Mashpee tribe hires Delahunt as lobbyist

Ex-congressman may aid casino effort

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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Former US representative William D. Delahunt, capitalizing on his nearly 40 years in Massachusetts politics, announced yesterday that he is taking a new job as a lobbyist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which is trying to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Just two months out of office, Delahunt filed paperwork with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office yesterday to register as a lobbyist, which would allow him to be paid to advocate on issues before members of the state Legislature.

He announced that a top client will be the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which has been pushing for the right to operate a casino on tribal land anywhere from Southeastern Massachusetts to Cape Cod, covering much of his former congressional district. The tribe has a keen interest in proposals for expanded gambling that are expected to be resurrected later this year on Beacon Hill.

Delahunt, 69, who represented the state’s 10th Congressional District for 14 years, has long supported the tribe’s efforts to build a casino.

“The history of this tribe’s dealings with our government is replete with bureaucracy, impasse, inertia, and sometimes outright hostility,’’ Delahunt said in a statement. “The tribe has rights as a sovereign nation, and more importantly, treating them with respect and helping them achieve self-sufficiency is simply the right thing to do. I am proud to represent them.’’

The tribe, claiming more than 2,000 enrolled members, cleared a big hurdle in its quest to build a casino when the US government formally recognized it as a tribe in 2007.

Mashpee chairman Cedric Cromwell said yesterday that the tribe will turn to Delahunt to represent the group at the state level in the push for expanded gambling, but also at the federal level on issues such as housing and education for tribe members. He said Delahunt worked closely with the tribe in his 14 years in Congress, and that he understands the importance of the tribe’s sovereignty.

“It’s us bringing in Congressman Delahunt knowing how supportive he was in our aboriginal and historic rights,’’ Cromwell said. He added, “Our tribe was fortunate to have him as our congressman, and we are excited to have his voice and continued advocacy on our behalf.’’

Yesterday’s announcement was quickly criticized by a group that opposes expanded gambling in Massachusetts. The group also questioned whether it was appropriate for Delahunt to lobby members of the state Legislature so soon after leaving office.

Under ethics rules governing Congress, a representative cannot contact any former colleague or member of their staff regarding business or policy issues within one year of leaving office. That rule only blocks Delahunt from lobbying former colleagues in the US House, and it apparently would not prohibit him from lobbying before a federal agency, according to the Center for Public Integrity in Washington.

The state has similar ethics laws that would prohibit a state employee or official from lobbying before his former agency or the Legislature within one year of leaving their job. But it would not prohibit the former congressman from lobbying the Legislature, said David Giannotti, an Ethics Commission spokesman.

But, “I would think he’s really pushing the envelope on this,’’ said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposed gambling legislation last year. “I’m sure the attorney general and the secretary of state will be keeping an eye on this, and we who oppose gambling will do likewise.’’

Delahunt, a former member of the state Legislature and a former Norfolk county district attorney, was not available for comment beyond the prepared statement yesterday.

Last month, Washington-based Prime Policy group announced an alliance with Delahunt to advise companies on ways to establish themselves in foreign countries, and to provide foreign businesses with a connection to the US marketplace. Delahunt had served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and had chaired its Subcommittee on Europe and the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight.

In working for the Wampanoag, the former congressman is taking on a role once held by Jack Abramoff, the longtime Washington lobbyist who was sent to prison corruption charges in 2006 and whose firm represented the Wampanoag tribe. Delahunt has said that he never talked with Abramoff about the tribe.

But Delahunt received at least $1,000 from tribal members and $2,500 from Herbert Strather, a developer hoping to build a casino on Cape Cod, at around the same time he was urging the Bush administration to speed up its review of tribes, including the Wampanoag request for recognition. In his seven terms in Congress, Delahunt also received a total of $15,500 from casino interests, including $7,000 from Indian gambling interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Cromwell would not disclose the terms of any contract agreement with Delahunt yesterday.

The tribe’s efforts to build a full-blown casino, first in Middleborough and then in Fall River, have been stalled in recent years as gambling legislation has failed in the Legislature.

Cromwell said the tribe will claim its sovereign rights allowing it to operate whatever type of gambling is approved by state law on its own land.

He said the tribe, with Delahunt’s help, would be able to prove it has the historic documentation and aboriginal rights to claim land across Southeastern Massachusetts. But the first obstacle is to have the state approve expanded gambling, an issue that legislative leaders have said they want to revisit.

The tribe spent $155,625 lobbying for gambling last year, and $114,609 in 2009, according to the secretary of state’s records.

“We haven’t changed our focus,’’ Cromwell said.

Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.