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THE NATION

Golf, and Playing by the Rules

Lobbyist who arranged a junket for DeLay also set up St. Andrews trips for two of his colleagues.

March 09, 2005|Chuck Neubauer and Walter F. Roche Jr. | Times Staff Writers

In August 2002, Ney and his party flew in a chartered jet with Abramoff to St. Andrews' fabled golf links.

Others making the trip included Scanlon; Reed; David Safavian, a General Services Administration official; and Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton, according to records and testimony.

Heaton reported to the House that his trip had been sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Safavian and Reed said they paid their own way. Safavian, who has since been appointed chief of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget by President Bush, said he wrote a personal check to Abramoff.

Ney's travel report naming the National Center as sponsor omitted any reference to golf. The purpose, Ney said, was to make a "speech to Scottish parliamentarians, attend Edinburgh Military Tattoo" and visit the British Parliament.

On his return, Ney met with tribal leaders in his congressional office, where he sang the praises of Abramoff, according to Senate testimony by Tigua officials. He pledged to help get their casino reopened, they said.

However, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), author of the Senate version of the election reform bill, refused to add special language to the bill.

The Tigua casino never reopened.

"My heart goes out to the Indian tribes ... who were duped," Ney said in his November statement. He blamed the lobbyist.

"I too was misled," he said, by Abramoff and Scanlon, whom he called "these two nefarious individuals."

Ney said he was not "even remotely aware that any Indian tribe played any role" in his trip to Scotland.

The Think Tank

It was a direct and unambiguous denial.

"The National Center for Public Policy Research did not sponsor, nor did we pay for, a 2002 trip reportedly taken by Rep. Ney and others," said Amy Ridenour, center president.

"We were not even aware that such a trip had taken place," she wrote in response to a reporter's questions.

The center describes itself as "a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today's public policy problems."

Formed in 1982, it has annual revenue of more than $6 million. Ridenour leads the center, and her husband, David, is vice president. Tax returns for the organization show the couple were paid a combined $275,000 in 2003.

After the November elections, Ridenour wrote opinion pieces sent to newspapers nationwide that urged Bush to address Social Security reform and reduce government regulation.

The center has issued several reports on environmental issues and charges that environmentalists have engaged in "a jihad ... against corporate America."

It gets most of its revenue through direct-mail solicitations, records show, and says it receives no public funding.

Abramoff was on its board of directors from 1995 to 2004, and some of his tribal clients were among its major backers.

The Choctaw tribe of Mississippi gave $1 million to the center, according to Senate testimony. The Louisiana Coushattas, according to a spokesman, were asked to donate more than $1 million but never made the payment.

Tax records show that the center, in turn, supports Abramoff. It paid an Abramoff-controlled company $1.2 million for consulting, and made separate donations of $450,000 and $250,000 to the athletic foundation established and controlled by the lobbyist and his wife.

Rep. Feeney

A year after the Ney trip, Abramoff was headed back to Scotland on a chartered jet with Feeney.

And like Ney, Feeney reported that the National Center was the sponsor of the August 2003 trip, picking up a tab of $5,643. In addition to playing golf "on two, possibly three occasions," according to a Feeney aide, the congressman met with Scottish business and political leaders.

He also attended and reviewed the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual parade of kilted soldiers marching to bagpipes and drums at Edinburgh Castle. Feeney was invited, his aide said, because of his membership on the House Judiciary Committee's domestic security subcommittee.

Feeney left the golf junket early to join his wife for a previously planned vacation in Ireland, an aide said.

Also on the trip with Feeney were Reed and two congressional aides -- Mark Zachares and Bob R. Brooks Jr.

Both aides listed the National Center as their trip sponsor, although the nonprofit agency also flatly disputed that. The aides filed their travel disclosure reports with the House clerk's office hours after receiving e-mails from Abramoff's Washington law office that advised them and Feeney what to report.

In those e-mails, Abramoff's office listed the National Center as the sponsor and provided figures for the costs of transportation, lodging and meals. The aides used those figures on their filings to the clerk's office, documents show.

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