Lobbyist's Ties to Lawmaker Examined

Duane Gibson, who worked for mining firms, raised money for Rep. Richard Pombo, who supported a bill to open federal land.

February 08, 2006|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Duane Gibson, a Washington lobbyist under federal scrutiny in the Jack Abramoff scandal, helped raise money for a California congressman who championed legislation that would benefit Western mining interests that Gibson represented.

Last fall, Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), chairman of the House Resources Committee, attached an amendment to a budget bill -- without hearings or floor debate -- that would have opened national forest and other public land to mining. The so-called Pombo provision passed the House, but was deleted from the bill in the Senate when several Western state senators and governors complained that it would endanger vast portions of federal land.

Three months before Pombo inserted the amendment, Gibson and his lobbying firm had a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the congressman. Although the total raised at the July event is not known, Gibson contributed $1,000, and additional donations came from mining companies, including at least one that Gibson has represented.

The fundraiser and Pombo's action apparently broke no laws. But, as the Abramoff scandal continues to roil the capital, they reflect the symbiotic, cozy relationship between lobbyists and legislators that congressional leaders say they want to curb.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday February 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 126 words Type of Material: Correction
Washington lobbying -- An article in Wednesday's Section A about lobbyist Duane Gibson's ties to Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) said Pombo "attached an amendment to a budget bill -- without hearings or floor debate -- that would have opened national forest and other public land to mining." In fact, the mining provision was part of the legislative package, not an amendment to it; and a member of the House Resources Committee (which Pombo leads) held hearings on the provision, which was not debated on the House floor. Also, the article cited a Pombo spokesman as saying Gibson had worked as an advisor to a task force on mining reform. Gibson may have provided input to the task force, but he was not a formal advisor
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 14, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Washington lobbying -- A Monday correction dealing with a Feb. 8 Section A article on a lobbyist's ties to Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) said the House had held hearings on a mining reform provision backed by Pombo but had not debated it on the House floor. A House member held hearings on mining reform in general, but not on the provision.

Abramoff made his name and fortune by hiring veteran Capitol Hill aides such as Gibson and turning them into lobbyists. By tapping into the former aides' access to powerful members of Congress and their insider experience, Abramoff attracted clients and collected huge fees.

It was precisely those types of connections that came into play last year over the mining measure.

As a former top legal aide on the House Resources Committee, Gibson was familiar with the subject. Later, as a lobbyist, he had an inside track to push the mining companies' agenda. And helping a committee chairman such as Pombo raise money virtually guaranteed that the wishes of Gibson's clients would be addressed.

Gibson did not respond to requests for an interview.

Pombo's chief spokesman on the committee, Brian Kennedy, said in a recent interview that the congressman knew Gibson from his prior work on the committee but that there was no deep relationship beyond that.

"It would certainly stand to reason he would be supportive of Chairman Pombo and [his] efforts on the Resources Committee," Kennedy said. "The chairman does have fundraisers, but these are scheduled and organized outside the Resources Committee."

Kennedy said Pombo's amendment would have helped save "ghost towns" in the West where communities might die when mining operations shut down -- sometimes because they could not expand.

A lawyer, Gibson served as a GOP legal counsel to the Resources Committee and the House Transportation Committee.

In 2000, he was part of the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot in which young Republicans descended on the Miami-Dade County polling headquarters in Florida during the presidential recount, chanting "Stop the fraud!"

Gibson was the key investigator in the Resources Committee's work on behalf of a Texas businessman under investigation by federal banking regulators. When committee members, including Pombo, went to bat for the businessman, Charles Hurwitz, the case against him was ultimately dropped. Hurwitz has been a Pombo contributor.

In 2002, Gibson left his work on Capitol Hill and joined Abramoff's lobbying business at the Washington firm of Greenberg Traurig. "He will be an asset to our clients in Washington, D.C., and around the country," Fred W. Baggett, chairman of the firm's national governmental affairs practice, said at the time.

But after the Abramoff scandal began to unfold two years ago, Gibson left the firm, and last year joined another Washington lobbying concern, the Livingston Group. In announcing his role as a consultant, the firm noted that with 15 years on Capitol Hill, Gibson had "extensive experience ... producing results for clients."

Gibson's name has surfaced in e-mails made public in the Abramoff scandal, including in a February 2004 exchange in which Abramoff associates were discussing a Washington Post article about an FBI investigation into their activities.

Gibson, then still working for Abramoff, e-mailed his colleagues that he considered the article "not all that bad." Michael E. Williams, another lobbyist working for Abramoff, was astounded. "Is he tone deaf or is it me?" Williams asked in an e-mail to colleagues, disparaging Gibson's comment.

"Shouldn't the mention of the FBI alarm a legal eagle like him?" Kevin Ring, an Abramoff lobbyist who previously worked for California Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville), asked in an e-mail. He added: "If people start chiming in with stupid quotes like Duane's, I am going to snap."

Gibson's name has also appeared in grand jury subpoenas as the federal task force in Washington continues to ratchet up its investigation. Abramoff has pleaded guilty in cases in Florida and Washington, and many are bracing for charges against others.

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