The prime sponsor of a plan to ban campaign donations from Indian tribes may revise the bill rather than face a court fight that tribes say they’ll file.
Sen. Bob McCaslin and other Republicans deny there’s anything racist about the bill, scheduled for a hearing this morning in front of the Government Operations Committee which he chairs.
But the Spokane Valley legislator said he doesn’t want that section of the bill, SB5776, to drag down other reforms he’s proposing.
The bill also would extend the time when losers can raise money to pay off campaign debts, remove some requirements for reporting donations just before elections and tighten rules on money withheld from union members’ paychecks.
“It’s not a major part of my bill,” McCaslin said of the section that would prevent tribes from contributing to initiative drives and political candidates.
“If we’re going to end up in federal court, maybe we’d better rethink it.”
Scott Crowell, an attorney for the Spokane and Shoalwater Bay tribes, contends that portion of the bill is unconstitutional.
“The state government doesn’t have the authority to tell a tribal government how to spend its money,” said Crowell.
Many of the state’s tribes have spent heavily in the last two years as voters twice have rejected initiatives that would have allowed more gambling on Indian lands. The tribes spent more than $3.3 million supporting initiatives 651 and 671. A handful of tribes spent some $250,000 opposing I-651.
McCaslin said he was sure the GOP’s caucus staff, which drafted the bill, had checked the legislation for any legal conflicts. But a caucus attorney, who spoke on condition he not be named, said the bill was compared only to a law in Michigan that passed, but has not been tested.
That Michigan law places the same limits on tribes as on unions, political action committees, corporations and nonprofit groups. The staff attorney was unaware that such groups in Washington state have no limits on what they can give to initiative campaigns.
Although the state’s voters limited contributions to candidates for state offices in 1992, they placed no restrictions on initiative campaigns.
Since that time, contributions to the initiatives have skyrocketed. Although the tribes hold the spending records, they are not the only ones throwing six-figure sums at laws they want passed or killed.
The Washington Education Association spent $710,000 to defeat two school initiatives last year; Ron Taber spent nearly $250,000 trying to pass his school voucher initiative; while Jim and Fawn Spady spent about $180,000 on their charter school proposal.
U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C., group, spent $119,000 on an unsuccessful term-limit proposal and Realtors and homebuilders associations each spent more than $100,000 trying to pass a law to make governments reimburse property owners any time a regulation makes land less valuable.
McCaslin’s bill wouldn’t restrict any other groups that spend heavily on initiatives.
“It is absolutely racist,” said Crowell.
“I deny it’s racist,” replied McCaslin. “It’s directed at sovereign nations.’ The law also bans foreign governments from giving to ballot campaigns and politicians, something that rarely happens in Washington state but is the focus of congressional probes into the national campaigns.
Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, whose northeastern Washington district includes the Colville and Spokane reservations, said the concern over foreign contributions to national campaigns sparked the bill. Individual tribal members could still donate, he said.
“This honors the sovereignty of other nations,” Morton said. “It makes (tribes) the same as Canada or Cambodia.”
If the state wants to say the tribes are sovereign nations for campaign contributions, Crowell said, it should say they are sovereign for all matters. That would mean everything from gambling to fishing rights to clean air and water regulations.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Tribal contributions