But what, you might well ask, has this got to do with Abramoff? That's easy: The Mashpee Wampanoag hired his lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, to represent them. And Pombo? He's Chairman of the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian Affairs. He decided to champion this issue. Coincidence? Righteous sense of justice? Likely not. Pombo was on the receiving end of generous political contributions from the tribe, and from their lobbyists and financial backer.
AP via South Coast Today:
WASHINGTON -- The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe expects a decision from the federal government by month's end on its three-decade-old fight to win formal recognition.
"We're playing the part of expectant parents," said Glenn Marshall, chairman of the tribe's council. "We've been waiting for the birth of a sovereign nation, even though we've been operating as one since the Europeans landed here."
The decision comes after a long and sometimes bitter fight for federal recognition that was begun in 1975 by the 1,468-member Cape Cod tribe.
The Mashpee were clients of Jack Abramoff, sort of. His name never appeared as an official lobbyist for them, but two of his protegés at Greenberg Traurig, Kevin Ring and Michael Smith, served in that capacity. Abramoff's rumored to have intervened on their behalf "unofficially".
From High Country News 2/21/16, via Tidepool (this article's well worth reading in full):
Not that Pombo was among the GOP congressmen closest to Abramoff. He received only $7,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and that's what he gave away. But late last year, FBI agents visited the headquarters of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. It turns out that the Wampanoags' 30-year struggle to gain national tribal recognition made sudden progress after they hired Abramoff as their lobbyist -- and contributed $20,000 to Pombo's political action committees. Pombo had considerable say in the Wampanoag case: The Native American Affairs Subcommittee is part of his Resources Committee.
Pombo also intervened on their behalf, pushing the BIA to force a decision. Like most tribes seeking federal recognition nowadays, some critics opposed recognition, claiming it's just a front for gaming interests. Except Indian gaming was first enabled by an act of Congress in 1988, the Wampanoag petition originated in the 1970s.
From the LA Times, Christmas eve (couldn't find a public link, sorry):
Everybody got something.
The Mashpee Wampanoags, famed for greeting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, will be named a federally recognized tribe -- a designation they sought for 30 years so that they could benefit from federal aid programs.
Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist embroiled in a Washington corruption scandal, and his firm championed the Indians' cause and picketed tens of thousands of dollars in tribal money.
And Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy), chairman of the influential House Resources Committee, landed a lucrative source of political donations: the small group of Native Americans whose ancestral lands are about as far from his Northern California district as one can get in the United States.
The trifecta of money, politics and power that quietly came together over the past several years has attracted the attention of a federal law enforcement task force investigating the burgeoining Abramoff scandal.
From AP 2/14/05 - talk about lame:
BIA lawyer Silvia Sepulveda-Hambor argued that there are no set deadlines for recognition decisions, so the court cannot conclude there has been an undue delay in the Mashpee case.
Pombo also received a significant amount of political contributions from Wampanoags (at least $32k, according to indianz.com), including $8k from a publicly employed social worker, and a few grand from someone listing their occupation as "hairdresser" in Falmouth, MA. Considerably more, if you count contributions from their lobbyists and financial backers in the total.
It's easy to see where money for lobbying and political contributions comes from in gaming tribes. But the Mashpee have been seeking recognition in part because they want the accompanying social services for health clinics and the like. Because their c. 1400 members are poor. So where'd all the money for lobbying and political contributions come from? Reportedly, the Mashpee Wampanoags have received financial backing from Herbert J. Strather from Detroit. A real estate developer, who also dabbles in the gaming industry.
Pombo's argument on the matter was one I agree with: waiting decades for an answer to a petition for recognition is too long! Only problem is, he's only pushed on behalf of those who made political contributions, not for others who've been waiting just as long. From the Tracy Press, Pombo's hometown newspaper 12/2/05:
Pombo was not influenced to act by the political contributions, and Abramoff never personally lobbied the congressman, said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for the Resources Committee.
Pombo's spokesman denied any connection between Pombo's legislation and the tribal donations.
It was the tribe's rich history and compelling story that spurred Pombo to help the group, Kennedy said, not tribe members' contributions.
But would he even have bothered to consider their story without the money? Without urgings from their well-connected lobbyists? Besides, note the spokesman's phrasing: by insisting that Pombo wasn't lobbied by Abramoff personally, he is in effect telling us that Abramoff associates did lobby Pombo personally. And maybe he only means Abramoff didn't lobby him in person, but through intermediaries (such as, perhaps, Pombo's patron and benefactor, Tom Delay or through Congressman John Doolittle, who's also on House Resources, and is up to his ears in scandal himself). Or even, since Abramoff wasn't a registered lobbyist for the tribe, anything he did say on their behalf wasn't technically lobbying.
In this regard, it's worth noting that Pombo has declined to hold hearings or investigations on any Abramoff-related matters, unlike the McCain/Dorgan Indian Affairs counterpart body in the Senate. Perhaps, like Kennedy says, a coincidence. But then again, perhaps not.
Various tribes have been saying that money spent on Abramoff was worth it, because it got results. See this digested from Cape Cod Online at indianz.com for discussion of other GOP lawmakers in the Abramoff money loop who've taken up the Mashpee Wampanoag cause. Doolittle, also a member of House Resources, figures prominently. Mashpee officials think their contributions to Pombo did make a difference, and their lobbying fees. Now that the Mashpee Wampanoags have gotten a favorable BIA ruling, after decades of delay, it would be hard to convince them otherwise. (Though not all the tribal members agreed with this approach.)
[Tribal Chairman Glenn] Marshall, a Vietnam vet, credits lobbyists and campaign contributions he and other tribal leaders made with advancing the federal recognition case. During this time, a provision urging the BIA to move forward on the petition was inserted into the 2004 Interior appropriations bill, a vehicle that contained at least two other riders, or earmarks, for Abramoff's tribal clients.But perhaps it is all a coincidence, like Pombo's spokesman says.
It's hard to track constituents' interests to [Pombo's] legislation. It's easy to track his contributors to legislation.
This is as good a case as any to illustrate this point. Those San Joaquin Valley farmers and East Bay commuters in CA-11 have not been flooding their Congressman with requests to resolve this issue.
That said, the real scandal here may not be that Pombo intervened on behalf of this tribe. As Chairman of the Resources Committee, it's part of the job to oversee Bureau of Indian Affairs operations. The real problem is that the Mashpee Wampanoags had to fork out a bunch of money to grease the wheels to get him to do his job. (Whether his constituents cared about it or not.)
Meanwhile, the same day this ruling was announced was Gale Norton's last day as Interior Secretary. Presumably another coincidence? And don't even get me started on Saipan and the Marianas, which Resources also has jurisdiction over, and played a key part in defending the pernicious status quo there.
All that said, I'm glad for the Mashpee. Yeah, there's a comment period until it's finally final. But more likely to finally succeed, now that this hurdle's been overcome.