Indian tribes spent at least $4.2 million last year to buy influence in Washington and to protect their gambling interests, according to a new study.
The biggest chunk of the money, some $2.3 million, went to run the tribes’ Washington lobbying operations and to hire outside lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that studies the influence of money on politics.
Most of the lobbying firepower was directed at three issues - a successful fight to head off proposed new federal taxes on tribal gambling revenue, the formation of a national gambling study commission and changes in federal regulation of Indian gambling operations.
By far the biggest spender on lobbying was the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which paid $700,000 to be represented by a lobbying firm. The Seminole Tribe of Florida ranked second, spending $320,000 on lobbying.
Although North Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe is in the thick of the latest debate over tribal gambling - games on the Internet - it was not a major financial backer of the lobbying effort. A center spokeswoman said, however, that the Coeur d’Alene’s - or any of the other tribes in the state - could have paid less than $10,000 to individual lobbyists and not been included in the overall total.
At the same time, tribes increased their giving to candidates and political parties. In the two-year cycle leading up to last November’s elections, tribes gave nearly $1.7 million, more than double the amount given in the 1994 election cycle.
A recent study by the General Accounting Office found that tribal-run gambling generated more than $4.5 billion in revenues in 1995, about 10 percent of revenues for the gambling industry as a whole. GAO said 184 tribes operate 281 gambling facilities across the country.
But the study found that political giving by tribes in the last election cycle constituted 26 percent of overall industry campaign contributions. And the tribal share has been rising, from 8 percent in the 1992 cycle and 20 percent in the 1994 elections.
Democrats benefited disproportionately from the tribes’ giving, receiving 87 percent of Indian gaming contributions, compared with 47 percent for all other campaign money. The top congressional recipient of tribal money was Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who received $24,000 in the past two years. Second was Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., with $12,500.
Inouye was honored in January by the Mashantucket Pequots at a reception at their opulent downtown Washington offices. The Pequots, who made large contributions to Idaho Democrat Larry EchoHawk’s failed 1994 race for governor, operate the country’s most lucrative Indian casino, Foxwoods, in Ledyard, Conn.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.