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Donations tied to DeLay trip

Gaming company, tribe contributed to policy group

WASHINGTON -- An Indian tribe and a gambling services company made donations to a Washington public policy group that covered most of the cost of a $70,000 trip to Britain by House majority leader Tom DeLay, his wife, two aides, and two lobbyists in mid-2000, two months before DeLay helped kill legislation opposed by the tribe and the company.

The sponsor of the weeklong trip listed in DeLay's financial disclosures was the nonprofit group the National Center for Public Policy Research, but a person involved in arranging DeLay's travel said that lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a member of the National Center's board, suggested the trip and arranged for checks to be sent by two of his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and eLottery Inc.

The dates on the checks coincided with the day DeLay, a Texas Republican, left on the trip, May 25, 2000, according to grant documents reviewed by The Washington Post. The Choctaw tribe and eLottery each sent a check for $25,000, according to the documents. They now say that they were unaware the money was used to finance DeLay's travels.

But Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center, said that, when the trip was arranged, Abramoff promised he would secure financial backing. She said that even without Abramoff's efforts, the National Center would have borne the cost of the trip, which was intended to allow the group to network with conservative British politicians and included an outing to the famous St. Andrews golf course in Scotland.

''We paid for the trip," Ridenour said. ''This trip was going to be paid for by the National Center, regardless of whether we got the donations from the Choctaw or eLottery."

House ethics rules allow lawmakers and their staffs to have travel expenses paid only for officially connected travel and only by organizations directly connected to the trips. The rules also require that lawmakers accurately report the people or organizations that pay for the trips. The rules prohibit payments by registered lobbyists for lawmakers' travel.

DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said: ''The trip was sponsored, organized, and paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, as our travel disclosures accurately reflect and what the National Center has publicly said."

Abramoff's attorney, Abbe David Lowell, declined to comment. Abramoff, the National Center, and the flow of money between them are now being investigated by a federal task force and by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; DeLay was admonished three times last year for infringements of House ethics rules.

To prove an ethics violation, investigators would have to show that DeLay and his staff knew the gambling interests were funding the trip, said Jan W. Baran, a Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP ethics lawyer who often represents Republicans. ''If somebody is doing some backdoor financing, how would the member know?"

Abramoff joined the DeLays on the May 25 to June 3, 2000, trip, which DeLay's congressional office has said included a stop in London and a visit with Margaret Thatcher, along with the golf outing at St. Andrews, where colleagues say Abramoff has a membership.

DeLay, an avid golfer, listed the purpose of the trip on a report filed with the House clerk as ''educational." He was majority whip at the time and took his wife, Christine, and two top staff members: Tony Rudy from the whip's office and chief of staff Susan Hirschmann, as well as her husband, David Hirschmann, according to filings with the House clerk that indicated that the total cost of transportation, lodging and meals was $70,265.

Two months later, in July 2000, DeLay and 43 other Republicans joined 114 Democrats in killing the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which would have made it a federal crime to place certain bets over the Internet and was opposed by eLottery and the Choctaws. The bill fell about 25 votes short of passage; because of a parliamentary maneuver, it required a two-thirds majority vote.

DeLay spokesman Allen said that DeLay voted against the bill because it had exemptions for jai alai and horse and dog racing. Rudy later that year went to work for Abramoff as a lobbyist.

The Choctaw Indians run a highly profitable casino near Philadelphia, Miss., that bankrolls their community activities and has subsidized an extensive lobbying effort in Washington. The tribe donated $65,000 to Ridenour's group in 2000 and $1.07 million in 2002.

Asked about the trip, tribal lawyer Bryant Rogers said: ''The tribe did not authorize the use of any money for this purpose. . . . If it occurred, it occurred without the tribe's knowledge."

ELottery is a Connecticut company that provides Internet services to state lotteries. One version of the gambling legislation would have severely restricted state lottery sales over the Internet.

Edwin J. McGuinn, president of eLot Inc., the parent of eLottery, said that version would have killed his company. ''We wouldn't have been able to operate," he said.

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