his staff never informed the Alabama Christian Coalition about the original source of the funds.
John Giles, president of the Alabama Christian Coalition, confirmed that he received a contribution from Americans for Tax Reform in 2000 and was never told the money originated from a tribe with gambling interests. ''I confirm to you that ATR was a donor, and we do not accept gambling money directly or indirectly, period," Giles said.
Jim Cooper, the former chairman of Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, said he recalled receiving a large donation but didn't have his records available to confirm that it was $300,000. But he said that ''to the best of our knowledge we received no money from sources related to gambling."
Norquist's role in helping the Indian tribes has been examined during investigations into his longtime friend, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who consulted for Indian tribes with gaming interests and advised them to donate large sums to organizations with ties to top Republicans. Two Senate committees and the Justice Department are all probing allegations that Abramoff took advantage of the tribes and used them to funnel money to his friends.
Norquist agreed to be interviewed this week to respond to questions from the Globe about his role in helping Indian tribes with casino interests and his connection to Abramoff, a friend from his days organizing college Republicans in Massachusetts.
A native of Weston, Mass., Norquist, 48, has become one of the most influential figures in Washington, bringing together White House officials and leading conservatives in weekly meetings to promote policies that cut taxes. He has always refused to reveal the names of donors to his group -- a refusal he said he recently repeated to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which is investigating groups lobbying for Indian tribes.
Norquist said his group's role in setting up White House meetings for tribal leaders, and his role in funneling money to antigambling groups in Alabama, were consistent with his longstanding positions against new taxation and state lotteries.
''This is all completely legit," Norquist said during one of three interviews this week. ''The only reason someone would try to make it sound bad is they don't like Indians or Abramoff."
Norquist told the Globe that meetings with Bush happened on an annual basis between 2001 and 2004, with several tribal leaders involved in each meeting.
Erin Healy, a White House spokesman, confirmed that tribal leaders met with Bush on numerous occasions and that the meetings included discussions of tax policy. ''The president does meet with local and community and tribal leaders . . . to talk about his priorities and issues he is focusing on," Healy said.
During a congressional hearing last year, Bernie Sprague, subchief of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, said that he was told by Abramoff to contribute $25,000 to Norquist's group. When Sprague was asked why his tribe contributed the money to Norquist, he responded: ''It was because Mr. Abramoff suggested that we make these donations to these various groups and organizations . . . because they help us."
Norquist, however, is taking pains to demonstrate that his efforts to introduce the tribal leaders to Bush were unrelated to their contributions to his group.
On May 6, his group sent letters to the leaders of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan and the Coushatta Indian tribe of Louisiana. In the letters, which he provided to the Globe, a Norquist aide wrote that the meeting with the president took place because of the tribe's involvement in a group that supported Bush's tax cuts.
''There may be some confusion on behalf of a previous administration of your tribe. . . . Recent press reports appeared to suggest that some staff of your tribe's previous leadership thought that they were making a contribution to ATR in order to be invited to a White House event," wrote Norquist's associate, Amanda K. Hydro. She wrote that the meeting was ''an effort to involve Indian nations and state legislatures in federal policy."
Norquist, asked if he was aware that Abramoff was telling tribes to contribute to Americans for Tax Reform, said he wasn't aware of a specific instance, but he said: ''If Jack said to tribes, 'You don't want to be taxed, you should support ATR,' that makes sense that he would do that."
Abramoff declined comment, a spokesman said.
Norquist declined to name the tribe that gave his group the $1.15 million that was turned over to the Alabama antigambling groups. He did say he has worked closely with the Choctaws, who have a casino in Mississippi. Norquist said his donor list is secret and it would be up to tribes to acknowledge any role as a funder. A Choctaw spokesman declined to comment.
Norquist's $850,000 contribution to the Alabama Christian Coalition has not been previously made public. Asked why he didn't tell the coalition that the money originated with an Indian tribe that runs a casino, Norquist said his group said nothing to the coalition to ''suggest it was a contribution anything other than from ATR. There is not anything more to the story."
Norquist said he was not aware of the coalition's policy against accepting gambling-related money, and he said he couldn't say whether the tribe's contribution came from gambling profits or other revenues, although he acknowledged it ran a casino.
The Alabama Christian Coalition says on its website that it has a strict policy against taking gambling-related money.
''While there is nothing illegal about taking gambling money, for the [coalition] to willingly do so would be abhorrently unethical," the website reads.
Michael Kranish can be reached at email@example.com.