Abramoff Shops Himself on K Street

Posted March 22, 2004 at 6:33pm

Jack Abramoff, the former Greenberg Traurig lobbyist under Senate investigation for his pricey contracts with American Indian tribes, has discussed merging his $10 million-a-year book of business with at least two other lobbying firms since he resigned earlier this month.

Executives from two of Washington’s most respected firms, Cassidy & Associates and PodestaMattoon, say that Abramoff has discussed a job with them in recent weeks.

Abramoff met with officials at Cassidy, the second-largest firm on K Street, as recently as last week.

“There is a great willingness to work with him, but he is not officially working with anyone right now,” said Dan Klores, a New York-based public relations agent hired by Abramoff this week. “Other lobbying shops are extremely interested in working with him and they are waiting for some resolution to all this.”

Officials at Cassidy and PodestaMattoon declined to speak on the record. However, the two firms were likely targets for Abramoff once he was forced to resign from Greenberg Traurig on March 2.

Abramoff, a top ally of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), is a longtime friend of Dan Mattoon, a confidant of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). He has also worked with Gregg Hartley of Cassidy, who left House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) office last year.

Still, lobbyists close to the situation said it is unlikely that any Washington firm would hire Abramoff right now, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ramps up an investigation into Abramoff’s lobbying work for several American Indian tribes.

Abramoff was forced to resign from Greenberg Traurig earlier this month after it was disclosed that he recommended that four of his richest American Indian clients pay $31 million over three years to his colleague and former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon for political work. In turn, an organization run by Scanlon, the American International Center, paid Abramoff $1.7 million for lobbying work.

But if the investigation blows over, any Washington firm would be able to add as much as $10 million a year to its annual lobbying revenues if it hires Abramoff and he retains his lucrative book of clients.

In the past six years on K Street, Abramoff has brought in $46.5 million in lobbying revenues to his two firms, Preston Gates LLP and later Greenberg Traurig.

Last year alone, Abramoff hauled in $10.4 million worth of business, according to federal lobbying disclosure forms.

So far, it appears that several of Abramoff’s clients plan on staying with him.

“He is one who knows a lot of people and can make introductions so that we have the opportunity to tell our story,” said Alton LeBlanc Jr., chairman of the Chitimacha Tribe, which has paid Abramoff $360,000 in the past six years.

LeBlanc said the tribe plans to remain with Abramoff. “It’s worth the dollars that we spend,” he said. “We are very happy with Jack Abramoff.”

Despite the high fees, Abramoff often won the praise of his clients. But several of Abramoff’s top clients have departed.

The Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association ended its contract with Abramoff more than a year ago. A few months ago, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan switched lobbying firms after tribe members ousted their tribal counsel.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe had been one of Abramoff’s top clients. And his best-paying client, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, is in the middle of a dispute over its leadership — putting Abramoff’s contract in jeopardy.

Before his departure from Greenberg Traurig, however, Abramoff demonstrated a remarkable ability to rake in high-dollar clients that had not been mined elsewhere on K Street.

In one of his final moves before leaving the firm, Abramoff inked a million-dollar deal to represent a group of U.S. and offshore companies involved in the Internet gambling business.

The International Interactive Alliance paid Abramoff a stunning $200,000-a-month in fees and expenses to represent the companies on a range of issues affecting online gaming and “entertainment sites,” according to information provided by Greenberg Traurig and lobbying disclosure forms.

But the International Interactive Alliance barely exists.

Congressional aides working on Internet gaming legislation have never heard of the group. Neither has the leading trade association for the gaming industry, the Interactive Gaming Council, even though it too is represented by Greenberg Traurig. Even Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman Jill Perry could not confirm details about the operation.

In fact, the lobbying entity exists only on paper.

According to interviews and disclosure reports, the alliance is run out of a law office in Gibraltar made up of online billing firms, payment processors, software companies, sports organizations and online casinos that are involved in range of Internet and interactive issues in Washington.

Abramoff’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said in an interview Monday that there was nothing out of the ordinary with his client’s business.

“After the swirl of the latest Washington controversy, any objective person will clearly see that Jack’s lobbying practice was the same as most of the more successful ones in Washington, accomplished as much or more for clients as anyone in town, charged fees in keeping with what the first-tier Washington lobbyists charged, and that unlike so many Jack has given back to the community as much as he has taken,” Lowell said.

Nevertheless, federal disclosure forms filled out by Abramoff often failed to list a contact name or valid address for several of his clients. Addresses listed for the Voor Huisen Project Management (a Netherlands-based public policy group) and the Hong Kong export-importer Rose Garden Holdings are invalid.

According to a disclosure form signed by Abramoff, the International Interactive Alliance is located at 5763 Lina Wall Road in Gibraltar. In fact, the alliance is run out the offices of Gibraltar’s largest law firm, Hassans, at 57/63 Line Wall Road.

Abramoff blamed the errors on a clerical mistake.

“We have followed the disclosure law and maintained the confidentiality of our clients,” Abramoff said. “I don’t think anyone is trying to hide anything. We already disclose too much.”

Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman Perry added: “We have provided all of the information that we were required to. If we are notified of deficiencies in our filings by the Secretary of the Senate or Clerk of the House, we will respond. But we have not been notified and are not aware of any deficiencies.”

Abramoff and lawyers at Greenberg Traurig have refused to name the companies that fund the alliance. “They are all very reputable companies,” said James Levy, an attorney with Hassans.

Federal law prohibits online gambling operations run out of the United States, but it is easy for Americans to log on to gaming Web sites based overseas.

The alliance hired Greenberg Traurig to lobby on a range of issues related to “Internet and interactive legislation, including copyright, patent, privacy, entertainment sites and game sites,” according to lobbying disclosure forms.

A top priority for the alliance is blocking Senate legislation that would prevent Americans from logging on to their computers to place wagers on foreign-based gaming Web sites.

The legislation, which passed the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in October, would prevent U.S. financial services companies from processing payments on unlawful gaming sites.

Even though the alliance paid Abramoff $1 million to lobby for it in the five months of 2003, few Senate aides working on the bill have heard of the group.

“That name doesn’t ring a bell with anyone here,” said Andrew Gray, the spokesman for the Senate Banking panel. “Our policy is that we meet with anyone who calls, so it’s not like we wouldn’t have met with someone who was interested in the issue.”

Jack Abramoff’s Top Clients
Jan. 1, 1998 to Dec. 31, 2003 Name Fees (in millions)
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians $11.7
Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana 5.7
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan 4.3
Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands 3.6
Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association (Western Pacific Economic Council) 3.0
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians 2.7
Voor Huisen Project Management 2.1
Primedia 1.8
American International Center 1.7
Channel One 1.6
Tyco International 1.3
Source: Federal lobbying disclosure forms