Today, our sixth installment of Jim Marino’s series of articles on tribal casino gaming in California (originally published in the Santa Ynez Valley Journal) looks at the corruption in California that followed the explosion of Indian casinos. “Tribes” of one person . . . lobbying slush funds . . . it’s all there, proving that money, politics, gaming, and corruption are natural bedfellows. Those who oppose the introduction of casino gaming to their communities are often wrongly characterized as puritans. True, opposition to gambling may be a factor for some, but there’s so much more to the issue than just the issue of gambling. As this article makes clear, no one should walk blindly into creating Indian gaming in their community without knowing more about the social impact of it–from crime rates to the powerful influence of gaming profits on local government. It’s something to keep in mind as we consider the far reaching implications of the Akaka Bill. (And recall that–even though the current version of the Bill does not allow for Native Hawaiian casinos, there was a time when such casinos weren’t permitted in California too.)
CORRUPTION OF CALIFORNIA’S GOVERNMENT
BY INDIAN GAMBLING DOLLARS
Santa Ynez Valley Journal
By Jim Marino, Guest Columnist
May 20, 2010
In a 5-part series, I outlined what led up to the advent of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act of 1988. How Congress engaged in a feeble attempt to wean Indian tribes from total federal dependence and at the same time clarify the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cabazon Tribe versus California. How Congress completely failed to take into account the complex and confusing body of Indian law, including the court-created doctrine of Indian tribal immunity from lawsuit.
Then I discussed the tortured history of how Indian gambling found its way into California illegally and the attempts to legalize it by corrupt politicians and Gov. Gray Davis, who executed 59 tribal-state compacts for casinos with several tiny bands of questionable Indian descent, and who had no legally eligible lands on which to build and operate a gambling casino and even allow questionable “tribes” to purchase land near perceived gambling markets in a practice that came to be known as “reservation shopping.”
These often ridiculous policies and events led to the rapid expansion of Indian gambling casinos all over California being thrust into many communities who didn’t want them and which provided no benefit despite the creation of “jobs.” That was because of the many negative impacts of such a casino and the demands placed on public services and infrastructure, which the Indian casinos and businesses used regularly while paying no taxes.
This continuing article is to demonstrate how pervasive the corruption from Indian gambling dollars has become. Although there are many examples, this limited space only allows for the recounting of some of the typical and more outrageous examples of it.
As set out in the earlier series, Gov. Davis owed his election to the massive contributions from Indian casinos operating illegally in California at the time and the massive campaign instituted by those tribes, many of which had only a handful of members, and fractional and often questionable claims to being “Indian” at all. A campaign to enact a tribal initiative to amend the California Government Code known as Proposition 5 was circulated in an attempt to legalize the illegal Indian gambling casinos operating in California at the time.
To repay this largesse, once elected, Gov. Davis negotiated 59 tribal-state compacts through the summer of 1999 with these illegal existing casino tribes and many other questionable groups, several with no eligible land upon which gambling would be allowed under federal law. These compacts had been negotiated behind closed doors under the authority of Proposition 5 enacted in November 1998 at the same time Davis was elected.
These secretive negotiations took place behind closed doors, away from all of the major public forces that usually shape laws, such as city and county governments, unions, law enforcement, women’s rights groups, environmental protection groups, local and consumer rights groups and lawyers’ organizations. Even though the California Supreme Court had struck down Proposition 5 in August 1999, undaunted, Gov. Davis executed these give-away “sweetheart” compacts in September 1999 and had the democratically controlled legislature approve them in October 1999. To overcome the fact there was no statutory authority to execute and approve those compacts after the August 1999 Supreme Court decision, Gov. Davis and the Legislature put a “legislative initiative” on the March 2000 ballot called Proposition 1A. Although this initiative amended the State Constitution to authorize the Governor to negotiate future tribal-state compacts, it was, in effect, an initiative designed to retroactively ratify the 59 compacts signed earlier without lawful authority and without informing the voters.
As if this corrupted set of events was not enough, it was but the opening bell in a bruising round of corrupt practices that followed at both the state and federal level.
