Casino Money Opens Doors To Politics
The tribes have learned this is a way to gain influence with Congress. Sue Shaffer, chairwoman of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua in Oregon, said her tribe is always had good relationships with political leaders, but casino wealth has helped it to expand their political base. “You know,” she said,“the thing is, in politics, dollars open doors.”
Campaign contributions from the tribes have increased to nearly $6.8 million in 2002 from $1,750 in 1990. In the 2004 election cycle, casino-operating tribes, so far, have given more than $4 million, which is on par with aerospace defense contractors, spacecraft builders and movie producers.
Casino wealth has made tribes popular with other interest groups seeking to form issue-based coalitions, hoping to make a difference on everything from civil rights to voting rights. For example:
The National Indian Gaming Association, which represents tribes operating casinos, has joined with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others to battle drunken driving.
The National Congress of American Indians joined other civil rights groups in calling for Native Hawaiians recognition, which is important because Native Hawaiians are indigenous peoples like American Indians and Native Alaskans.
Tribes joined a national effort to get out the vote for the November elections. Although Indians represent only a small percentage of voters across the nation, they could make a difference in states like South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma and Arizona where Indians are a significant population.
Tribes are working with other groups to help reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which needs to be done in 2007.
At local levels, tribes such as Sue Shaffer’s Umpqua in Oregon have joined groups to promote environmental concerns.
Other groups are hoping to get help on Native American core issues such as tribal sovereignty, reducing poverty and improving health care and education.
In 2002, Indian casinos took in $14.5 billion, according to the National Indian Gaming Association. There are 224 tribal
governments that run gaming operations.
Shaffer said political contributions are given to elected officials in both parties, which is reflective of recent trends in Indian gaming contributions. For example, in 1996 86 percent of tribal casino contributions was made to Democrats, In 2004, so far, Democrats are getting only 64 percent of tribal contributions.
“In general, tribes and tribal organizations are becoming more and more politically astute,” said Tad Johnson, special counsel to the Mille Lac Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. “They are running in different circles now more than they did 20 years ago. They are dealing with politicians and financial folks that they didn’t have access to just a generation or so ago.”
Casinos have become the new buffalo of the 21st century!
This article has been edited from two stories, bylined Frank Oliveri, in the July 17th issue of The Arizona Republic.
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