Monday, July 07, 2008

UPDATED: Lobbyist paid $665,000, secretly representing Ilitch syndication interests

Several influential D.C. lobbyists, one whom the Washington Post reported was a part of former House Speaker Tom DeLay's "kitchen cabinet" and another a former Member of Congress, are part of a firm that was paid $665,000 by a third party trying secretly to advance off-reservation Indian casino proposals backed by Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik (Team Ilitch).

Documents on file with the Secretary of the Senate indicate in 2003 and 2004, Richard S. "Rick" Kessler's firm Kessler & Associates (also dba Century Business Services and Kessler & Associates Business Services) was retained to represent Wheat Government Relations, a lobbying firm.

Among lobbyists at K&A is former Rep. Billy Lee Evans (D-GA). Evans has been identified recently as one of Rep. Don Young's "A-Team" lobbyists.

Wheat Government Relations' clients include various Team Ilitch casino syndication interests (Barwest, Bay Mills Indian Community, Blue Water Resorts, Gateway Casino Resorts, Shinnecock Indian Nation). It appears now that Wheat was funneling payments it received from various Team Ilich casino partners to Kessler & Associates (K&A) to handle most --if not all -- of the lobbying work required of Wheat's gaming and Indian affairs clients.

Former Rep. Alan Wheat (D-MO) is the principal of Wheat Goverment Relations (

Based on several analysis available from the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2003-04 Wheat Government Relations (as client) paid K&A, a sister lobbying firm, $515,000 for representation on gaming and Indian matters; yet, Wheat Government Relations (as lobbying firm) was paid only $400,000 by its collective gaming and Indian matters clients during that 2003-04 period.

That suggests Wheat paid K&A $115,000 more than it got paid by it's collective gaming and Indian affairs clients. So who made up the difference?

Neither Rick Kessler’s list of lobbying clients (Richard S. Kessler) nor his firm’s client list (Kessler & Associates, aka Century Business Services, Inc., Kessler & Associates Business Services; CBIZ Kessler Government Affairs, LLC) reveal any obvious representation of Native American's or gaming companies – they simply lists “Wheat Government Relations,” the lobbying firm. So we dug a little deeper.

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reviewed issues lobbied by Kessler’s firm in 2003 and 2004 (and cumulatively 1998-2004) and ranked them by number of companies and organizations the firm represented: at the bottom of the K&A list are “Indian & Native American Affairs” at #28 and “Gaming, Gambling & Casinos” at #30 – Kessler officially had one such client that needed representation on those matters, Wheat Government Relations.

On the other hand, a similar review by CPI of issues represented by Wheat Government Relations ranks ”Indian & Native American Affairs” #1 and “Gaming, Gambling & Casinos” #3 out of 12 issue areas represented – Wheat representing it had 19 Indian clients and 14 gaming clients from 1998-2004. By funneling money through Wheat, K&A avoided being included in lists or analysis that revealed firms doing significant work lobbying on behalf of Native American or gambling interests.

In truth, “Indian & Native American Affairs” and “Gaming, Gambling & Casinos” were extremely significant parts of Kessler & Associates’ success. The Center for Responsive Politics tracks annual lobbying fees by firm. An analysis of K&A annual fees indicates Wheat Government Relations was K&A’s #2 client in 2003 with fees of $295,000 (10% of the firm’s ’03 total fee revenue) and also #2 in 2004 with fees of $220,000 (13% of the firm’s total fee revenue). But K&A's affiliation with ”Indian & Native American Affairs” and “Gaming, Gambling & Casinos” stayed under the radar.

From 2002-2005, Kessler & Associates (Richard S. “Rick” Kessler, Billy Lee Evans, Franklin G Polk and Scott A. Spear) lobbied on behalf of Team Ilitch’s interests in Washington, D.C. virtually “under the radar” because Team Ilitch affiliates and partners had officially hired Wheat Government Relations not K&A. But as is revealed here, Wheat, in turn, passed through $665,000 in fees to Kessler & Associates over the four year period.

From 2003-2006 Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) followed Rep. Don Young as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. For a period, Young served as the Committee's vice chair.

During the period from 2003-2005, it has been reported that Rep. Don Young, then chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee attempted multiple times to slip various earmarks into what would become the 2005 National Highway Spending Bill -- earmarks that would have effectively given Team Ilitch the go-ahead to build an off-reservation casino in Port Huron, Michigan, in partnership with the Bay Mills Indian Community.

In fact, The Hill reports one such attempt was uncovered and then actively opposed by Sen. John McCain and former Rep. Richard Pombo. Funds were earmarked for a transportation study in Port Huron. Hidden in the language of the earmark was a requirement ordering the Secretary of Interior to take actions that would have given Team Ilitch the approvals needed to build the off-reservation casino; and bypass all of the normal processes and approvals for such a project.

Rick Kessler (Richard S. Kessler) & Billy Evans, Kessler & Associates (K&A), contributed $3,000 to RICH PAC (Rep. Richard Pombo’s leadership PAC) during 2004/05. Team Ilitch and affiliates contributed a total of $40,000 to RICH Political Action Committee in ‘04/’06.

Kessler & Evans contributed $10,000 to Young and Young's Midnight Sun leadership PAC during the '04 & '06 election cycles. Malik and members of the Ilitch family have contributed more than $20,000 to Young and his Midnight Sun PAC. In addition, since 2003, they've given nearly $97,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee; and at least $50,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Kessler's role as head of the Rippon Society has come under scrutiny and investigation in recent years. Among other things, Rippon, who's leadership is made up of some of the most influential D.C. lobbyists (including Kessler's associate Billy Evans), is said to provide extravagant travel and trips to Members of Congress using educational loopholes that often include corporate lobbyists as fellow travelers.

Since 2002, various affiliates of Team Ilitch (Marian Ilitch and Michael J. Malik), paid D.C. lobbyists more than $4 million trying to influence proposals the Detroit casino syndicators are baking for Indian casinos in Michigan, New York and California -- chiefly a casino proposed in Port Huron, Michigan.

Another Team Ilitch affiliate, MJM Enterprises, has also hired two other lobbying firms with ties to Rep. Don Young: Potomac Partners D.C., a firm founded by Richard "Rick" Alcalde, another of Young's "A-Team" lobbyists; and Williams & Jensen, a firm with ties to past scandals involving former Speaker Tom DeLay and former Sen. Rick Santorum, that has provided services to and advised Young's Midnight Sun leadership PAC over the years.

links to: Documentation available via the Senate Office of Public Records

Official Website: Kessler & Associates (aka CBIZ Kessler Government Affairs LLC)

Previously updated 6.21.07

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