Monday, January 16, 2006

POTAWATOMI PLANNING TO BUY ANOTHER ELECTION


Potawatomi budgets $7.2 million for 2006 political campaign
By: Richard Moore
LAKELAND TIMES

If its proposed 2006 budget is any indication, the Forest County Potawatomi Community (FCPC) is preparing to dramatically increase the amount of dollars it spends on politics and campaigns, budgeting $7.2 million for the 2006 cycle, internal tribal documents reveal.

The tribe’s executive council approved the political spending and overall budget and sent it to a meeting of the general council, which also approved it, sources within the tribe have told The Lakeland Times. The newspaper could not independently verify the general council vote by press time.

The new budget would represent a 75 percent increase over the $4 million the tribe set aside for politics, public relations and lobbying this year and dwarf the amount of money the tribe spent on campaigns in 2004 and 2002.

The year 2004 was itself record-breaking for the FCPC. Among other things, the tribe kicked in nearly $900,000 in an effort to defeat a referendum proposal for a Menominee-owned casino in Kenosha County, transferring at least $370,000 of compact litigation funds into a Godfrey & Kahn Trust Account for use in the November 2004 vote.

The tribe also distributed tens of thousands of dollars to both Republican and Democratic candidates and to party committees.

Documents obtained by The Lakeland Times show a tribe awash in money available for political campaigns – spending the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has sanctioned despite warnings of abuse from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other high level officials.

Along the way, the records paint a picture of how the Potawatomi and other tribes are using the new-found power of already mammoth and still growing gaming revenues to influence elections, the negotiations of gaming compacts, and both federal and state budget issues, not to mention efforts to stave off gaming competition from other tribes.

They also weave an inside tale of political intrigue, documenting the way tribal officials route gaming dollars to state candidates through national parties, spend lavish sums for banquets and political golf outings, and shower consultants and lobbyists with millions of dollars a year.

Not surprisingly, given the amount of money tribal officials handle, the records tell an additional story of internal conflict, allegations of mismanagement and graft, as well as blatant violations of the Potawatomi tribal constitution.

The spending

According to PoliticalMoney Line.com, a campaign finance watchdog website, Indian tribes have doled out more than $23.6 million nationally to federal candidates, PACs and political parties between 1999 and the present, and the amount of the contributions, fueled by gaming profits, is continuing to increase.

In 1999-2000, for example, recipients received $3 million from tribes. In 2001-02 the giving topped $9.3 million; in 2003-04 that figure rose to $10.5 million.

Among PoliticalMoneyLine’s biggest listed tribal contributors are the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians ($2,096,760), the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians ($1,678,624), the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut ($1,426,218), and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (Calif.) ($1,004,808).

Now the Potawatomi – along with other Wisconsin tribes – are making their move to join the ranks of the elite.

It wasn’t too long ago that political involvement by Wisconsin tribes was virtually non-existent, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC), a nonpartisan campaign finance group, has reported.

“They were not players in Wisconsin politics until very recently,” Mike McCabe, the group’s executive director, told the Associated Press in 2003. “When they jumped in, they made a big-time splash. What we’ve seen is the entrance of a new and very powerful force in Wisconsin.”

The FCPC’s aggressive political involvement dates back only to 2001, when it reportedly spent about $700,000 on issue ads aimed at stopping the Crandon mine. The tribe promptly followed those with ads supporting Jim Doyle’s bid for governor.

Those ads only served as a prelude to the most controversial campaign finance incident of the 2002 gubernatorial race. On Oct. 29, the FCPC gave the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $200,000 on the same day the Ho-Chunk gave the DNC a check for $500,000.

Within days, the DNC gave the Doyle campaign $1 million for a final push to victory, which prompted accusations of money laundering from some finance reform groups.

Since then the tribe has kept on giving, with checks being written to help pay for such things as party conventions and a Native American weekend outing in South Carolina. On July 22, 2004, for example, the FCPC gave $30,000 to help pay for the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The Republicans have not been left out. On April 30, 2004, the tribe’s executive council approved a $15,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee.

For the year, according to documents, the tribe allotted similar amounts of $15,000 to the GOP and Democratic national committees, with another $2,000 each flowing to the Kerry and Bush campaigns.

Beyond those contributions, according to a memo from tribal political consultant Martin Schreiber (and former governor), the tribe unleashed a series of federal contributions.

“Pursuant to the action of the Executive Council to protect and enhance tribal enterprises and relationships, the attached sets forth the second wave of federal political contributions,” Schreiber wrote to Tribal Chairman Gus Frank on July 9, 2004.

