Conrad Burns

From OpenCongress Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

Conrad R. Burns was a Republican United States Senator from Montana from 1989 to 2007. He was defeated in the 2006 congressional elections by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).




Conrad Burns was born January 25, 1935 on a farm near Gallatin, Missouri. Graduating from Gallatin High School in 1952, Senator Burns enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Missouri. Two years later Burns enlisted in the Marine Corps and was posted in East Asia.

Following his military service Burns began working for TWA and Ozark airlines until 1962, when he became a field representative for Polled Hereford World magazine in Billings, Montana. Named the first manager of the Northern International Livestock Expo in 1968, Burns began his career in radio and television broadcasting, reporting on agricultural market news.

In 1975, Burns founded four radio stations known as the Northern Ag Network, which grew to serve 31 radio and TV stations across Montana and Wyoming when he sold it in 1986.

Burns began his career in politics when he was elected to the Yellowstone County Commission, serving for two years before deciding to run for the U.S. Senate.

Senate Career

In 1988 Burns ran successfully for his U.S. Senate. He campaigned initially on the promise of being a two term senator, but ignored questions about the issue while campaigning for his third term.

Burns was reelected in 2000 when he beat now-Governor Brian Schweitzer 51%-48%.

Burns had a legislative history of supporting measures and bills which would reduce Native American tribal sovereignty, including a bill, co-sponsored with then-Washington Republican Senator Slade Gorton, that would require tribes to waive sovereignty rights such as immunity from lawsuits, in addition to meeting means testing, before they could receive federal funds. He also sponsored legislation that some say would overturn treaties by eliminating Indian jurisdiction of reservation land owned by non-Indians.

In February 2006 Burns voiced opposition to a Bush Administration plan to sell off 300,000 acres of federal land - 14,000 acres coming from Montana. Burns, who chairs the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee of the Senate Energy Committee, stated, "I have no interest in including the administration's proposal in my Interior bill. It's dead in the water."[1][2]

Iraq War

Burns voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in Oct. 2002.

For more information see the chart of U.S. Senate votes on the Iraq War.

2006 elections

In 2006, the Democrats nominated Jon Tester to face Burns in his November 2006 bid for reelection. (See U.S. congressional elections in 2006) [3] In a widely watched and closely fought race, Tester defeated Burns by less than three thousand votes. [4]

Meet the Cash Constituents

Links to more campaign contribution information for Conrad Burns
from the Center for Responsive Politics' site.
Fundraising profile: 2008 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by organization/corporation: 2008 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by industry: 2008 election cycle Career totals


Jack Abramoff, Indian Tribes, and the Northern Marianas Islands

The Wall Street Journal reported November 25, 2005, that the Justice Department's "investigation into possible influence-peddling by prominent Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is examining his dealings with four lawmakers, more than a dozen current and former congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials, lawyers and others involved in the case. ... "[Namely] House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), according to several people close to the investigation."

As the chair of the Interior subcommittee on Apropriations, Burns received approximately $146,000 in campaign contributions through Abramoff and then directed $3 million to the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, an Abramoff client and one of the wealthiest tribes in the country from a program intended to help the neediest tribes fix delapidated schools. [5] On April 7th, 2006 the Washington Post reported that the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe would return the $3 million earmark obtained by Abramoff, "After careful consideration, our tribal council has decided not to move forward with the construction of the school, because it is not financially prudent to pursue this project at this time." The money will be sent back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be dispersed to other tribes.[6]

(According to the Washington Post, Burns received $146,590 from Jack Abramoff and his clients.[7] The Center for Responsive Politics completed a study that showed Burns receiving $52,340 from Abramoff and his clients.[8])

E-mails revealed in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation into Abramoff's bilking of Indian tribes showed that Abramoff was discussing getting Burns to call Interior Secretary Gale Norton in support of the grant:

In one e-mail, Abramoff said he would get Burns to call Interior Secretary Gale Norton about the money. Abramoff said the idea came from Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles.
"(Griles) told me to have Burns call Norton and I asked Will to get that done, and he will," read an e-mail Abramoff sent to co-worker Todd Boulanger on Sept. 15, 2003.[9]

That "Will" may be then chief of staff Will Brooke. On December 14th, 2005 The Missoulian reported that Burns' onetime chief of staff Will Brooke was talking to federal investigators about the Abramoff scandal. Brooke left Burns' office, after a 2000-2003 stint, to work at Abramoff's lobbying firm in December of 2003. According to The Missoulian, the hiring "occurred shortly after Burns helped secure a controversial $3 million grant for one of Abramoff's tribal clients, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan."[10] Brooke was one of many congressional staffers on an Abramoff sponsored flight to the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida. During that trip "Abramoff allegedly offered" $500 in poker chips to be used by the staffers at his recently acquired casino boat line, Sun Cruz Casinos.[11] A second Burns staffer, Ryan Thomas, went on the Tampa trip as well. On February 8th Roll Call reported that Thomas had resigned from his position on the Interior Department staff.[12]

After initially claiming credit for the appropriation Burns subsequently denied knowledge of it, "A lot of things happened that I didn't know about. It shouldn't have happened, but it did."

