Moore of the same old stuff
By Jack Cashill,
In his fourteen years in public office, U.S. Congressman Vince Snowbarger never saw a quid that screamed as loudly for a quo as the one that crossed his desk last September. It came indirectly from a Republican lobbyist in the heat of a hard fought campaign. And so blatant did this gambit appear that Snowbarger denounced it publicly as an "effort to buy my vote."
Now, you would think that a lobbyist so totally busted would have hightailed it out of Dodge and brought this story to a close. But to think thus is to underestimate the versatility of certain congressional predators and the vulnerability of their next intended prey, cub U.S. Congressman, Dennis Moore.
Not to shock you, but this story involves gambling. Bottom line, the Wyandotte Indians of Oklahoma--yes, Oklahoma--want the gambling action at the otherwise moribund Woodlands Race Track. If the Wyandottes' stake in Kansas is tenuous, a disputed claim to the Huron Indian Cemetery and adjacent land in downtown KCK, their chutzpah is rock solid. They have leveraged the unholy threat of building a casino on or above the cemetery into public support for building one at the Woodlands. But even with the local support, the Wyandottes still need an act of Congress to circumvent the Governor and override existing prohibitions.
To oblige the Wyandottes, Republican Representative Don Young of Alaska--yes, Alaska--asked Snowbarger to help him advance just such a Bill in the House. Snowbarger's support was critical. Without the active backing of the home town congressman, these sorts of Bills go nowhere. In May of 1998, Snowbarger officially declined. Although no friend of casino gambling, he objected largely because the Bill took the Governor and legislature out of the review process. He also cited the unsettled dispute among various tribes over rights to the cemetery.
But the Wyandottes had a lot of grit and a no-nonsense hired gun, name of C.J. Zane. Zane knew his way around the Congressional long noses. He had served as Chief of Staff to--who else?--Representative Don Young of Alaska. Lobbyist Zane saw an opportunity in Snowbarger's tight re-election bid and seized it.
In the summer of 1998, Zane and the Oklahoma Wyandottes commissioned a poll in Snowbarger's 3rd district. On August 31, Zane wrote Congressman Young that the poll offered a "win-win" solution on the Woodlands issue, and he promised to "get the poll to Snowbarger." The poll results were laundered through the Republican National Congressional Committee and landed on Snowbarger's desk September 10.
The proposed "win-win" solution is classic Washington: Snowbarger betrays his own convictions, supports the House Bill, and promotes this change of heart in a last minute blitz targeted only at Wyandotte county voters lest he "put his religious conservative base at risk."
It gets worse. The summary--intended for Snowbarger to see--recommends an "independent expenditure" to finance the aforementioned promotion. In other words, some unnamed, outside agent would pay to secure the votes of Wyandotte County, "If," of course, "Congressman Snowbarger supports this legislation."
On September 14, Snowbarger's staff forwarded the materials to Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall for her review. She sent them back in a week claiming these were "federal law questions." On September 24, Snowbarger's office turned the materials over to the FEC with copies going to the U.S. Attorney for Kansas, Jackie Williams. As his attorney's cover letter noted, Snowbarger was "concerned that gambling interests and other groups might be improperly interfering in the electoral process."
If nothing else, Zane continued to work hard for his clients. On September 30, Skip Bafalis, a Zane associate and former Republican Congressman from Florida, sent a plaintive letter to Snowbarger. In it, Bafalis laments that all other attempts to reach Snowbarger have failed "with the exception of shaking your hand at your Kansas City fund raiser." Bafalis, himself a lobbyist, boasts that he raises large sums of money for Republican candidates and that his "one goal" is to re-elect a Republican Congress in November.
If Snowbarger could read the threat between the lines, above the line all one could see was an appeal to party loyalty and constitutional justice. House Bill 3797 would allow the Wyandottes to buy the Woodlands, Bafalis argues, as "compensation for land and rights that were taken from them by the Federal government." In fact, what this stirring appeal offered was convenient cover. In the more honest domain of KCK politics, folks knew that the Wyandottes had been well compensated 140 years ago, and that the current deal had little to do with justice and everything to do with juice.
Snowbarger had had enough sleaze for one election cycle. On October 5, he held a press conference to rinse it away. "My vote is not for sale," he forcefully told the media. "Anyone who tries to bribe me will be turned down and turned in." If Snowbarger's opponent, Dennis Moore, had not been aware of the Wyandottes' unseemly lobbying efforts before the press conference, he had to be afterwards.
This is where the story should end. But it doesn't. On April 22, 1999 a new bill was introduced in Congress, HR 1533 by number, "The Wyandotte Tribe Settlement Act" by name. It was described, in familiar terms, as a "bill to compensate the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma for the taking of certain rights by the Federal Government" and "for other purposes."
The bill had one co-sponsor, the Wyandottes' great white father in Washington, Republican Don Young. The bill had one sponsor, the newly-minted representative from Kansas' 3rd District, Democrat Dennis Moore. The spirit of bi-partisanship was alive and well in Congress after all.
In the month preceding the bill's introduction, only Moore's second month in Congress, he received a curious series of donations. One came from none other than stalwart Republican C.J. Zane. Indeed, of the seven recipients to be blessed by Zane 's largesse during that FEC reporting period, Moore was the only Democrat and the only non-Alaskan.
Only a few months earlier, remember, Snowbarger had blown the whistle on Zane and his allies for trying "to buy my vote" on an identical bill. A more sensitive soul than Zane would have holed up in a back country igloo and waited for the heat to subside.
Apparently, Zane did not feel the need . After all, he had been exonerated. On November 2, the day before the election, U.S. Attorney Jackie William's office penned a letter to Snowbarger claiming that the offer from Zane and colleagues "did not establish a criminal violation" and there would be no "further action regarding this matter." What the letter did not say, of course, is that two weeks earlier Williams had made a $1,000 donation to the Dennis Moore campaign. Such is Williams' right, of course. But to donate money to a campaign while reviewing a case pivotal to it does indeed raise eyebrows, as does Zane's exoneration at the precise time he became useless to Snowbarger (and potentially valuable to Moore).
Back to 1999. On the same day as the Zane donation, Moore received a $500 donation from a Michael Sawruck of Winter Park, Florida. Sawruk just happens to be with North American Sports Management, one of the Wyandottes' partners in the proposed Woodlands deal. On that same day, Moore also received a $500 donation from a Harriet Ginsburg, she too coincidentally from Winter Park, Florida. If Sawruk is a Democrat, he is a recent convert. In reviewing its records, the Snowbarger camp discovered that a Michael and a Deborah Sawruk each contributed to the Snowbarger campaign in 1998.
Is this all legal? I suppose. Florida gambling interests conspire with an Alaskan Congressman and a vestigial Oklahoma Indian tribe to use a rookie Kansas Congressman as a conduit for securing federal power to thwart the will of the governor and legislature and steamroller representative democracy in Kansas. . Is it ethical? Who cares. In the era of Clinton, the only operative question seems to be, "Is it impeachable?"
|Home | Professional | Personal | International | National | Regional | Books & DVDs | Articles By Title | Email Jack|