Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Indian Tribes Pay To Elect Their Governor


Tribes directed big money to Democrats
Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2003, by Cary Spivak & Dan Bice

Just days before the November election, the three tribes with the most to lose - or win - in state casino negotiations dumped $700,000-plus of soft money into Democratic coffers to help elect Jim Doyle governor. Previously undisclosed federal election reports show that the Ho-Chunk, a tribe that has long wanted to open a full-fledged casino in Madison, made a $500,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee on Oct. 29. The very same day, the Potawatomi contributed $200,000 to the same fund. Two days later the Oneida, which just signed a tentative deal allowing it to offer a wider array of casino games 24/7, sent $25,000 to the Democratic fund. That national fund then turned around and within days kicked back about $1 million to the state Democratic Party, which used the money to boost support for Doyle and the rest of the party ticket. "Tribes are beginning to understand the value of making contributions to candidates who understand the potential of economic development," Potawatomi spokesman Tom Krajewski bluntly stated. This week Madison erupted when news of the very generous compact with the Oneida hit the street. In an unusual move, the Legislature met in an extraordinary session Thursday to discuss a measure that would clip the governor's wings in future gaming negotiations. Did the tribes use their money to help ensure that Doyle - who was sympathetic to the Indians during the campaign season - would be on the other side of the table during compact talks, which are now under way? Well, duh. "Why wasn't (former Gov. Scott) McCallum smart enough to do it a year ago?" Krajewski asked, referring to how it took the Doyle team just over one month in office to cut its first compact deal. "He didn't understand the impact, he didn't understand the potential (of extended compacts). Doyle understood that - that's why Doyle got the contributions." Which is why, Krajewski testily argued, the Doyle team has placed such a high priority on keeping the casinos operating. "The goddamn news media in this state has refused to understand what impact these compacts could have on our economy," he said. Nobody from the Doyle camp returned our numerous calls for comment. Doyle and the Oneida said Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement on a gaming compact that would give the tribe the right to run a casino forever. In return, the tribe would pay the state $38 million over two years - compared with the $4.85 million annually it now antes up. After that, the tribe would pay 4% to 6% of its gaming revenue annually until 2013, when the state fee would settle at 4.5% ad infinitum. The Oneida also would win the right to offer craps and roulette and remove betting limits. Since 1992, when Indian casinos were legalized, tribes have been allowed to take wagers only on blackjack games, slot machines and video poker. The Oneida pact is expected to be used as the model for other agreements. State officials have already met with representatives from each of the other 10 tribes, and a spokesman from one Indian nation - the Ho-Chunk - was optimistic that his tribe would soon reach an agreement. "They're very close to a deal," said Mark Butterfield, Ho-Chunk spokesman. One key issue for the Ho-Chunk is the location of its fourth casino. The tribe owns a massive gambling hall and hotel complex near Wisconsin Dells and two smaller ones in Nekoosa and Black River Falls. In Madison, it operates a bingo hall equipped with slot-style gambling machines that the tribe hopes to convert to a full-scale casino. Butterfield said he didn't know anything about the Ho-Chunk's half-million dollar donation to the Dems. Oneida spokeswoman Bobbi Webster said her tribe's $25,000 gift was nothing out of the ordinary for the Indian government, which often gives to both parties. She said it was not made in coordination with the larger contributions by the other tribes. By contrast, Krajewski acknowledged that the $200,000 given by the Potawatomi was the largest political donation ever made by the once-impoverished tribe. And the $500,000 by the Ho-Chunk is almost certainly the biggest donation by a Wisconsin tribe ever. Remember all the controversy surrounding the impact that political donations had on the unsuccessful bid to open an Indian casino in Hudson? In that case - which sparked lawsuits and federal investigations - only about $300,000 in soft money was at issue. And this time around the tribes did more than just direct soft-money donations to Doyle. United Tribes of Wisconsin spent a six-figure sum on commercials promoting Indian casinos and Doyle, while the Potawatomi was spending TV money hyping its candidate's views on the controversial Crandon mine. The three tribes also helped pay for Doyle's elaborate inaugural festivities last month, with the Potawatomi kicking in $25,000, the Ho-Chunk $15,000 and the Oneida $5,000. Never before has this much been at stake," Krajewski said.

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