Proposition 1A established two funds: The Revenue Sharing Trust Fund and the Special Distribution Fund. The former was a fund established by the state into which those tribes with casinos would pay money. That fund would then make annual payments to “Indian tribes” in California that did not have casinos, or had casinos with fewer than 300 slot machines. Each “tribe” would receive an annual distribution of $1,100,000 over and above the hundreds of thousands they receive in federal welfare and grant monies.
Some of these “tribes” had only one or two members, like the Valley Miwoks and the Buena Vista MeWuks and Mary Ann Martin’s Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. She was the only member of that “tribe” and not only entitled to receive a $1.1 million dollar distribution but also hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in federal welfare and grant money for “tribal government,” “tribal economic development,” “tribal housing,” and so forth. Many other bands or tribes had perhaps a handful of members.
The first thing that happened once Indian gambling became openly legal was that these casino tribes began contributing monies large and small to various politicians at the state and local level.
Many of you may recall how Jack Abramoff, the now imprisoned and disgraced lobbyist, got $80 million from one “poor” Indian tribe in Alabama with orders to spread it around Washington politicians, in order to block another Indian tribe’s attempt to open a competing casino. When the scandal finally broke, the Indian tribal governments and liberal media castigated Abramoff and his partner Scanlon for his activities, but carefully concealed the fact it was the Indian tribal governments, lawyers and lobbyists that furnished the tribal ‘pay-off” monies and that Abramoff was just the bag man delivering the tribal gambling monies to the many corrupt politicians he knew and who willingly took it.
One tribal government operating a gambling casino near Palm Springs gave Abramoff $10 million and then later refused to disclose what it was for, even to the tribal membership. State Senator Jim Battin from Palm Springs received tens of thousands of dollars in Indian casino contributions deposited into committees mostly called “The Friends of Jim Battin.” These committees were very generous in handing out tens of thousands of those casino dollars to other Sacramento politicians, lending a new meaning to the expression “it pays to have friends.” When he finally got in trouble with the state F.P.P.C. and they filed complaints against him, he and these Indian casinos set up the “Jim Battin Defense Fund.”
Senator Battin, (now termed out), was a champion of Indian gambling causes of all kinds. A year or two ago, the former chairman of the Indian Gaming Commission, Phillip Hogen, had been trying to change the federal rules defining more clearly what a slot machine was. Casino Indians and slot machine manufacturers had designed machines they called Bingo machines. Bingo under the IGRA is a class II gambling game that can be operated by a tribe without needing a tribal-state compact. Such a tribal-state compact is required for class III casino gambling, including the use of slot machines.
The compact requirement is the only way states can require tribes to pay money for all of the public services and infrastructure they use at the taxpayers’ expense. The compacts are also the way states can impose rules and regulations on gambling tribes. Commissioner Hogen had been trying to change the rules for years and reclassify these “Bingo machines” as facsimile slot machines subject to state control and the tribal-state compact requirements.
Sen. Battin wrote a letter, at the time, to Commissioner Hogen urging him not to change the rule, and he had 20 other Senators sign it. So, here we have fully one-half of our state’s Senators opposing a federal rule change that would be a direct benefit to the State of California, the state that they are supposed to be representing.
As I wrote in an article last year for this Valley Journal titled “Pay to Play,” this Indian casino corruption is rampant. Locally the Chumash and other tribes pushed for a bill early on in the gambling casino saga. They urged adoption of a bill in the Legislature that required local communities to come hat in hand for monies from the special distribution fund that were paid into it by gambling tribes. This money was originally intended to mitigate the negative impacts of casinos on local communities. That bill established local committees, controlled by the very Indian tribes causing the negative impacts who would then either approve or disprove any requests for grants by local governments to be made from the monies that were originally in that fund to mitigate those impacts.
On another occasion when the IRS refused to allow Indian tribes to issue tax-free bonds for gambling casino construction, arguing that such bonds were for public works projects, the tribes went to their friends in Sacramento – and introduced a bill to have the State of California issue tax-free bonds on their behalf.