In December 2005, a leader of a tribe which gave $22,000 in campaign contributions to Burns in 2002 stated that they had done so solely at the request of Abramoff and believed the senator was part of "Abramoff's group." [13]

Burns attempt to make a $111,000 donation to the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council was rejected by the tribe who said the money was tainted because it originally came from Abramoff and his clients. When possible, Burns returned contributions to the tribes where they originated.[14]

On January 21, 2006 The Missoulian reported that Conrad Burns changed his vote on legislation regarding the minimum wage in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. protectorate and Abramoff client, after receiving a contribution from the head of a CNMI sweat shop, Tan Holdings.[15]

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., met with a Marianas official [Gov. Benigno Fitial - a former Tan executive] who had close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the weeks before Burns received an Abramoff-related $5,000 contribution from the Marianas and reversed his earlier position on a bill about the islands.
Burns voted against a bill in May 2001 that would have strengthened U.S. oversight over the commonwealth's labor and immigration laws. A little more than a year before Burns had not opposed an identical measure.
Burns has said the $5,000 donation from an Abramoff client had nothing to do with his 2001 change in stance on the bill. Rather, the senator told Lee Newspapers this month he was persuaded to vote against the measure after reading two government reports about the islands and meeting with Fitial, who was then speaker of the Marianas House of Representatives.[16]

The CNMI government, at the behest of Gov. Fitial, paid Abramoff's lobbying firm $1.1 million to defeat the bill that Burns switched his vote on.

In an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair, Jack Abramoff made damning statements about Conrad Burns and his office:

Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns's committee] we got. ... Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria. I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."[17]

Burns had previously issued his own condemnation of Abramoff saying, "This Abramoff guy is a bad guy. And he's indicted, and I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born, to be right honest with you. Because he's done a terrible, terrible thing to our Native American community."[18]

The April 17, 2006 issue of Newsweek highlights the possibility that Burns may wind up the next member of Congress to fall from the ongoing Abramoff inquiry. On April 4th, Rep. Tom DeLay announced that he would resign his seat in Congrees only three days after his former deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy pled guilty to fraud and other charges. Bob Ney, known as "Representative #1" in three seperate plea agreements was forced out of his role as chairman of the House Administration Committee and is still under investigation. Burns is viewed as the next member to come under heightened scrutiny both from the media, as the existence of the Newsweek article suggests, and from federal prosecutors following up on the information obtained through plea deals.[19]

Principally as a result of this scandal, Burns was named in 2006 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as one of the twenty most corrupt US legislators.[20]

Telecom: Revolving Door

In March 2006 Roll Call reported that former aides to Burns have used their connections to the Senator and institutions connected to him to reap some $20 million in lobbying fees and secure Burns-authored earmarks for their clients. "[M]ore than a dozen companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sector ... have paid lobbying retainers to former Burns aides ... As chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on communications through the end of 2004 — and as an ongoing member of the Commerce and Appropriations committees — Burns holds significant sway over how the government regulates and aids the telecommunications industry." Burns consistently backed legislation and pushed for tax breaks for companies that employed his former staffers as lobbyists.[21][22]

Wikipedia Modifications

An investigation by correspondents for Internet news site Wikinews linked Burns' office to changes in an article about Burns in Internet-based encyclopedia Wikipedia.[23] In particular, references, citations, and descriptions of Sentator Burns' use of the word "ragheads" were removed[24], as was mention of legislation, co-sponsored by Burns, that would reduce Native American tribal sovereignty. Also, a glowing paragraph was added describing Burns as a 'Voice for the farmer'.

After a member of Burns' staff changed the article's content, Burns' spokesman, James Pendleton, dismissed the allegations when asked about it on Wednesday, February 8, 2006, pointing to the site's open-source nature. Said Pendleton, "They have exactly zero credibility."[25] And, "I don't know why this is a story. There is no sanctity in Wikipedia. Somebody will always come and change it." [26]

Controversial remarks

In 1991, Burns shocked lobbyists when he invited them to a slave auction after voting for a civil rights bill. Burns said his comments had been misinterpreted because he was talking about a charity fundraising event known as a "slave auction."

In 1994, Burns told the editorial board of the Bozeman Chronicle that when asked by a constituent, "How can you live back there Washington, DC with all those niggers?" he replied, "[It's] a hell of a challenge." About the use of the racial slur: "I never gave it much thought."

