While a Republican state senator sits for a deposition, the leaders of the anti-gaming group that organized a controversial meeting with Washington lobbyists refuse to reveal who’s funding them.
State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) cooperated willingly in a three-and-a-half hour deposition on Tuesday that aimed to discover whether he violated a federal court order prohibiting elected officials and Kent residents from directly or indirectly lobbying officials of the Department of the Interior during the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s federal acknowledgment process.By contrast, a group of anti-casino, anti-Indian sovereignty private property owners in Kent called TASK, which launched a $1.5 million fund raising drive last year to help town and state officials overturn the tribe’s federal status – and hired a high powered Washington, D.C. lobbying firm with close ties to the White House for the job — has balked at revealing the names of its contributors and other financial information, or submitting phone bills and other information that could point to violations of a federal court order restricting contact with Interior Department personnel. Lawyers for TASK – Town Action to Save Kent – have filed a motion in federal court seeking protection from disclosure.The depositions, which began the week of July 18, are moving forward under a May ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey that allows the tribal nation to probe officials and residents who took part in a closed door meeting hosted by TASK last winter at the Fife & Drum Restaurant in Kent.The closed door meeting was to introduce state and local officials to lobbyists from the nationally known Washington, D.C. lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which TASK hired to lobby officials to overturn the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ January 2004 decision granting federal acknowledgment to the Kent-based tribe. The 300-member tribe has a 400-acre reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent. The BIA decision is under appeal and a reconsidered final decision is due October 12.Federal acknowledgment makes a tribe eligible for federal funding for housing, health and education, and allows a tribe to negotiate a casino gambling compact in states that allow gambling. The Schaghticokes have said they plan to open a casino in Bridgeport or another welcoming host community.Barbour, Griffith and Rogers was founded in 1991 by Haley Barbour, the current governor of Mississippi, who was elected in 2003. Barbour served as advisor to President Ronald Reagan, director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, two terms as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and chaired President Bush’s Washington Campaign Advisory Committee in 2000.Bradley Blakeman, who was assigned the TASK account, joined the lobbying firm in January 2003 as a vice president, following his tenure as Deputy Assistant to the President for Appointments and Scheduling. He was Lead Advance Representative for three presidential campaigns, including Bush/Cheney in 2000.In requesting permission from Dorsey to conduct the deposition, the tribe’s attorneys said they wanted to find out if TASK and officials involved were circumventing the court’s prohibition against meeting Interior Department officials by using TASK and its lobbyists as proxies.Roraback, who attended the closed door meeting at the Fife & Drum, was deposed at the law offices of McCarter and English in Hartford. “It went fine. They got a complete understanding of how boring my life is and how little intrigue I have a chance to be a part of,” Roraback said Wednesday. Roraback said he brought all the requested documents to the deposition. “I brought all my emails and all my files. I told them I’ve had a bunch of meetings with these people from Kent for many years. This is a big issue for a small community. They asked about the meeting. (at the Fife & Drum),” Roraback said, adding that the lobbyists were introduced to the invited guests and talked generally about their work and strategies. It was the first time Roraback, an attorney himself, has been deposed.“Even if you have nothing that you’re concerned about, it’s still a stressful situation to have someone grill you. I’m happy to tell them everything I know, but just being in that context zaps you,” Roraback said.David Reif, an attorney for the tribal nation, said Roraback cooperated entirely during the lengthy session.“It was smooth. We certainly don’t have any basis to say he wasn’t cooperative. He was very forthcoming and the session was not confrontational at all,” Reif said.Depositions of TASK founders Kenneth Cooper and James Perkins, however, have been postponed pending Dorsey response to a motion filed July 21 by TASK Attorney Thomas W. Beecher of C ollins, Hannafin, Garamella, Jaber & Tuozzolo in Danbury, opposing the disclosure some of the information requested by the tribe’s attorneys.While the TASK founders agreed to submit some documents, such as correspondence, reports, notes, memos, emails, they objected to revealing their contributors, photocopies of checks deposited to its accounts, financial journals, and lists of its expenditures, and to producing “any and all bills showing telephone calls placed or received by TASK or on TASK’s behalf.” . “Such information is confidential, privileged and of a commercial nature and is far beyond the scope of the Court’s order,” Beecher wrote.Both Beecher’s firm, which has also been hired by TASK as its Connecticut lobbyist, and Barbour & Griffin are registered as TASK lobbyists in the state. According to state law, TASK will be required to file financial information about its contributions and expenditures with the Secretary of the State’s office. Beecher said his clients were prepared to provide a list of names and address of TASK’s shareholders, officers and directors – information that wasn’t that is publicly available from the Secretary of the State’s office.A series of events followed TASK’s closed door meeting at the Fife: In February, U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-New Britain) filed a bill in Congress cosponsored by Republican Reps. Christopher Shays and Rob Simmons to terminate the tribe’s federal recognition. In May, members of the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Jodi Rell testified against the tribe at a hearing called by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the federal recognition process. Two days after the hearing, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals voided the BIA’s decisions recognizing the Schaghticokes and another Connecticut tribe—the Eastern Pequots— and sent them back to the bureau for reconsideration.While TASK President Kenneth Cooper acknowledged that the organization hired lobbyists to influence government officials to overturn the Schaghticokes’ federal recognition, he denied that they affected the process.“We disagree with the implication that, via TASK’s effort, either Congress or the White House got to the IBIA and affected a political outcome. There is no evidence to support this. TASK has engaged professionals with experience in petitioning policy makers in the government, which we have fully disclosed as required by federal law,” Cooper said.Other elected officials who have been deposed are Kent First Selectwoman Delores Schiesel. Selectmen Dan Soule and Nancy O’Dea Wyrick, and state Rep. Maryanne Carson (R-New Milford).O’Dea Wyrick was a TASK founder and member until January when the press questioned whether her position on the selectmen’s board conflicted with her membership.A list of TASK’s contributors would reveal whether O’Dea Wyrick donated funds to the group’s effort. O’Dea Wyrick is the Kent Republicans’ endorsed candidate for first selectman in the upcoming municipal elections.A new addition to the list of deponents is Fran Johnson, the president of the Kent Historical Society and the author of a book called “The History of Kent Families.” Johnson, a genealogist, said in a published rep
ort in the Hartford Courant recently that her unpublishednotebooks include information about Schaghticoke birth certificates, obituaries, and notes she has copied from old ledgers. She said has not shared the information with tribal researchers, “because they piss me off.’’ Johnson admitted, however, to sharing some of the information with a rival faction of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.