Inside Bush's Indian Bureau

A labyrinth of lobbyists is manufacturing millions

When Wayne Smith began walking the huge corridors at the Department of Interior a few months after George Bush took office in 2001, he felt like he'd finally hit the big time. In the '90s, he'd been chief deputy to California's Republican attorney general. But now, at 52, he was assistant deputy secretary at Interior, managing the $3.5 billion budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and overseeing the hotly politicized Indian casino industry. What he didn't know was that, within nine months, he would be gone—vanquished by the insider culture consuming Bush's Washington.

Smith's mother was raised on a destitute Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota, where his grandfather was chief. Memories of the "appalling poverty" he saw on family visits to the reservation inspired him in his new job—which he got on the recommendation of a colleague from his AG days, Sue Wooldridge, top aide to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. Neal McCaleb, who was Smith's immediate boss and ran BIA, put him in charge of gaming, a business where government decisions, not markets, turn molehills into jackpots—recognizing tribes, taking land in trust for new casinos, manufacturing designated millionaires.

Smith was no babe in the woods. He'd started a California lobbying firm himself in 1999, but he was unprepared for the incestuous intrigue at BIA. In the Clinton era, the Democrats dunned tribes for unrestricted amounts of campaign wampum, and the departed BIA chief was found in the parking lot signing backdated documents three days after the Bush inaugural. The Bush team immediately tossed the tardy decisions. But, as this Smith saga will make clear, BIA remained a bureaucratic land where the only chiefs are buttoned-down lobbyists, raking in millions from tribes whose casinos are virtually franchises to print influence-peddling largesse.

Smith was troubled early on when Republican lobbyist Scott Reed told him that the Democrats had long had free reign at the agency and that now it was "our turn"—a charge a Reed associate denies though his firm has attracted a dozen gaming clients since 2001. Smith felt uneasy when his office was lobbied on behalf of two tribes by Diane Allbaugh, the wife of Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the 2000 national campaign manager for Bush. Diane Allbaugh, who worked at a firm headed by former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour, appeared on behalf of a Louisiana casino developer under contract with the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, a Connecticut tribe then tied to Donald Trump. McCaleb urged Smith to take her calls, explaining that he and Joe Allbaugh were old Oklahoma friends and that Allbaugh had "helped convince the White House" to install him at BIA.

The Washington Postwould later do stories about the awesome influence of Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, who combined to drain $45 million in reported lobbying fees from four tribes in the first three Bush years, prompting an ongoing investigation by Senator John McCain. Abramoff's top political allies were House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed.

But no one noticed that Bill Jarrell and Jennifer Calvert, two lobbyists who'd worked with Abramoff prior to 2001, left him within days of the election to form their own company, Washington Strategies, immediately attracting tribal clients. Jarrell, like Scanlon, was once a top DeLay staffer. Smith says Jennifer's husband, Chad Calvert, while he was Interior's deputy director of legislative affairs, introduced her to him, left documents from her in his office, and joined the two of them at lobbying lunches—recollections the Calverts only partially deny. When Chad Calvert was recently promoted, the Interior press release said he'd been "coordinating department legislative policy" for "the assistant secretary for Indian affairs" for three years. Jennifer Calvert's bio says her "lobbying expertise focuses on Native American issues," one of those marvelous coincidences of inside-the-beltway life.

The lobbyist who concerned Smith more than any other, however, was never even seen in Interior's crowded corridors. His was a name McCaleb whispered to Smith. Like Chad Calvert, he'd been on the transition working group for Interior, staffing the agency. The dark force of Indian gaming, retained as a hidden consultant by tribes and developers across the country, was Roger Stone, a veteran of eight Republican presidential campaigns and star of the Miami/Dade recount shutdown. Scott Reed is often his up-front lobbyist face.

So, too, are William Brack and Chris Changery, onetime lobbyists with Brownstein, Hyatt, the Denver-based firm that employed Norton. Changery had been a press spokesman for Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the Colorado Republican who chairs the Indian Affairs committee. Brack is counsel to the Nighthorse Foundation, a recent invention of the retiring senator. Stone threw a fundraiser for the senator at his Miami estate. Though Brack and Changery left Brownstein in 2003, Stone still gets tribes to hire them "for the specific mission of inserting our language" in a Campbell bill, according to a Stone memo. Though the two recently orchestrated a Campbell-sponsored technical correction helpful to a Stone project, neither filed as lobbyists. The language, which deliberately omitted the tribe's name, was quietly withdrawn after Voiceinquiries about it.

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