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Riley says he asked lobbyist to raise money

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Gov. Bob Riley said he asked Choctaw Indian lobbyist Michael Scanlon to raise money for a Republican group before the 2002 election, but he never asked Scanlon to raise money for him.

In an interview with The Birmingham News, Riley also said he would never knowingly accept gambling funds.

"I didn't ask for it. I didn't want it," Riley said in the Friday interview, which was published Monday.

Scanlon, who represented the casino-operating Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia, Miss., gave money to four groups that then gave large contributions to Riley's 2002 campaign for governor.

The Alabama Democratic Party is running a TV ad that criticizes Riley's connection to Scanlon. Scanlon worked for Riley in 1997 when Riley first served in Congress. Then he went on to work for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas before going into the political consulting business. Scanlon pleaded guilty last year to defrauding his Indian clients. His guilty plea came in the same Washington lobbying investigation that snared his friend Jack Abramoff.

Riley said the Democratic ad accusing him of taking gambling money is "ridiculous."

"I have never met a Choctaw. I have never talked to a Choctaw. I talked to Mike Scanlon once five years ago," Riley said.

Riley said he approached Scanlon before the 2002 election, long before his legal troubles, and asked him to contribute to the Republican Governors Association.

Riley, who was running for governor at the time, said he approached Scanlon because he was a successful lobbyist with multiple corporate clients.

"When I went to see Mike, it had nothing to do with Indians, Choctaws, anything else. I think everyone in Washington understood that Mike had a very successful lobbying business with a number of clients. Nobody walked in and said, 'I understand you got the Choctaws as a client,' " Riley said.

Riley said he didn't ask Scanlon to contribute to his campaign, and the request to raise money for the Republican Governors Association was his only contact with Scanlon.

Scanlon gave $500,000 of his company's funds in October 2002 to the Republican Governors Association, which soon after transferred the money to a related Republican committee, which in turn donated $650,000 to Riley and $150,000 to the Alabama Republican Party the same month.

RGA officials said the Scanlon money did not go to Riley. The money given to Riley was from individual donors to the RGA, not corporate donors like Scanlon, according to RGA officials.

However, campaign records show Scanlon had an interest in the 2002 Alabama elections, where Riley faced Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. Siegelman was advocating a state lottery, which could have attracted customers away from the Choctaws' two casinos in Philadelphia, Miss.

Campaign finance records show Scanlon gave money to groups that gave to a multitude of candidates, including Riley.

In 2002, Scanlon gave $100,000 to four Alabama-based political action committees controlled by Montgomery lobbyists Joe Fine and Bob Geddie that contributed heavily to Riley's campaign. Scanlon's company also gave $9,000 to Progress PAC, the fundraising arm of the Business Council of Alabama, which also contributed heavily to Riley.

'Operation Orange'

Perhaps the strongest link to Scanlon, and the subject of the Democrats' ad, is an entry in Scanlon's ledgers, which were included in the materials released during a Senate investigation.

Scanlon's company ledgers indicated under the heading Operation Orange, the name given to his work with the Choctaws, that he planned to give $75,000 to "Riley" through the National Republican Congressional Committee. Soon after he withdrew that amount, Scanlon gave $50,000 to the NRCC, and the NRCC gave Riley $360,000.

Riley disputed that those contributions were linked to him because the groups that received Scanlon's dollars contributed to many candidates.

"He may have had somebody else in Alabama that he wanted to help who was anti-gambling. I have no idea," Riley said.

Campaign finance records show that Riley's opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, received money in the June primaries from PACs that got money from dog track owner Milton McGregor, among other sources.

Scanlon's records also indicate he was paying for professional campaign services in Alabama, but the recipient of those funds said it wasn't related to Riley. Scanlon's company ledger indicates he paid $155,000 to the public relations firm of Lunde and Burger for professional campaign services in Alabama in late 2001.

George Burger said recently that the Alabama work his now-defunct firm performed for Scanlon in late 2001 was not related to Riley's race. "It had to do with what was at that point gaming operations in Wetumpka," he told The Birmingham News.

At the time of Scanlon's payments to Burger's firm in November 2001, the Poarch Creek Indians opened a new bingo center in Wetumpka with high-stakes electronic bingo machines that the Mississippi Choctaws would likely have viewed as unwelcome competition. Burger did work on Riley's behalf the following summer, after the PAC affiliated with the Business Council of Alabama decided to endorse Riley's campaign.

Burger said he was paid by the BCA to analyze Alabama races, and he was among many consultants helping Riley in the summer of 2002. He said his work for Riley was on an "essentially volunteer basis."

"Once BCA endorsed, off we went," Burger said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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