On February 17, 1999, while at a meeting of the Montana Implement Dealers Association in Billings, Montana, Burns referred to Arabs as "ragheads". Burns later apologized.

In 2000, he offended a Billings woman when he pointed to her nose ring and asked her what tribe she was from.

Two women have accused Burns of sexism, alleging that he told one of the women she could stay at home and be a mother if she lost her job to outsourcing.

On December 21, 2005, Burns stated that "We've got to remember that the people who first hit us in 9/11 entered this country through Canada." This claim, which is false and contradicted by the findings of the 9-11 Commission, drew criticism from those questioning Burns' grasp of domestic security. Canadian ambassador Frank McKenna demanded an apology from Burns. Source

Criticizes firefighters

On July 23, 2006, Burns criticized members of a firefighting unit in Billings, Montana for their performance battling a 143-square-mile wildfire near Pompeys Pillar National Monument. The firefighters said Burns told them they had done a "poor job" and should have listened to the concerns of ranchers.

On July 27, 2006, Burns apologized, stating, "In retrospect, I wish I had chosen my words more carefully...My criticism of the way the fire was handled should not have been directed at those who were working hard to put it out." Burns was also surprised to learn that the firefighters earn only between $8-$12 an hour.[27]

Pokes fun at immigrants

In mid-August 2006, Burns' opponent in the 2006 Senate race, Jon Tester, released a video showing the senator joking to a crowd about how a "nice little Guatemalan man" fixing up his house may be an illegal immigrant. In the video, Burns follows the remark by telling the crowd how he scared the man by asking to see his green card. One week later, Burns said in a debate that after watching an interview of an illegal immigrant headed to Virginia for work, "I told my roofer, you better go out and get your help, or you won't get my house roofed."

The Tester campaign sent both statements to reporters. Jason Klindt, a spokesman for Burns, defended the immigrant remarks, noting that they were accurate and not mean-spirited. [28]

Burns made another controversial comment regarding foreign-born individuals in the weeks that followed. On August 30, First Lady Laura Bush attended a fundraiser for Burns in Montana. During his speech, Burns said that the United States is battling a faceless enemy of terrorists who "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night." [29]

Aide accused of securities fraud

On August 25, 2006, Montana officials accused Pat Davison, a recently-departed fundraising chief for Burns’ re-election campaign, with securities fraud. Montana State Auditor John Morrison said that Davison defrauded two families of $1.2 million by convincing them to withdraw the money from investment accounts and place them into “fake” investments.

Burns named Davison his state finance director in January. According to Burns spokesman Jason Klindt, Davison resigned on July 27, 2006. A search of the campaign’s web site following the announcement found no news releases noting his departure from the campaign. [30]

On September 15, 2006, state regulators announced that they had uncovered seven additional entities defrauded by Davison, with the investments in question totaling up to six million dollars. Davison is accused of running a Ponzi scheme and hiding his illicit gains in a variety of fake investments, including the entirely ficticious St. Labre Indian School Trust. [31]

Use of campaign funds for legal fees

In 2006, Burns retained a white collar defense lawyer for matters relating to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, to which he has been frequently linked. In the first three quarters of 2006, he spent over $90,000 in campaign funds on legal counsel. [32]

Committees and Affiliations

Committees in the 109th Congress (2005-2006)

More Background Data

Wikipedia also has an article on Conrad Burns. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

Articles and Resources




Abramoff Scandal

Local blogs and discussion sites

SourceWatch Resources


DC Office:
187 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2603
Phone: 202-224-2644
TollFree: 800-344-1513
TTYD Number: 202-224-8616
Fax: 202-224-8594
Web Email

District Office - Billings:
222 North 32nd Street, Suite 400
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: 406-252-0550
Fax: 406-252-7768

District Office - Bozeman:
211 Haggerty Lane, Suite A&B
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: 406-586-4450
Fax: 406-586-7647

District Office - Butte:
125 West Granite Street, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: 406-723-3277
Fax: 406-782-4717

District Office - Glendive:
324 West Towne
Glendive, MT 59330
Phone: 406-365-2391
Fax: 406-365-8836

District Office - Great Falls:
321 First Avenue North
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: 406-452-9585
TTYD Number: 406-761-6885
Fax: 406-452-9586

District Office - Helena:
208 North Montana Avenue, Suite 202A
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: 406-449-5401
Fax: 406-449-5462

District Office - Kalispell:
1845 Highway 93 South, Suite 210
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: 406-257-3360
Fax: 406-257-3974

District Office - Missoula:
116 West Front Street
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: 406-728-3003
Fax: 406-728-2193