When the gambling tribes wanted to eliminate any competition, they went to Sacramento again and had a bill introduced to place a long moratorium on the issuance of any more private non-Indian card room licenses that is still in effect. In fact, they just got their buddies in the Legislature to extend it.
When they wanted to eliminate competition from charities conducting Bingo games for charitable purposes, they got their Legislative friends to pass a bill banning the use of these Bingo machines by charities. You remember, the same machines they argued to the federal government were not slot machines at all, but then when they wanted to block their use by charities in California, they claimed that the state should not allow this use because it infringed on their exclusive right to operate “slot machines,” as provided for in the tribal-state compacts and in Art. 4, section 19 of the State Constitution.
Even locally, you may recall, when the Chumash wanted to rename San Marcos Pass/Highway 154 “The Chumash Highway,” they went to another friend of the Indian casino tribes, Assemblyman Coto, who has taken thousand of dollars from casino tribes and is now doing so for a run for the State Senate. Assemblyman Coto represents a San Jose District some 300 miles from here.
After receiving a generous political contribution of several thousand dollars from the Chumash, he introduced a resolution to rename Highway 154 as the Chumash Highway.
This was done without any local notice or knowledge and/or a resolution from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which resolution was required by a section of the California Streets and Highways Code. It was then shepherded quietly through the legislature by a number of elected officials in record time, many of whom had received thousands of dollars from the Chumash and tens of thousands from other casino tribes. The community only learned of the resolution when the tribe issued a press release after the fact.
In another recent episode of attempted corrupt influence, in order to further their ambitious acquisition and development plans, the Chumash gave State Sen. Florez a $15,000 “contribution,” and within a month or two he introduced a bill to relieve the Chumash (and ostensibly other Indian tribes) from complying with the limitations contained in the Williamson Preservation Act, apparently knowing they were going to purchase the 1,400-acre former Fess Parker property and other properties still restricted by Williamson Act limitations. Fortunately, that bill was soundly rejected by the Local Government Affairs Committee, with the chairman, State Sen. Cox stating, “You wouldn’t be here, Sen. Florez, if it wasn’t for the Chumash.”
This corruption from gambling dollars is bi-partisan. Two years ago, when four tribes wanted to expand the number of slot machines in their casinos, they not only spent well over $70 million promoting the amended compacts on the statewide ballot, they also gave the State Republican party $5 million. Not coincidentally, the Republican Party then spent about the same amount of money supporting those ballot propositions which were numbered 34-38 and ultimately were approved.
In addition, Indian casino tribes spent more than 35 million to oppose race track efforts to obtain slot machines at their tracks in propositions 93-95 on the ballot in that same election. Such slot machines would have competed with tribal casinos, having exclusive rights to have slot machines.
What is perhaps the most ironic, if not astounding aspect of all this corruption from these Indian gambling casinos and their political contributions, is the fact that these political pay-offs are not legal by federal law. Title 25 section 2710 of the I.G.R.A. provides as follows:
2710(2)(B) net revenues from any tribal gaming are not to be used for purposes other than –
(i) To fund tribal government operations or programs
(ii) To provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members
(iii) To promote tribal economic development
(iv) To donate to charitable organizations; or
(v) To help fund operation of local government agencies.
The obvious question is into which one of these categories could political contributions and pay-offs possibly fit? How, for example, could an Indian tribe justify putting money into a fund, like the Jim Battin Defense Fund, whose purpose is to defend a politician from state allegations of illegal acts and practices constituting violations of the Fair Political Practices laws?
When I put that very question to former Chairman of the NIGC Phillip Hogen, he could not answer it. That is most likely because such contributions do not fit into any one of these five categories of permissible uses.
That brings me to the last point and that is, where are the provisions to enforce the federal laws and state laws that should be regulating Indian gambling casinos but are not? I thought I could conclude this series in 5 installments but that has proven impossible.
So next time, the final installment: “Why no one enforces the laws intended to limit and regulate Indian gambling.”