Dems Don't Know Jack

(This article is reprinted from The American Prospect.)

A new and extensive analysis of campaign donations from all of Jack Abramoff's tribal clients, done by a nonpartisan research firm, shows that a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. The analysis undercuts the claim that Abramoff directed sums to Democrats at anywhere near the same rate.

The analysis, which was commissioned by The American Prospect and completed on Jan. 25, was done by Dwight L. Morris and Associates, a for-profit firm specializing in campaign finance that has done research for many media outlets.

In the weeks since Abramoff confessed to defrauding tribes and enticing public officials with bribes, the question of whether Abramoff directed donations just to Republicans, or to the GOP and Democrats, has been central to efforts by both parties to distance themselves from the unfolding scandal. President Bush recently addressed the question on Fox News, saying: "It seems to me that he [Abramoff] was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."

Although Abramoff hasn't personally given to any Democrats, Republicans, including officials with the GOP campaign to hold on to the Senate, have seized on the donations of his tribal clients as proof that the saga is a bipartisan scandal. And the controversy recently spread to the media when the ombudsman for the Washington Post, Deborah Howell, ignited a firestorm by wrongly asserting that Abramoff had given to both. She eventually amended her assessment, writing that Abramoff "directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties."

But the Morris and Associates analysis, which was done exclusively for The Prospect, clearly shows that it's highly misleading to suggest that the tribes' giving to Dems was in any way comparable to their giving to the GOP. The analysis shows that when Abramoff took on his tribal clients, the majority of them dramatically ratcheted up donations to Republicans. Meanwhile, donations to Democrats from the same clients either dropped, remained largely static or, in two cases, rose by a far smaller percentage than the ones to Republicans did. This pattern suggests that whatever money went to Democrats, rather than having been steered by Abramoff, may have largely been money the tribes would have given anyway.

The analysis includes a detailed look at seven of Abramoff's tribal clients, and a comparison of their giving with that of approximately 170 other tribes. (Abramoff is often said to have had nine tribal clients. But Morris omitted two of the tribes -- the Pueblo of Santa Clara, whose donations were virtually nonexistent, and the Tigua Indian Reservation, because it isn't listed in Federal lobbying files as having a lobbyist, and Abramoff worked on contingency. At any rate Santa Clara's post-Abramoff donations to the GOP were overwhelmingly higher than to Dems, so including them would have added even more to the GOP side of the ledger.)

The analysis shows:

  • In total, the donations of Abramoff's tribal clients to Democrats dropped by 9 percent after they hired him, while their donations to Republicans more than doubled, increasing by 135 percent after they signed him up.

  • Five out of seven of Abramoff's tribal clients vastly favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones.

  • Four of the seven began giving substantially more to Republicans than Democrats after he took them on.

  • Abramoff's clients gave well over twice as much to Republicans than Democrats, while tribes not affiliated with Abramoff gave well over twice as much to Democrats than the GOP -- exactly the reverse pattern.

"It's very hard to see the donations of Abramoff's clients as a bipartisan greasing of the wheels," Morris, the firm's founder and a former investigations editor at the Los Angeles Times, told The Prospect.

Bloomberg News published a similar, more limited analysis last month that relied on a small amount of data also from Morris' firm." But that analysis didn't look at all of Abramoff's tribal clients and didn't provide a detailed year-by-year analysis of their donations or a detailed comparison to other tribal giving. Since then, some observers, such as blogger Kevin Drum, have argued that a comprehensive look at the donations of all of Abramoff's tribal clients would help shed light on the scandal.

The Prospect asked Morris to do two things: First, compare the contributions of all of Abramoff's tribal clients before they'd signed on with Abramoff versus after they'd become his client. And second, compare the contributions of all Abramoff tribal clients with the contributions of all non-Abramoff tribes.

