Casino Decision OK, Lobbyist Tells Burton Panel
He says he never got meeting with Ickes to try to bring political influence to bear
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 28) -- Rep. Dan Burton's campaign-finance probe on Wednesday continued its look into an Interior Department decision to block an Indian casino application, taking testimony from a lobbyist who opposed it.
Patrick J. O'Connor, who was hired by another Indian tribe opposed to the casino, told the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee that he asked Clinton fund-raiser Terence McAuliffe for a meeting with then-deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes on the issue, but never got one.
"I did tell [McAuliffe] I was having difficulty getting to Harold Ickes. I knew he saw him frequently," O'Connor said.
The three tribes that wanted the Hudson, Wis., casino blocked donated $286,000 to the Democratic party, and Burton and his panel are trying to determine whether top-level Interior officials, including Secretary Bruce Babbitt, were influenced by the money.
O'Connor suggested the administration's decision was free from political taint despite his best efforts.
"From your own personal knowledge, do you have any reason to believe that the Department of Interior's decision was made because of campaign contributions?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
"No," O'Connor replied. "I failed to talk to Mr. Ickes. I tried. But I never talked to him."
Complicating O'Connor's account is a fund-raising letter that he and his law partner later sent out, boasting of how responsive the White House had been to them. "As witnessed in the fight to stop the Hudson Dog Track proposal," it read, "the Office of the President can and will work on our behalf when asked to do so."
Babbitt himself is scheduled to appear before the committee on Thursday.