Babbitt's Department of Ulterior

Introduction
Watching the Cash
Astroturf Opposition
Raise Your Right Hand
The Decision
Excerpts from C-SPAN
Comments/feedback
Watching the Cash
Later, when the political land mines exploded and everyone was counting their bloody toes, Avent would almost gleefully stick it to Ickes in a follow-up note: “My instinct on this was right. STAY OUT OF THIS. WHOEVER THE PRESSURE COMES FROM COULDN’T BE WORTH OUR GETTING INVOLVED. I DIDN’T. THANK GOD.”

But in the spring of 1995, Ickes was focused upon reelecting his boss, Bill Clinton, and raising the money necessary to do it.

He called O’Connor on April 25 and 26, missing him both times.

On May 8, O’Connor donned his Shriner’s cap and wrote a letter to Ickes that brazenly crossed the legal line between policy, politics and campaign contributions. After thanking Ickes for his interest, O’Connor plunged into the muck.

“I assume these calls were prompted by my discussion with the President and Bruce Lindsey on April 24 when they were in Minneapolis. . . . I have been advised that (DNC) Chairman Fowler has talked to you about this matter and sent you a memo outlining the basis for the opposition to creating another gaming casino in this area.”

After a recitation of his clients’ fears that a new casino would harm existing tribal casinos, O’Connor cut to the chase:

“I would also like to relate the politics involved in this situation:

“1. Governor Thompson of Wisconsin supports this project.

“2. Senator Al D’Amato supports this project because it bails out Delaware North, the company that owns this defunct dog track and also operated another dog track in Wisconsin. Delaware North is located in Buffalo, New York.

“3. The chairman of the Indian tribe in the forefront of this project is active in Republican party politics; this year he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Wisconsin State Senate.

“4. All of the representatives of the tribes that met with Chairman Fowler are Democrats and have been so for years. I can testify to their previous financial support to the DNC and the 1992 Clinton-Gore Campaign Committee.

“5. The entire Minnesota (Democrats and Republicans) Congressional delegation oppose this project. The Wisconsin Democratic Congressional delegation (including Congressman Gunderson in whose district the dog track is located) oppose the project.”

The correspondence with Ickes is extraordinary. O’Connor’s brazenness in asking Ickes to break the law is exceeded only by his fiction.

Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson was mentioned no doubt because he was rumored to be a possible GOP vice presidential candidate and therefore, according to O’Connor, this should be a factor in White House thinking. But an ally of O’Connor’s said the governor was not supportive of the casino.

In a May 23, 1995, memorandum between lobbyists working with O’Connor, Ann Jablonsky wrote, “I guess I would not say Thompson supports this project because he has not publicly made that statement, far from it.”

Nor were the relevant congressional delegates united in opposition to the casino. Three members of the House from Wisconsin were insistently neutral, saying this was a matter among Indians.

And the fight was not between Republican Indians and Democratic Indians, as O’Connor would have Ickes believe. Not that it is pertinent to the decision, but in fact all of the tribes in this issue are strongly Democrat.

And the Delaware North smear is a flat-out lie.

Throughout the lobbying process, O’Connor’s operatives quietly circulated newspaper articles that recounted the alleged mob ties of the Buffalo firm’s founder, a man who passed away in 1968.

Delaware North does not, and has never, owned the Hudson dog track under consideration.

The Hudson track owners have filed a libel lawsuit for having been linked to the Mafia.

Delaware North is considering similar action.

It is against the law for Interior policy to evolve out of partisan politics or campaign contributions, and yet these are precisely the issues O’Connor asked Ickes to focus upon. It is also illegal for the White House to insert itself into the decision-making process at Interior.

Yet Ickes aides repeatedly contacted Interior on his behalf.

Patrick O’Connor did not rest simply because he’d managed to get the attention of the President of the United States.


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As originally published in Phoenix New Times