The Senate Rules Committee’s failure last week to include language
eliminating the FEC’s loophole on Indian gaming contributions is an outrage.
Hasn’t the Senate learned anything from the lobbying abuses that Jack
Abramoff inflicted on the system?
It’s very unfair for Congress and the FEC to continue to allow Indian tribes
to use tax-exempt gambling casino profits and tribal government monies
(which include taxpayer grant funding) to fuel federal election campaigns.
It’s also unfair to allow tribes to continue to sidestep FEC constraints on
“aggregate” contribution limits all others must follow.
Right now, there are two sets of FEC rules – those for Indian tribes (and
their corporate businesses and tribal governments that write big campaign
checks) and those for everyone else. Congress must level this totally
uneven playing field – otherwise, the Abramoff campaign finance abuses will
continue to grow worse in coming years.
The good news is that this week in the Senate, several Senators will be
attempting to close the ‘tribal loophole’ in campaign finance with a couple
of key amendments to lobbying reform legislation being enacted.
One proposed amendment is to subject Indian Tribes to the “aggregate”
contribution limits ALL OTHER U.S. CITIZENS must follow for federal
elections and the other is to require Tribes to report their campaign
contributions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) – just like the rest
of us must do – by forming “Political Action Committees” (PACs).
It’s not at all complicated for Congress to level the playing field. We can
honor tribal sovereignty and deal with the loophole easily – with this
Our nonpartisan, public interest organization is asking Congress to enact
reform that will respect tribal sovereignty by treating Indian tribal
governments just like ALL other sovereign governments. Governments like
California, Maine, New York, Connecticut, and counties and cities such as
Los Angeles do not make political contributions. In fact, NONE of our
governments is allowed to make political donations like Indian tribal
governments routinely do today.
Indian tribes should be prohibited from making political campaign
contributions. To respect tribal sovereignty, however, Indian tribes must
be able to form PACs – just like the casino companies, with which all of
them compete. This would allow for the continued participation of tribes in
the political giving process without allowing “soft” money into federal
Plus, individual Indians should contribute under the same rules that govern
all other American citizens. That is true now and should remain so.
This loophole is also bad for tribal members. I don’t want my Tribe giving
tribal funds to political candidates. The Tribe needs the money for
essential government services and I may disagree with its choice of
candidates. This is the same reason that I don’t want my City or State
making political contributions. Governments should not be financers of
partisan political campaigns – they should govern.
The current system which allows tribal governments to contribute offends a
basic sense of fair play in the electoral process and must be stopped by an
Act of Congress.
As it stands now, tribal governments can give “hard” dollars just like
individual donors – unlike the many corporations that compete with them in
gambling casinos and other business enterprises. Indian tribes are the only
organizations that take business profits and contribute them directly to
federal election campaigns.
In effect, they can contribute what is typically “soft” money as though it
was “hard” money. Plus, while in this way tribes are treated like
individuals, tribes are NOT subject to congressional contribution limits
like individuals – $101,400 per election cycle – so tribes can make
virtually an unlimited number of contributions!
Quite a number of tribes have done all they can to exploit this loophole.
Tribal contributions to federal races and national parties in the past five
years, as reported by Roll Call’s John Bresnahan on Jan. 30, 2006, exceeded
both the manufacturing industry and the defense industry, just two examples
of their exorbitant spending (in addition to the millions MORE donated by
Indian tribes to state and local candidates, political parties, and ballot
According to the “Center for Responsive Politics”, the nine tribes
represented by Jack Abramoff alone contributed nearly $3 million to
Congressional campaigns in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles.
The tribal giving loophole also allows for federal grant funds (taxpayer
money) appropriated by Congress to Indian tribes to be used for federal
campaign contributions. Due to the total lack of transparency (public
information or disclosure, even to their own membership, in most cases)
about Indian tribes’ finances, this loophole also creates a vehicle for
laundering “soft” money into “hard” money for distribution to multiple
Thus, this loophole “enables an Indian tribe to become a political cash
register that can gulp ‘soft’ money from any source and disgorge it as
‘hard’ money contributions or expenditures,” according to Ed Zuckerman,
Editor of the PACs and Lobbies Newsletter.
All of these factors create a situation ripe for abuse, whereby tribes can
dramatically affect the outcome of the federal policymaking process in
unfair ways – precisely the type of thing that Congress is now reacting to
in trying to pass campaign finance and lobbying reform. This action is long
overdue and much needed! We’ve been begging for it for years. It took the
Abramoff scandal to finally garner the attention of congressional leaders,
most of the public-at-large, and hundreds of reporters and editorial writers
nationwide. So perhaps there is a ‘silver lining’ to the Abramoff mess…
ONU is urging passage by the Senate of both proposed amendments in the floor
vote planned this week on lobbying reform. These simple changes would do
away with the tribal loophole and directly address some of the outrageous
abuses that are now the subject of so much public attention and well
deserved media scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal.
We’re calling on both the full Senate and the House of Representatives to
rise to the challenge and do the right thing now. Close the tribal loophole
so that all American citizens contribute under the same rules.
Barb Lindsay is the National Director/Spokesperson for ONE NATION UNITED, located in Thousand Oaks, California. She can be reached via email at mailto:email@example.com”’
”’One Nation United is a nonpartisan, nonprofit umbrella group representing over 300,000 citizens, property owner associations, state and national trade groups, local governments, businesses, and elected officials who joined together in 1984 in an effort to achieve comprehensive reform of federal Indian policy for the benefit of Indians and non-Indians alike, while defending the free enterprise system and the constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties of all Americans. Barb Lindsay is an enrolled member of the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri.”’
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