Tribal Government

How Current Campaign Finance Reform Legislation
Increases Tribal Governments’ Influence on Elections and Federal Agencies

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has ruled that Tribal Governments are not subject to the same limits on campaign contributions as individuals and non-governmental groups. The question has been raised as to the wisdom and fairness of this ruling. It has been the hope of many that current campaign finance legislation, designed to limit the influence of special interest groups, would be written or amended to prevent unbridled tribal government campaign contributions.

Despite the efforts of many citizens to pressure Congress to close the “tribal loophole,” no Senator has had the courage to publicly address this issue. Here is some of the story.

How Tribal Sovereignty Threatens Voting Rights

Of Elephants, Donkeys and Hippos…The Dung in America’s Elections

“Partnerships and other business forms are treated by FEC as “non-stock corporations”. These entities can contribute without regard to the annual aggregate limit because they are not “individuals.” However, these entities are treated as PACs and, if they raise or spend more than $1,000 in a single calendar year, they must register and disclose their receipts and expenditures. Indian tribes behave like a PAC (in that they give without restriction on aggregate contributions) and like an individual (in that they give without having to register and disclose)…and unlike either PACs or individuals, Indian tribes can use their tribal funds for contributions.”
– Ed Zuckerman, Editor of the PACS & Lobbies Newsletter

[Editor’s Note: “Tribal funds” are millions of government dollars that come involuntarily from U.S. taxpayers and from tribal government businesses, especially casinos.]

Follow the Chronology

May 15, 2000 – FEC Issues a Decision
June 14, 2000 – FEC Lets Indian Tribes Convert Government Funds to Political Contributions
April 11, 2001 – McCain-Feingold Indian Giving Loophole
January 3, 2002 – Nat’l Review Comment On Campaign Finance Reform Law/Sen. McCain’s Role
March 4, 2002 – Loopy Campaign-Finance Hole
March 7, 2002 – Indian Gambling Benefits from Campaign Finance Bill
March 15, 2002 – Citizen Group Cites Troubling Sources of Influence
March 20, 2002 – Campaign Reform Wins Passage; Bush Will Sign
May 30, 2002 – Casino Royale Politics
July 7, 2002 – Eastern Pequot Lobbyist Also a GOP Fund-Raiser
July 14, 2002 – Featured in Perspective A Glaring Omission
September 15, 2002 – American Indians See Gains in Political Clout
September 27, 2002 – State Sues Tribe Over Reporting of Gifts
October 24, 2002 – Tribe Flexes Influence in Doyle-Friendly Ads
November 24, 2002 – State, Tribe in Fight Over Election Laws
January 6, 2003 – Election-Donor Suit Pits Tribes Against State
January 9, 2003 – Tribe’s Lawyer Blames State for Legal Tussle
January 16, 2003 – Suit Over Donations Tests Indian Tribes
February 2003 – Advocacy, Avarice or Addiction? – What is the Price of Congress?
February 28, 2002 – Stop Campaign Gravy Train
March 7, 2003 – Judge Concludes Tribes Must Report Donations
December 15, 2002 – Playing the Political Slots
January 8, 2003 – State Indian Tribes Cover Their Political Bets with Cash
Date Unknown – The K Street Jackpot from Indian Casinos
Date Unknown – Tribal Money’s Undue Influence on the Clinton Administration
Date Unknown – How the Radical Indian Movement Controls American Governments

Campaign Financing

Campaign Finance Information Center
Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics