Eastern Pequot Lobbyist Also a GOP Fund-Raiser

July 20, 2002
New London Day – Newspaper

The Journal Inquirer Hartford — The lead fund-raiser for the Republican Governors Association, a partisan organization headed by Gov. John G. Rowland, is also the lobbyist who just helped win federal recognition for the Indian tribe expected to build the next gambling casino in Connecticut.

But the governor’s spokesman today denied that the role played by the fund-raiser and lobbyist, Ronald C. Kaufman, poses a conflict should Rowland find himself across the bargaining table from the Eastern Pequots. “He is intending to remain impartial,” the spokesman, Christopher Cooper, said of the governor. “

What impact politics or business acquaintances would have in that process is absolutely zero.” “Clearly, there are going to be people involved in the political system, and who already have been, with all of the Indian casinos,” he added. The Eastern Pequots, who along with the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots were recognized as a single tribe by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs last month, have paid Kaufman $500,000 to represent them since 1999.

The lobbyist, 56, lives in Washington, D.C., but keeps a home and voting address in Massachusetts, which he represents as a member of the Republican National Committee. Kaufman was said this week to be attending the National Governors Association meeting in Idaho and an RNC meeting in San Francisco. He did not return calls placed to his offices. But he told the Boston Globe this month that the Eastern Pequots had paid him “for good advice” and insisted that he didn’t “talk to anyone at the White House” about the matter.

Marcia Jones Flowers, chairman of the Eastern Pequots, said Friday that Kaufman only counseled the tribe during the recognition process.“ Mr. Kaufman’s association with the Eastern Pequots began three years ago, before he became the finance chair for the RGA and before Gov. Rowland became an RGA officer,” said Flowers. “His only role with the tribe has been to advise us on the federal recognition process and the congressional process in Washington, D.C. He has not been involved in any state-tribal issues or in the tribe’s dealings with the governor in the three years we’ve worked together.”

Kaufman also was deputy political director for former President Bush. His job included thanking the president’s friends, such as Kenneth Lay, former president of now-bankrupt Enron Corp., for their recommendations for changes in the federal tax code, letters at the Bush presidential library in Texas show. Kaufman is a partner in a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, The Dutko Group. He is also a senior partner in an affiliated company, Kaufman, Patee, Brandstad & Miller, that says it specializes in “leveraging the role of governors” and “in helping build public/private partnerships at the state level.” The latter firm’s clients have included Arthur Andersen, Microsoft, Northeast Utilities and Wisconsin Energy Corp.

He also is the estranged husband of Alison Kaufman, former director of Rowland’s Washington, D.C., gubernatorial office, as well as the brother-in-law of White House chief of staff Andrew M. Card. As finance chairman of the RGA, Kaufman has worked hand in hand with Rowland, raising millions of dollars in campaign contributions for Republican gubernatorial candidates across the nation.

Rowland’s personal schedule, which was reviewed recently by the Journal Inquirer, shows the governor regularly consults Kaufman. Kaufman also was behind dozens of e-mail messages an RGA aide sent during state working hours to Rowland’s offices at the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C., according to sources familiar with the communications.

Moreover, the expense records of another lobbyist who was Rowland’s Connecticut representative to the RGA finance committee, Linda A. Kowalski, show Kaufman’s wife was a guest at several dinners attended by the governor’s staff and paid for by the quasi-public Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. Rowland asked Kowalski to quit her efforts on behalf of the RGA after disclosures detailing the CRRA’s reimbursement of those expenses.

The BIA announced June 24 that it was recognizing the two contentious Indian groups that share a reservation in North Stonington, the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, as a single Historic Eastern Pequot Tribe. With sovereign status as a federally recognized tribe, the two groups are expected to develop a casino. Cooper said in May that Rowland wouldn’t take a position on a new casino anywhere in the state because the governor would have to negotiate a compact with any tribe that won federal recognition and would have to remain neutral to do so.

The spokesman said today that when Rowland recently was asked about a third Indian casino in the state, “he said, ‘I don’t believe there is a need for a third casino,’ but he also recognizes the very strong likelihood that there will be at least a third casino.” “What he has always said is that in the event that does happen, he wants to make sure he’s in a position, which is why he basically maintains impartiality, to be able to negotiate a compact that is fair to all parties, the region, the state, and the tribe,” Cooper added.

Kaufman is not registered as a lobbyist in Connecticut, where the Eastern Pequots have been represented by the New London lobbying firm of Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley and Selinger, and the firm of Brown Rudnik Freed and Gesmer.

Tobin Carberry, the firm that includes former Republican congressional candidate Glenn Carberry, was paid $7,500 per month by the tribe, while Brown Rudnik, whose lobbying operation in Hartford is headed by former House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter, was paid $5,000 per month. Kaufman said in a 2000 interview with Fortune magazine that “what I do for my clients is completely outside of the box of what I do for the RGA.” “We are careful to make sure there are no legal, ethical or perception problems,” he added.

Local officials who have been critical of the recognition process said they were not surprised by the revelation of Kaufman’s involvement with the tribe and the RGA. “The largest donator in lobbyist contributions was the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe nationally,” said North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane. “It’s a known fact that the Mashantuckets are supporting the Eastern Pequots. There were so many irregularities and so much suspect lobbying money and campaign contributions that I don’t know how they can continue with any credibility.”

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said that he recently learned of Kaufman’s involvement with the Republican Governors Association. “I don’t know if there is a conflict,” said Congdon. “It depends on where the governor stands. I haven’t been able to pin him down on this issue. It doesn’t surprise me. We haven’t been able to get the governor to fund the attorney general’s office so they can have enough money and become an interested party in the recognition process. The governor opposed it. My guess is if I was going to spend $500,000, I’m going to get a lot in return.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal could not be reached for comment. Congdon also said that the governor’s inability to take a stand against tribal recognition would hinder him in the long run. “I think it will definitely hurt the governor in southeastern Connecticut,” said Congdon. “It may hurt him in other parts of the state as well. To tell you the truth nothing surprises me anymore. Politics at that level is not about doing what’s right or ethical. Instead it’s focused on ‘Where’s the money?’ ”Day ReporterIzaskun E. Larraneta conntributed to this report.