Here are Abramoff's seven tribal clients, according to Morris' analysis, complete with their pre-Abramoff and post-Abramoff contributions:
1. Tribe: Saginaw Chippewa (Michigan)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $371,250
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 9/2000): $285,000
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (9/2000 - 2003): $191,960
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (9/2000 - 2003): $401,500
2. Tribe: Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $61,320
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 9/2000): $48,560
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (9/2000 - 2003): $64,000
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (9/2000 - 2003): $162,590
3. Tribe: Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 4/2001): $1,000
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 4/2001): $750
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (4/2001 - 6/2004): $40,500
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (4/2001 - 6/2004): $168,750
4. Tribe: Pueblo of Sandia (New Mexico)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 3/2002): $24,000
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 3/2002): $15,000
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (3/2002 - 6/2003): $18,500
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (3/2002 - 6/2003): $11,500
5. Tribe: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (California)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 7/2002): $371,250
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 7/2002): $400,200
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (7/2002 - 6/2004): $70,000
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (7/2002 - 6/2004): $216,708
6. Tribe: Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 1/2003): $35,470
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 1/2003): $6,050
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1/2003 - 12/2003): $250
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1/2003 - 12/2003): $0
7. Tribe: Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 1995): $4,600
Pre-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1991 - 1995): $31,000
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1995 - 2004): $409,273
Post-Abramoff contributions to GOP (1995 - 2004): $884,927

As the above numbers show, four out of seven tribes -- Saginaw, Chitimacha, Coushatta and Mississippi -- saw their contributions to Republicans increase significantly, even vastly, after they became Abramoff's clients.

At the same time, two of those four tribes -- Saginaw and Chitimacha -- saw their giving to Democrats drop or remain static. The other two -- tribes Coushatta and Mississippi -- did see their giving to Dems rise under Abramoff, but by amounts that were dwarfed by the increases in giving to the GOP.

These patterns strongly suggest that Abramoff's representation of the tribes manifested itself largely in a dramatic rise in contributions to the GOP. And it also suggests it's likely that Abramoff had little impact on giving to Democrats.

Nor does it appear likely that Abramoff steered contributions to Dems from the remaining three tribes who didn't see their giving to the GOP climb. Of those three tribes, one tribe -- Pueblo of Sandia -- saw a negligible shift in donations to both parties. The second -- Agua Caliente -- slashed its contributions to both parties, but even so, the percentage of that tribe's giving that went to Republicans still rose dramatically. The third -- Cherokee Nation -- simply stopped giving altogether.

The big picture is also compelling. Taken together, Abramoff's tribal clients gave $868,890 to Dems before hiring him; afterwards, they gave $794,483 -- a decrease of nine percent. By contrast, the tribes' donations to Republicans went from $786,560 pre-Abramoff to $1,845,975 after he became their lobbyist -- an increase of 135 percent. In other words, when Abramoff entered the picture, contributions to Dems dropped, while donations to Republicans more than doubled.

Adding to the case, the Morris firm also did a year-by-year analysis, from 1991 to the present, of the giving of scores of tribes -- Abramoff's clients included. The firm's look at the year-by-year giving of his clients is eye-opening. It shows even more clearly that in some cases clients' giving to the GOP jumped dramatically just after Abramoff signed them.

For example, the Saginaw Chippewa became Abramoff's client in late 2000, and in the election cycle that immediately followed, the tribe's giving to Republicans more than doubled -- from $78,000 to $167,000 -- while giving to Dems rose only $12,000.

"The giving of Indian tribes in general has increased dramatically over the last decade," Morris told The Prospect. "But if you single out Abramoff's clients year by year, you can see that the giving increases far more to Republicans when Abramoff became their lobbyist."

Finally, Morris did an extensive comparison of the donations of both Abramoff tribes and non-Abramoff tribes. Morris added up giving from 1991 to the present by virtually all of the approximately 170 tribes that gave politically but are not affiliated with the lobbyist.

The totals show that in the past 15 years, the tribes gave more than $15.5 million to Democrats and just over $6 million to the GOP -- well over twice as much to Democrats as to Republicans.

By contrast, if you total up all the contributions Abramoff's clients made, it comes to $1,845,975 to Republicans and $794,483 to Democrats -- well over twice as much to Republicans as to Democrats. So the pattern of giving of Abramoff's clients, who gave with far more generosity to Republicans, is almost exactly the reverse of that of virtually all other tribes not connected with Abramoff. Those tribes, by contrast, gave far more to Democrats.

"If you're going to make the case that this is a bipartisan scandal, you have to really stretch the imagination," says Morris. "Most individual tribes were predominantly Democratic givers through the last decade. Only Abramoff's clients switched dramatically from largely Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican donors, and that happened only after he got his hands on them."

Note: The analysis The Prospect commissioned is available here. The first chart refers to the tribes' pre- and post-Abramoff donations. The second is the total giving of non-Abramoff tribes. The third is a year-by-year breakdown of tribal giving.

This article is available on The American Prospect's website.

2006 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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