Three Chippewa Indian tribes submitted applications to the U.S. Department of the Interior seeking approval to convert a greyhound racing facility in Hudson, Wisconsin, to an off-reservation casino.
On June 8, 1995, the Indian Gaming staff in the department issued a draft report recommending approval of the Chippewa application.
While a final decision on the application was pending in the agency, Harold Ickes (then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Political Affairs) received a letter from Patrick O'Connor, a lobbyist for tribes that opposed the Chippewa application. The O'Connor letter explained that the Chippewa decision was significant, that the opposition tribes were important contributors to the Democratic Party, and that the Chippewa tribes were Republican supporters. In addition, Donald Fowler, the Democratic National Committee chairman, met with Mr. Ickes and "discussed the basis for the opposition to creating another gaming casino." Further, faxes regarding the application were exchanged between White House staff and Department of the Interior staff.
On June 27, 1995, the Chippewa application was denied. The decision cited "community opposition" but did not incorporate or discuss the lengthy and detailed reports the staff had prepared.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told Paul Eckstein, a lawyer for the Chippewas and a lifetime friend of Mr. Babbitt, that Mr. Ickes required him to issue the decision. Following an investigation, Mr. Babbitt was cleared of any violations of the law. However, what ethical issues arise when political activities cross into administrative proceedings? How would the Chippewas perceive this series of events?
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