I am shocked, just shocked at this story from MJS-
$5.4 million in political spending tied to Indian tribes
Okay, maybe I am not shocked at all.
Political spending linked to Wisconsin Indian tribes and tribal gambling interests totals at least $5.4 million in the past decade, a review of state and federal donations shows.
That's the sum that can be counted from publicly disclosed campaign contributions and advertising campaigns. The true amount could be much higher because some expensive media campaigns by tribes are exempt from reporting requirements.
The biggest beneficiaries have been Democrats, with Gov. Jim Doyle garnering the most of any candidate - about $926,000, including large sums from tribes funneled through Democratic Party committees in Washington.
Individual donations to Doyle accounted for only about $107,000 of the total. The rest flowed to national Democratic groups, who in turn have given to Doyle or the state party.
U.S. Rep. Mark Green, this year's Republican candidate for governor, has gotten virtually no tribal money. Nor had Scott McCallum, the Republican governor who lost to Doyle in the 2002 election.
How you feel about that likely depends on your politics and your predilection for casinos.
Campaign finance reform advocates and Republicans argue the casino money has a corrosive influence and should be curbed or banned. Doyle has repeatedly said he doesn't base his decisions on who donates.
Republicans note that much of the money benefiting Doyle flowed around the time he negotiated generous new gambling compacts with the tribes and also in connection with off-reservation casino proposals.
Doyle has sole state authority on the compacts and, if federal approval is given, final say on the off-reservation deals.
Tribal gaming interests probably rank just behind the traditional "800-pound gorillas" of Wisconsin special interests, the Democratic-leaning state teachers union and Republican-leaning Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said Michael McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. But a direct comparison with other interest groups is impossible because the tribes have put large portions of their political spending into efforts that resist detection, said McCabe, whose group monitors political donations and advocates for campaign finance reform.
To Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, the rise of Indian tribes as potent political players is an interesting phenomenon but really just another special interest on the scene. The tribal casino lobby is similar to the road builders in that both depend on state officials for their survival, he said.
Still, critics warn of an impending flood of casino-related money swamping Wisconsin politics this fall.
"I think (the tribes) elected Jim Doyle over Scott McCallum in Wisconsin" four years ago, said state Rep. Steve Freese (R-Dodgeville), noting that the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi and Oneida tribes gave $725,000 to Democratic Party committees in 2002 that was used to help Doyle in the waning days of the race.
What makes the tribal giving unusually effective is tribes' ability to authorize and move large sums at crucial moments in campaigns, Freese said.
"When you have three-quarters of a million dollars at your disposal overnight, it's incredible what you can do with it," he said. Freese predicted tribes would weigh in heavily again in this year's governor's race and perhaps a few legislative races.
Campaign finance reformer Jay Heck said the tribes were "much too politically astute to just sit idly by. They do have all this money; they certainly have political clout." Heck said he feared an expanded use by some tribes of independent "issue" ads that don't require public disclosure of who paid for them.
"My guess is we'll never know how much they spend" this fall, said Heck, the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke defended the tribes' right to donate, saying: "Why is it always that the Native Americans are somehow different? They have a right to participate in the political process." The tribal gaming industry is a major employer in the state and ought to participate in the elections, he said.
The Forest County Potawatomi tribe will continue to air a television ad through the election Nov. 7 that touts the benefits of its casino for the state and the Milwaukee area, said Ken Walsh, a spokesman for the tribe. He declined to say how much the ad campaign would cost.
"The tribe is focusing its attention on strengthening the name of Indian gaming in Wisconsin," rather than launching overt political ads, Walsh said. That could change, however, depending on the dynamics of the fall campaigns, he said.
All 11 Wisconsin tribes have casino operations, but only the most successful have waded heavily into the political arena, according to state and federal campaign reports and donation compilations by the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and PoliticalMoneyLine.
The biggest political spenders are the Potawatomi ($2.5 million) and Ho-Chunk ($1.98 million) tribes, whose donations to Wisconsin and out-of-state politicians accounted for 83% of the total. Those tribes run the state's top-grossing casinos, including Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, a $300 million-a-year operation.
The drop-off in spending is steep after that.
The Oneida tribe and its members have donated about $357,000. Just 6% of that, or $22,150, came from individual donations; the rest were tribal donations to national party groups. The Oneida tribe has a large casino operation in the Green Bay area.
The Menominee tribe and members have given $14,343. But its allies in a bid for an off-reservation casino in Kenosha have given $411,000. That includes money linked to the Connecticut-based Mohegan tribe, casino developer Dennis Troha and executives from the Dairyland Greyhound Park racetrack, who hope to sell the track for the casino.
The state's remaining seven tribes gave a total of $105,000 - or 1.9% of all Wisconsin tribal-related donations - for the 10-year period reviewed.
Some $3.3 million of the total came in the form of advertising campaigns from the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes, but the true total could be higher. That's because spending on independent "issue" ads doesn't have to be disclosed.
Though Democrats were favored by tribal givers, Republicans also have benefited from donations from tribes and their members. Walsh said not all donations should be viewed as casino-related and that many Potawatomi tribal members were motivated to contribute over environmental concerns.
When donations from tribes nationally since 1999 are tallied, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), with nearly $82,000, was the biggest beneficiary in Wisconsin's congressional delegation and placed 30th among 511 current and past members of Congress. Kind said his support for tribal sovereignty and membership on a House committee that reviews American Indian issues were likely reasons for the financial support.
The tribal donations were "completely legal, ethical, upfront and completely disclosed," Kind said.
Other Wisconsin House members and their tribal donations: Rep. Dave Obey, a Wausau Democrat, got $28,500; Rep. Tom Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican, got $26,500; Rep. Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, got $5,000; Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, received $3,000; and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, got $2,000.
Green and Paul Ryan of Janesville had no tribal donations. A spokesman for Green said he won't accept any tribal money until legal issues surrounding state-tribal gambling compacts are fully resolved and won't accept money from anyone linked to pending off-reservation casino deals.
Though Ryan had no money from tribes or tribal members, he has received $53,202 from the family of Troha, a business partner in the Menominee tribe's off-reservation casino proposal for Kenosha. Ryan said the Trohas have supported him since his first race in 1998.