On the Republican side, the memo called for the tribe to contribute to Sen. John McCain ($4,000), Straight Talk America PAC ($2,000), Rep. Dennis Hastert ($4,000), and Rep. John Boehner ($2,000). Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee received $15,000 each.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Ron Kind received $2,000, Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Robert Menendez got an equal amount, and $1,000 went to BadgerPAC. As on the GOP side, both the National Democratic Senatorial Committee and the National Democratic Congressional Committee received $15,000 each.

But nothing quite matched the tribe’s spending on the nonbinding referendum concerning a proposed Indian casino complex at a Kenosha County dog track, a partnership between the Menominee and Connecticut’s Mohegan tribe. The Potawatomi spared nothing in trying to fend off gaming competition in the Milwaukee area.

Indeed, Kenosha County finance records show the tribe spending $893,529 as of last Dec. 31.

The tribe apparently set up a separate fiduciary account to handle the referendum’s public relations effort, and tribal e-mails obtained by The Lakeland Times show hundreds of thousands of dollars being deposited in the account, transferred from funds set aside for compact litigation.

“Following our conversation in connection with the Trust Fund for the Kenosha Referendum campaign the FCPC has authorized a wire transfer of $370,000 into the specified account of Godfrey & Kahn to serve as the fiduciary agents for this fund,” the tribe’s Chief Financial Officer Steven LaVake wrote to Godfrey & Kahn attorney Mike Wittenwyler in an Oct. 6, 2004 e-mail.

That transfer authorization occurred less than a week after the tribal executive council approved the shifting of an equal amount of funds from its compact litigation budget line item.

“Ruth Pemma motions to approve $370,000 of the Compact Litigation line item from the proposed FY 2004-05 Budget, if not approved, revert back to the FY 2003-04 Compact Litigation Budget for Kenosha referendum,” state the minutes of that meeting, which took place Sept. 30.

The motion carried 4-0.

On Oct. 12, 13, and 14, one week after the wire transfer authorization for the Godfrey & Kahn trust account, the Potatwatomi made three contributions on three successive days to the referendum effort. The amounts totaled $364,750.

A committee called Citizens Seeking Honest Answers handled actual deposits and spending for the referendum campaign. However, the FCPC were the only citizens contributing to the committee.

All totaled, the tribe contributed $893,529 in cash and vaguely described in-kind professional services. In fact, the Potawatomi reported $301,279 of in-kind contributions between Oct. 12 and Dec. 31, 2004 for undefined professional services.

The other side spent heavily as well, collecting more than $1.1 million by the end of 2004 for a committee called Jobs for Kenosha. The Menominee Indian tribe through its gaming development company bankrolled most of that effort, though finance records also show significant individual, local business and labor donations.

This past June, in testimony on legislative gaming bills, Potawatomi Attorney General Jeff Crawford stayed away from tribal self-interest in framing the FCPC’s opposition to the casino and talked instead about the best economic interests of the Milwaukee area.

“The Potawatomi are against a Connecticut tribe making tens of millions from a Wisconsin casino at the expense of Milwaukee and Wisconsin,” Crawford stated. “The proposed Kenosha casino is set up so that Connecticut wins millions of dollars while Milwaukee loses jobs and tourism.”

Despite that larger assertion, beginning in 2002 and continuing into 2005, the FCPC has quickly become one of the state’s biggest political special interests. That those interests are related to gaming compacts and the growth of the gaming industry – and the FCPC’s place in that market – is something not even the tribe has denied.

“Tribes are beginning to understand the value of making contributions to candidates who understand the potential of economic development,” Potawatomi spokesman Tom Krajewski told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Spivak & Bice in the wake of the 2002 gubernatorial election.

If the tribe comes anywhere close to spending its $7.2 million political budget next year, the impact could be enormous and certainly record-breaking.

Of course, not all that money would be slated for direct contributions to candidates or party committees. Substantial amounts go for independent issue ads, and much goes to political consultants.

Of the $4 million budgeted in 2004, for example, $1.377 million was budgeted for consultants, the lion’s share to Schreiber. The tribe also budgeted $260,000 for media and public relations, $620,000 for lobbying, $900,000 for compact litigation, $375,000 for a line item called intergovernment agreement, and $490,000 for direct contributions to candidates.

Those numbers are not absolute, however, and it is impossible to tell just how much is actually spent on referenda and political campaigns because of line item transfers within the tribal budget, as happened in the Kenosha referendum.

No matter what the final spending will be, what is certain is that those seeking political contributions for next year are already lining up, and the tribe has begun to make its electoral decisions in earnest.

In July, for instance, the executive council voted to deny a campaign contribution request from gubernatorial candidate Mark Green. On Sept. 13 – before the tribe’s new gaming compact was signed with the state – the council voted to table a donation to the Doyle campaign.

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