In fighting an Indian tribe’s recognition, Connecticut politicians apparently used a high powered lobbying firm as their proxy with officials in Washington D.C., even after a judge forbid them from talking to the feds, according to documents obtained by ctnewsjunkie.com.
Information gleaned from recent depositions may provide the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation with a smoking gun proving Connecticut’s elected officials may have violated a federal court order by using a private citizens group and its lobbyists as proxies to exert political influence on the U.S. Department of the Interior to overturn the tribe’s federal acknowledgment.Attorneys for the tribe have drawn a picture of a closely knit relationship among local and state elected officials, a citizens group called Town Action to Save Kent (TASK) and its high-powered Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers (BGR). All of these groups worked together to coordinate efforts to rescind the Schaghticokes’ federal status, according to testimony and documents obtained during depositions conducted in July and included in a brief filed in U.S. District Court Aug. 16.U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey prohibited contact between the Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all parties involved in the Schaghticoke petition, including town and state officials, according to a court order issued in 2001 that was amended last year.However, an affidavit and lobbyist registration documents confirm BGR’s lobbyists contacted the Interior Department and BIA officials directly, in an effort to influence the federal government’s decision making against the tribe.The tribe’s attorney maintain TASK’s lobbyists were acting indirectly to support the town and state appeals of tribe’s recognition.The BIA acknowledged the tribe in January 2004. A reconsidered final determination is due Oct. 12.“What the depositions aimed to do is find out whether in fact TASK and its lobbyists have been making contact with officials that the officials themselves acknowledge they cannot make. From what we have discovered so far, in our view, there is no doubt that TASK and its lobbyists have been acting as surrogates for these elected officials and parties to the recognition process,” Schaghticoke Attorney David Reif said Wednesday.State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen), who arranged meetings for TASK and BGR with the governor and the attorney general, said his conscience is clear.“From my perspective as an elected official I’ve done what elected officials are elected to do, which is to facilitate communication between their constituents and state government,” Roraback said.Kent First Selectwoman Dolores Schiesel, who attended a lobbying session at the White House with BGR staff, denied TASK and its lobbyists acted as a proxy for the town.“I think it’s a lot of hoopla. I don’t think there was anything that wasn’t okay by law and even that perception doesn’t bother me,” Schiesel said.The coordination of efforts to overturn the BIA’s decision included meetings with elected officials, TASK and BGR lobbyists at the White House, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office, and with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, according to documents and testimony.Emails among the three groups discuss plans about scheduling and preparations for meetings, revisions of documents, talking points, strategy sessions, and a summary from BGR of its proposed meeting objectives with Gov. Rell.“The purpose of the meeting(s) from our point of view is to refine the political strategies and to ensure tight coordination of the implementation of such strategies among the Governor, the Congressional delegations and local officials,” wrote Loren L. Monroe, Chief Operating Officer of BGR lobbying firm, in an email to TASK cofounders Jim Perkins and Ken Cooper, along with Schiesel and Roraback in January 2005.Wrote Monroe: “Importantly, the political efforts must also be coordinated with the legal strategy being led by the Attorney General and Perkins Coie [a Washington law and lobbyist firm contracted by the state to help oppose the federal recognition of the Schaghticokes and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation], which we are working to make sure occurs in Washington. With the start of 2005, there are a number of opportunities in the near term to further our strategy of surrounding the Department of the Interior with regards to the BIA.”“Can you use as is, or refashion?” Perkins wrote to Roraback in another correspondence. “It (the summary) points up the value that BGR brings not only to Kent and TASK, but to the State of Connecticut.“In an email attachment on Nov. 22, 2004 to Schiesel, Perkins wrote, “This week the Governor has an appointment call with Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior. TASK placed two items on the Governor’s talking agenda.“If the governor did in fact have such a conversation with Norton, it would have come after Dorsey’s order prohibiting contact with the department without notifying the other parties first.A call to the governor’s office seeking comment was not returned.The judge issued a revised order in June 2004 after chastising Blumenthal for a private meeting with Interior Secretary Gale Norton at which the attorney general handed her a letter criticizing the BIA’s decision to grant federal recognition to the Schaghticokes. Blumenthal notified the parties days after the meeting with Norton.Notice to the parties of a meeting, Dorsey said, “must be given prior to its occurrence….Without any party to this matter being present, Blumenthal affirmatively contacted and met with Secretary Norton, the head of the agency currently hearing an appeal in which Blumenthal has an interest about the very subject matter of the appeal. Such conduct, at the very least, appears improper and thus threatens to subvert the integrity of the appeal process itself,” Dorsey wrote in his June 14, 2004 revised order. An investigation last year by the Interior Department’s Inspector General exonerated the Schaghticoke and the BIA of all wrong doing, following unsubstantiated allegations of illegal lobbying corruption and undue political influence from U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-5th) and Blumenthal.On Aug. 16 Reif filed a motion in U.S. District Court opposing an effort by TASK, Cooper and Perkins to avoid being deposed. A similar brief was filed recently in Washington, D.C. by the firm of Hobbs, Strauss, Dean and Walker, opposing BGR’s efforts to avoid being deposed.“It is clear from material already obtained in discovery that BGR has made contacts with the BIA, although the scope of those contacts cannot be determined without further inquiry,” Reif wrote.Certain Kent residents formed TASK in 2004 to raise $1.5 million and overturn the Schaghticokes acknowledgment. The Schaghticokes are a Kent-based tribe with 300 members and a 400-acre reservation. The colonial government first set aside tribal lands in 1736.Last May, Dorsey ruled that the tribal nation could conduct depositions of officials and residents who took park in a closed door meeting last winter at the Fife & Drum Restaurant in Kent, hosted by TASK to introduce state and local officials to the BGR lobbyists.Since that meeting, Congresswoman Johnson- who recommended BGR to TASK- filed a bill in Congress to terminate the tribe. The state’s congressional delegation and governor testified against the tribe at a Senate hearing, and the Interior Board of Indian Appeals voided the BIA’s decisions recognizing the Schaghticokes and another Connecticut tribe- the Eastern Pequots- sending them back to the bureau for reconsideration.