Tribal donations increase to President Obama's campaign
By Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY
President Obama has gone to bat for Indian tribes like few presidents before him.
Obama, with Native American leaders, signs the Tribal Law and Order Act
in July 2010 at the White House. The law gives tribes the authority to
sentence criminals for up to three years.
less than four years, his administration has settled major tribal
royalties disputes that had languished for years, relaxed a Bush-era
rule that limited new, off-reservation casinos, included by Coupon Companion">new health benefits
for tribes in the sweeping 2010 health care overhaul and helped advance
a landmark law that gives tribes power to prosecute serious crimes.
Now, tribes are opening their by Coupon Companion">checkbooks to aid his re-election.
Tribal governments have donated more than $1 million to his campaign and his joint fundraising efforts with the Democratic National Committee.
They gave $264,000 to Obama in the 2008 election, according to a USA
TODAY analysis of data compiled by the non-partisan Political MoneyLine.
The analysis does not include any additional money contributed by
individual tribal members or the employees of tribal enterprises.
has received more money directly from tribes than any other 2012
federal candidate, MoneyLine's tally shows. Republican presumptive
presidential nominee Mitt Romney,
by contrast, has received $3,000 combined from two tribal sources,
Oklahoma's Chickasaw Nation and the Prairie Island Tribal Council in
Welch, Minn., according to federal data.
"has done more for Indian country than any president I can remember,"
said Chief James Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in northern
Idaho, which donated $35,800 this year to Obama and his joint
As part of a settlement
announced last month, the 2,300-member nation is sharing $1 billion
with 40 other tribes to end lawsuits that charged the federal government
with mismanaging tribal money and land. Some of the claims were more
than a century old.
"We don't get everything
we want," said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National
Congress of American Indians, "but we are actually able to participate
in the dialogue."
Pata and other tribal advocates highlighted several recent accomplishments, including:
$3.4 billion settlement of a nearly 15-year-old lawsuit that charged
the federal government with mismanaging royalties for oil, gas and other
leases on tribal land. It is the largest settlement ever approved
against the government.
•Provisions that have
increased federal spending on Indian health-care by nearly 30% since
2008. In addition, tribal employees can now purchase by Coupon Companion">health insurance through the federal system available to U.S. government employees, retirees and their families.
•A tribal law-and-order bill pushed by Sen. Byron Dorgan,
D-N.D., and signed into law in 2010 by Obama that gives tribes new
powers, including authority to sentence criminals for up to three years,
up from one year.
•An Obama directive to
agency heads to make formal plans to consult with tribes on federal
policies that affect them. He has hosted three White House summits with tribal leaders.
day we're going to be able to look back on these years and say it was a
turning point in nation-to-nation relations," Obama said at a January
fundraiser in Washington where some 70 tribal supporters donated at
least $15,000 each. The Native American outreach is "not just a side
note on a White House agenda," he said, but part of a broader effort "to
make sure everybody has opportunity."
Tribal leaders interviewed around the country praised Obama, the nation's first black president, for his rapport with Indians.
don't know if it's because of his international family background or
his work with poorer communities, but he seems to get it," said Kevin
Washburn, dean of the University of the New Mexico
School of Law and a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. "This
guy has an interesting sensibility that enables him to deal with people
from all different cultures."
In the 2008 campaign, Obama sought tribal support as his protracted primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton
took both candidates to states with significant Native American
populations. Ahead of the Democratic primary in Montana, for instance,
Obama was "adopted" by the Crow Nation. He was the first presidential candidate to visit the reservation.
In Gallup, N.M., last month, Obama's campaign launched a tribal get-out-the-vote program. Native Americans
represent less than 2% of the U.S. population, but make up more than 9%
of the population in New Mexico, a key general-election battleground.
are places where a consolidated, high turnout in Indian Country can
affect the results in battleground states," said Keith Harper, a
Washington lawyer and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is raising money for Obama's re-election effort.
are a potential source of campaign money in the presidential race,
where spending by the candidates and outside groups could easily exceed
$2 billion. Tribal gambling has grown since 1998 when Congress
authorized casinos on reservations. It's a $26 billion-a-year business,
fast approaching the $35.6 billion in revenue that flowed last year to
Cheryl Schmit, a Northern California
activist who opposes the expansion of Indian gambling in her state,
said non-Indians are too often shut out of the negotiations between
tribes and the Obama administration, despite the impact of new
development on surrounding communities.
"Tribal casinos make a lot of money and make major contributions," Schmit said. "Our voice is not heard in this process."
federal election rules, tribes can donate directly to candidates from
their government accounts. And, unlike individual donors who can give no
more than $117,000 to federal candidates, political action committees
and political parties over a two-year period, tribes are not subject to
those limits. There are no limits for individuals, corporations or
tribes on donations to super PACs, a new form of political organization
channeling millions of dollars into federal races this year.
State's Tulalip Tribes, operators of a retail development and casino in
the suburbs north of the Seattle, is the largest tribal contributor to
Obama, donating $176,000 to his campaign and several joint fundraising
committees with the national and state parties. The tribe has reaped
millions in federal stimulus dollars for a water pipeline and other
construction and environmental-restoration projects.
a man gives his word and keeps his word, that's real important to
Indian Country," Tulalip Tribal Chairman Melvin Sheldon said. "We didn't
merit much consideration from previous administrations."
said he has attended all three summits and crossed paths with Obama at
three other events, including a February fundraising brunch at the
Seattle-area home of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman.
who were not recognized by Congress as U.S. citizens with the right to
vote until 1924, and say they believe campaign contributions allow them
to participate fully in politics. "We understand the political process,"
Sheldon said, and "we feel very fortunate that we can support those who
While Obama receives more tribal
money than any single politician, some tribes also donate to
Republicans. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, for instance, has
contributed $30,800 each to the Democratic and Republican national party
committees. It also donated $50,000to a super PAC that aided Texas Gov.
Rick Perry's short-lived campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
McClain,the Choctaw's executive director of legislative advocacy, said
the tribe has thousands of members in Texas and a long-standing
relationship with Perry.