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Caucus leaves attack on GOP lobbying to states

DENVER – Members of the Democratic National Committee’s Native American caucus have backed off plans to directly call for condemnation of the Republican Party and Sen. John McCain over issues related to lobbying. The fight, instead, will be left to state party officials.

Indian political leaders familiar with the decision said there was general concern amongst caucus members that drawing increased attention to Natives and lobbying might encourage some Congress members to seek ways to limit tribal participation and power within the federal election process. Many tribes, after all, employ their own lobbyists on a wide-range of tribal interests.

On opening day of the Democratic National Convention, the First American Caucus had considered a draft resolution that called on the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, as well as the Republican National Committee, to renounce campaign involvements of those who have been involved in fraudulent lobbying activities.

The caucus, composed of several individuals who identify as Native, reviewed a draft resolution Aug. 25 that read in part “lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his Republican cohorts have done irrefutable harm to tribes and their ability to fully participate in political campaigns.”

In effect, the document indirectly tied lobbying scandals involving Abramoff to McCain. Abramoff pled guilty in 2006 to three criminal felony counts related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials.

The resolution, which was written jointly by some members of the caucus, stated that Ralph Reed, a former Abramoff business associate, helped to organize a fundraiser held Aug. 18 for McCain’s campaign – despite assertions from the McCain camp that this is not the case.

Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, told Indian Country Today that McCain is being unfairly scrutinized on the Abramoff issue.

“The assertion that he’s in bed with Jack Abramoff – after he put the crook in jail – [is wrong],” Bounds said. The spokesman added that the campaign has taken no money from Reed, and said Reed is not a member of the campaign.

Bounds also said that Reed did not attend the event to which the Native caucus document alluded, nor did he host it.

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the chairman of the caucus, said on the third day of the Democratic convention that its members ultimately decided not to take direct action on the resolution.

Instead, LaMere said, he and others would work to offer the resolution to state party directors to use as they see fit.

“We should not have to go out on the attack,” LaMere said. “State parties can use [the resolution] to take action.”

He added that it is a priority for the caucus to develop stronger relationships with state party officials.

Still, the longtime Indian political advocate doesn’t think tribes should be weak on speaking out on the lobbying issue.

“Native people need not temper their feelings,” LaMere told ICT before the resolution was put on hold. “Some things are wrong. And the way Abramoff treated the tribes was wrong.”

Some Native leaders in attendance at the original Aug. 25 caucus meeting had questioned whether attention directed toward Abramoff and away from Obama during his big convention week was the best use of Native power.

“We need to think in positive terms,” said one delegate who asked to remain anonymous. “Change doesn’t mean we have to forget about the past, but we don’t have to dwell on it either.”

Despite the decision by the DNC Native caucus, several American Indians said they still felt it important to keep all politicians honest when it comes to lobbying and its role in the political process.