The Giving Tree

Oklahoma Gazette | January 11, 2006
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook announced he is donating to Oklahoma’s Boy Scouts $23,000 recently reported as having been linked to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, an Istook spokesman said Jan. 9.

Istook is one of two Oklahoma legislators ridding themselves recently of scrutinized donations from the federally charged lobbyist.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement Jan. 5 he will donate to health research $2,000 he received from Abramoff.

About three weeks ago, Istook announced he was donating $6,000 linked to Abramoff after being contacted by Oklahoma Gazette in an ongoing investigative series. As this story was going to press, Istook, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, announced he was also donating $23,000 identified as reportedly coming from Abramoff associates.

“The only money that ever came from Jack Abramoff — $6,000 — was already donated to Indian health research,” spokesman Matt Lambert said. “This additional $23,000 did not come from Abramoff, nor did he help to raise it, but Congressman Istook decided to go the extra mile. He’s giving away money that came from totally innocent donors, but who had nevertheless worked with Abramoff.”

Meanwhile, Inhofe was contacted by the Gazette Jan. 4 after a records search revealed his donation, which was listed as having been given by Abramoff and his wife, Pamela, during the 2002 election cycle. The Gazette posted the breaking news on its Web site,

“After review of my campaign financial records I found that in 2002 Jack Abramoff legally contributed $2,000 to my campaign,” Inhofe’s statement read. “Like most of us, I have recently learned about both Mr. Abramoff and his business through the media. Like most Americans I find the crimes that Mr. Abramoff admitted to this week both outrageous and despicable.”

Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges earlier this month. As part of a plea bargain, Abramoff is reportedly implicating dozens of lawmakers in the scandal.

Records obtained from, a Web site maintained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, also show former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles received $5,000 in 2004 from Jack and Pamela Abramoff.

When contacted by the Gazette, Nickles, now a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, refused comment. An aide said Nickles would “take a pass” on commenting about the money.

Like Istook, Inhofe said he is donating the Abramoff money rather than returning it.

“Mr. Abramoff’s financial contribution has no place in my campaign, therefore I am donating the contribution to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation which will allow them to further improve Oklahomans’ quality of life,” Inhofe said.

While many of the records maintained by indicate that many federal legislators as well as both Democratic and Republican parties in Oklahoma received Abramoff funding, many questioned those findings. Numbers at a related Web site,, indicate Democrats garnered thousands from tribes associated with Abramoff’s funding activities. According to reports, Abramoff would direct tribes that were his clients to give money to certain candidates or officeholders.

Critics of the Web site’s interpretation suggest is painting with too broad a brush.

Former Senate candidate Brad Carson, a Democrat and former U.S. representative at the time of the 2004 race, said donations to his campaign listed as coming from Abramoff-connected tribes had nothing to do with the scandal-tainted lobbyist.

After queries from the Gazette, the Center for Responsive Politics issued a correction regarding donations alleged to have been made from the Cherokee tribe to Sen. Tom Coburn’s campaign.

“We incorrectly included Tom Coburn in our list of officials who received money from Abramoff’s tribal clients. We miscoded the tribe that gave to him — it was not actually an Abramoff client,” the center said in a release to the Gazette. “We are deleting the record indicating he took $2,000 from the Cherokee Nation in 2006. In fact, it was the United Keetoowah Band Cherokee Indians, which does not appear to be an Abramoff client. Please make sure your story reflects the updated information.”

However, center spokesman Massie Ritsch said the organization continues to hold as suspicious money that came from tribes among Abramoff’s client list.

“Unless the money is listed as coming from Abramoff, it didn’t come from him,” Ritsch said. “But the tribes listed were lobbying clients of his during the period of interest, when it has been reported that Abramoff directed his tribal clients to make contributions to people and PACs (political action committees) he identified.”

Records at show Carson, a member of the Cherokee tribe, received over $5,000 from 2000-2004 from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. However, Abramoff reportedly had the Cherokee Nation as a client only briefly in 2003.

Carson said only Republicans in Oklahoma ever got money directly from Abramoff, and only one recipient, Istook, ever undertook an official act on behalf of Abramoff. Carson referred to Istook’s signing of a letter, along with 33 other lawmakers, against a proposed casino being built by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians. The Jena casino was opposed by another tribe, the Coushatta, a client of Abramoff’s. All lawmakers signing the letter were recipients of Abramoff funding, according to reports. The treasurer of Istook’s First Freedoms Fund PAC, Dennis Stephens, who represents gambling concerns elsewhere, is also a member of the lobbying firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, which also employed Abramoff.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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