Skip to comments.Indian Givers : The tribal-casino scandal ( more loot to be poured into politics)
Posted on 01/17/2006 7:42:41 AM PST by SirLinksalot
The tribal-casino scandal.
Political contributions from Indian tribes soaked in gambling revenues have increased exponentially in recent years, from a mere $2,000 in 1999 to more than $7 million in 2004. But the trend has suddenly reversed. Now it's the politicians giving money to tribes, as dozens of pols who happily took dollars from Jack Abramoff-associated tribes hurriedly return the cash or hand it over to charity.
This strange turnabout was predictable to anyone who has followed the connection around the country between wads of gambling money and sleazy practices in government. "We're seeing what has happened at the state and local level come to Washington," says the Rev. Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. It's no accident that the Abramoff scandal hit the national GOP after it spent years catching up to Democrats in terms of battening on gambling dollars. According to the website opensecrets.org, Republicans got just 19 percent of Indian gambling donations in 1994. So far in the 2006 election cycle, Republicans are splitting such contributions with Democrats evenly.
Giving back money is nice. But one wonders: What did these members of Congress think these contributions were for, if not advancing the cause of an Indian gambling industry that has always had a strong whiff of the scam about it? Congress is going to rush to nominally clean itself up in exercises of symbolic self-flagellation, like reducing the lobbyist gift ban from $50 to $20, but it won't address the root of the scandal unless it reforms the absurd, inherently corruptible law and practices surrounding the creation of new money-minting Indian casinos.
Congress passed the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act in 1988 basically with the intention of letting tribes run bingo games. Armed with the opening presented by the act and with the fiction of tribal sovereignty, tribes opened casinos that allowed them to undertake the old-fashioned business of buying politicians. The growth of tribal casinos exploded. There are now 400 of them in more than half the states in the country.
"What state governments and Congress don't think about is that if you open the door a crack, because of the tremendous amount of money that legal gambling brings in, there will be entrepreneurs who will push it wide open," I. Nelson Rose of Whittier Law School in southern California told Congressional Quarterly Weekly. The word "entrepreneurs" is overly generous, since gambling doesn't always attract the most high-minded businessmen. Initially, commercial gambling interests in Las Vegas opposed the tribes as competitors. Then, Las Vegas realized it could get a cut of the action by running casinos for tribes. Harrah's has been pushing to open a casino in West Warrick, R.I., in conjunction with the Narragansett Indians.
The Indian casino business is flagrantly detached from its original justification of letting supposedly sovereign nations govern themselves on their own land. Since reservations tend to be in low population areas, there has been a push, called "reservation shopping," to open casinos closer to urban areas. In an extreme example, Wisconsin-based tribes want to build casinos in the Catskills in New York. There are at least 30 proposals for off-reservation casinos around the country, and roughly 200 petitions for new "tribes" to be recognized by the federal government so they can go into the casino business too.
With every new tribe and casino, there is more loot to be poured into politics, if not through Jack Abramoff, through more discreet lobbyists. Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), sent a letter last week to President Bush urging him to order a moratorium on the opening of more tribal casinos. In the meantime, Congress can take up legislation reforming the much-abused 1988 Indian gambling law. This effort, obviously called for on public-policy grounds, has the disadvantage of not having any obscenely moneyed interests behind it.
Members of Congress will probably cluck over the Abramoff scandal, wait for things to cool off, and enjoy it when the contribution stream keeps running the way it usually does: from Indian casinos to them.
In WA state, the tribes are building shopping malls, gas stations and tobacco stores.
The state allows them pay less than the state sales tax, and collect the same from the customers at the malls.
They let them sell the fuel for the same price as off reservation stations, but they aren't responsible for the gas tax, and of course the smokes bypass tobacco taxes.
They bankrolled the drive to keep slot machines out of non-reservation bars, so they have the monopoly there. They bankrolled the anti-smoking initiative, that made it illegal to smoke in ANY place other than a cigar bar, tobacco shop, or indian casino.
I don't know how much money they have contributed to campaign funds in this state, but you can bet there is a lot of loot making it into private accts in Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands.