Unlimited political contributions empower Indian tribes
THEIMER; The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In their rivalry with other gaming interests,
Indian tribes now have an advantage in political giving - they're
exempt from the overall donor limits in the nation's new campaign
law that took effect this election cycle.
The tribes, which last election spread around $7 million in federal
donations, do not have to abide by the overall individual donor limit
of $95,000 in contributions to candidates, political action committees
and parties. And unlike companies, the tribes can give donations directly
from their treasuries.
Tribes have scored victories in each of the past two elections, helping
Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson keep his South Dakota seat last year,
and in 2000, unseating Washington Republican Sen. Slade Gorton.
They've also seen controversy.
In California, at least two tribes have been fighting state election
officials' attempt to force them to file campaign finance reports.
In Wisconsin, Republicans accuse three tribes of donating $700,000
to the Democratic Party to help Democrat Jim Doyle become governor
and win more favorable state gaming agreements from him. The tribes
deny any quid pro quo.
While unlimited-size donations known as soft money are now outlawed
for everyone, including the tribes, the campaign finance rules' special
treatment of Indian nations has some competitors crying foul.
"They can give money unlike any American businesses," said
Mike Sloan, senior vice president for the Las Vegas-based Mandalay
Resort Group casino company. "It's a disparity that Congress
has created, probably unintentionally, and it's the result of the
explosion of Indian gaming."
Tribal advocates, including the National Indian Gaming Association,
say some in Congress considered putting tribes on the same ground
as other donors, but they lobbied to maintain the special status the
Federal Election Commission gave them.
Tribal leaders dismiss the criticism as jealousy over Indians' efforts
to raise their political standing.
"There's a lot of people bashing the Indians because they're
on the scene and they're active now," said Stan Brand, NIGA counsel.
"The minute they have exercised the least bit of political muscle,
people want to change the rules on them. ... People have tried, and
people have failed."
Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of
American Indians, said the tribes' political concerns go far beyond
casinos to such issues as economic diversity, improved public services
on reservations and protection of their sovereignty.
Neither the new nor the old campaign finance law specifically mentions
Indian tribes. Rather, their special status comes from the FEC, which
views them as "persons" under the rules. Other unincorporated
entities in that category, such as homeowners' associations, could
give as the tribes do, but in reality few exist, said FEC Commissioner
"I'm not aware of any other organizations who are similarly situated
to do this," Mason said of tribal giving.
Tribes gave at least $7 million to federal candidates, party committees
and political action committees in the last election cycle, an Associated
Press analysis of figures compiled by the FEC and PoliticalMoneyLine
campaign finance tracking service found.
More than $8 of every $10 in tribal contributions in the 2001-02 cycle
came from 30 tribes, all with enterprises including casinos.
At least two tribes gave more than $500,000, within range of the contribution
levels of Las Vegas-based casino giants such as Harrah's Entertainment
Among top donors, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Choctaw,
Miss., gave at least $615,000 to federal candidates and political
organizations, and the Ho-Chunk Nation, based in Black River Falls,
Wis., donated at least $512,000. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla
Indians in Palm Springs, Calif., gave roughly $429,500. The Mashantucket
Pequot Tribal Nation, whose Foxwoods casino in Connecticut is one
of the world's biggest and most profitable, contributed at least $419,895.
"We encourage the invitations to fund-raisers, both Democratic
and Republican, for party organizations as well as individuals, because
that gives us an opportunity to participate and network," said
John Guevremont, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe's chief operating officer.
"All the parties have come to us."
Overall tribal giving has leaned Democratic in past elections. Guevremont,
a Republican, is among the Indian leaders who expects that to change
in light of the Republican control of the White House and Congress.
Indian tribes contributed at least $7 million to federal candidates,
political action committees and national party committees in the 2001-02
election cycle. About $8 of every $10 came from 30 tribes with casinos
and other business interests, including:
• Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Choctaw, Miss.: $615,000
• Ho-Chunk Nation, Black River Falls, Wis.: $512,000
• Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs, Calif.: $429,500
• Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Mashantucket, Conn.: $419,895
• Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Cabazon, Calif.: $295,500
• Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, N.C.: $260,000
• Forest County Potawatomi, Crandon, Wis.: $210,000
• Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, Elton, La.: $207,000
• Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, Prior Lake, Minn.: $196,500
• Gila River Indian Community, Sacaton, Ariz.: $194,939
• Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, Uncasville, Conn.: $194,350
• Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Indio, Calif.: $190,500.
• Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, Mount Pleasant, Mich.:
• Tigua Indian Reservation, El Paso, Texas: $167,500
• Barona Band of Mission Indians, Lakeside, Calif.: $162,000
• Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, Roseburg, Ore.: $156,800
• Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Tacoma: $69,250
• Soboba Band of Mission Indians, San Jacinto, Calif.: $58,500
• Tulalip Tribes, Marysville: $56,000
Source: The Associated Press analysis of tribal political contributions
compiled by the Federal Election Commission and PoliticalMoneyLine.