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Abramoff Hosted ’03 Fundraiser for Vitter

Former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff hosted a September 2003 fundraiser for now-Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) just two months before Vitter inserted a provision in an Interior spending bill helping one of Abramoff’s tribal clients.

Vitter has stated repeatedly that he only met Abramoff once and had no idea that Abramoff’s client, the Coushatta Indians of Louisiana, were funding an anti-gambling group with which Vitter had repeated dealings.

But Abramoff hosted a Sept. 9, 2003, fundraiser for Vitter at the restaurant Signatures in Washington, D.C., a popular GOP eatery that Abramoff has a financial stake in.

Abramoff did not make an appearance at the event, although his name was on an invitation for the fundraiser as the host, and the invitation specifically noted that it was to benefit Vitter. Also attending the cocktail reception and dinner as a “special guest” was House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). It’s unclear how much money was raised at the event.

The Abramoff fundraiser for Vitter was first reported by the Web site RawStory.com.

Roll Call reported two weeks ago that Vitter had inserted language in the fiscal 2004 Interior appropriations bill — completed late in 2003 — requesting that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Indian Gaming Commission deny an application from the Jena Choctaw Tribe of Louisiana for land for a gambling casino. BIA comes under the authority of the Interior Department.

The Coushattas, one of Abramoff’s most lucrative clients, feared the Jena Choctaws’ site would harm their own casino, and the tribe funneled tens of millions of dollars to Abramoff and Republican public relations expert Michael Scanlon to help stop it.

The Coushattas provided financial backing to a Louisiana organization called the Committee Against Gambling Expansion. In 2002, after the Jena Choctaws had first announced their casino plans, CAGE did a mailing on behalf of Vitter, a longtime gambling opponent. Vitter later used CAGE’s name in his own phone bank operation.

Vitter has said repeatedly that he had no idea of the source of funding for CAGE. The Louisiana Republican said he thought that CAGE was a Christian group opposed to gambling on ideological grounds. Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and a longtime friend of Abramoff’s, spoke out in Louisiana on behalf of CAGE’s activities and raised money for the group.

In addition to stating that Vitter only met Abramoff once, the Louisiana Republican and his aides have repeatedly noted that he received no campaign contributions from the former lobbyist.

Vitter, in a statement released by his office Monday night, said Abramoff did not attend the September 2003 fundraiser. The event was attended by fewer than 10 people, and it was part of an effort by Abramoff to raise money for Vitter from the Jewish community. Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House.

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