Norquist will not testify at McCain's tribe hearing

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and a leading figure in the conservative movement, will not testify at an upcoming Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on lobbying abuses.

Norquist has come under fire in recent months for his dealings with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Indian tribes Abramoff represented. ATR received nearly $1.5 million from Indian tribes in recent years, a sizable portion of which was funneled to two anti-gambling groups to battle efforts by an Alabama Indian tribe to expand its gaming operations.

The expansion could have impinged on the revenues of a neighboring tribe, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which was a longtime client of Abramoff, The Boston Globe reported last month.

Norquist also led an effort in 1999 to kill a proposed tax on Indian gaming revenues and he helped set up annual meetings between tribal leaders and the President.

“No, he will not be testifying” at the hearing, said ATR Chief of Staff Damon Ansell.

The Indian Affairs Committee issued a subpoena to ATR earlier this year seeking information on its donors, among other materials. ATR has been battling the panel’s request for details of its donors, arguing that such information is protected under federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) on May 31 to raise concern about the request.

“To subpoena such information could chill current or prospective donors and supporters, and threaten First Amendment freedoms of speech and association,” wrote ACLU Acting Director Greg Nojeim and Legislative Counsel Marvin Johnson. “In addition to the impact this subpoena has on the recipient, its existence sends to all other non-profit organizations the chilling message that they, too, may be subjected to this kind of oppressive government investigation if they have the temerity to take an active role in debating public issues.”

According to the letter, which excerpted a section of the subpoena, the committee demanded “any and all tax returns and tax return information, including but not limited to all W-2s, form 1099s, schedules draft returns, work papers, and backup documents filed, created or held by or on behalf of ATR for tax years 1998 to the present,” which the ACLU concluded amounted to a request for the group’s full donor list.

A spokeswoman for McCain could not be reached for comment. The committee has maintained in the past that it is seeking only information pertaining to specific donors.

McCain and the Indian Affairs Committee have spent more than a year investigating Abramoff and his close associate Michael Scanlon. They were paid more than $80 million by more than a half-dozen tribes over a period of several years. The committee has held two previous hearings to investigate the dealings Abramoff and Scanlon had with the tribes.

Although Norquist will not be testifying, the June 22 hearing will reportedly focus on him and ATR as well as another conservative figure, Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition.

A spokesperson for Reed could not be reached to determine whether he would appear at the hearing. Reed is currently a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.

A representative from the Choctaw tribe will likely testify, McCain indicated in a May 18 letter sent to Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin.

“I look forward to the Tribe’s cooperation in and appearance at the hearing. With your help, we will expose more fully this sad chapter in American history so that others may learn and benefit from this tragedy,” McCain wrote.

The tribe released the letter in ads that ran Sunday in Mississippi papers. The tribe has been trying to counter recent local reports of wrongdoing. The ads highlighted McCain’s assertion that the tribe was not the target of any investigation.