Big-dollar donations that former Congressman J.D. Hayworth received from Indian tribes are being scrutinized in a federal investigation potentially linked to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Hayworth, the state’s top recipient of Indian money, confirmed Monday that his lawyer was contacted last December by federal investigators seeking documents related to his dealings with tribes.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Hayworth said. “I have done nothing illegal or unethical.”
Hayworth has used almost $200,000 in campaign money to pay two law firms that are representing him in the federal investigation. The Scottsdale Republican was narrowly defeated after 12 years in Congress by Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., in November.
Federal disclosure reports show Hayworth’s campaign paid about $169,000 to the law firm Foley & Lardner in Washington D.C. The first payment was December 22. On that same date, the campaign made an initial payment of $6,646 to a second law firm, DLA Piper, based in Sacramento, Calif. Total payments to DLA Piper had reached $19,494 as of the most recent campaign reporting period, which ended June 30.
Hayworth said the California firm represents the company that did accounting work for his campaign. Foley & Lardner is representing Hayworth and his campaign.
The lawyers are mainly pulling and categorizing all the records related to Hayworth’s dealings with Indian issues, Hayworth said.
Cleta Mitchell, Hayworth’s lawyer at the Foley law firm, said she could not comment.
It is legal to use campaign funds for legal expenses, as long as there is a connection to campaign activity or to the federal office, according to Federal Election Commission regulations.
Hayworth insists he is not the target of the investigation. If he was, Hayworth said he would have been notified by the Justice Department.
However, the agency has no requirement that it notify a potential target of an ongoing criminal investigation, said Erik Ablin, an agency spokesman in Washington D.C., who stressed he was speaking generally and could not comment on any particular case.
Hayworth said he has not been told exactly what investigators are looking into, but said it has to do with his dealings with Native American tribes.
Indian money was at the core of the Abramoff scandal.
Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion last year in a wide-ranging bribery and influence-peddling investigation involving political donations that came largely from Indian tribes he represented as a lobbyist. He was sentenced to six years in prison and continues cooperating with federal investigators probing the scope of his influence in Congress, primarily among Republicans.
Hayworth and his political action committee received about $64,000 in contributions from tribes while they were being represented by Abramoff, according to a tally covering multiple election cycles from the Center for Responsive Politics. That put him second among congressional recipients of Abramoff-related donations as of the last election.
Abramoff directly gave Hayworth a total of $2,250 through separate payments in 1998 and 1999. Hayworth donated that amount to the Salvation Army’s Hurricane Katrina relief fund after the scandal broke.
While in Congress, Hayworth co-chaired the Native American Caucus and was among the most reliable defenders of tribal interests. He was consistently among the top congressional recipients of donations from Indian tribes, virtually all of which came from tribes that operate casinos.
In the last election, Hayworth’s campaign received almost $100,000 from Indian tribes, about three-fourths of it from out of state. His political action committee, TEAM PAC, received another $54,000 in tribal donations.
Hayworth was the top recipient of Indian money among Arizona’s delegation last election, according to a Tribune analysis published in October.
Hayworth said he has exhausted campaign money available for legal expenses, and has turned to personal funds to pay his lawyers. After the hard-fought November election in which he was defeated by Mitchell, Hayworth reported he had about $262,098 in cash on hand. In his most recent disclosure report, Hayworth listed only $23,134 in unspent money.
Hayworth said he had no warning of the Justice Department’s investigation until after the election, adding he was not holding money back to pay his legal bills.
The amount Hayworth kept in unspent campaign funds in 2006 is similar to the amounts of cash on hand he reported after the 2002 and 2004 elections, according to federal election reports.
“It takes a toll on my family, my wife and kids,” said Hayworth, who does an afternoon talk show on KFYI-Radio, 550 AM. “They didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong.
“I lost my seat in Congress. I don’t have anything else. I couldn’t think of any better way to try and destroy a person.”
- Tribune writer Dennis Welch contributed to this story.