Tribes giving more funds to politicians

Sunday, November 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- American Indians have contributed $1.2 million to Oklahoma politicians since 1996 -- almost half in the last two years, according to a published report.

Politicians have accepted more and more contributions from tribes at a time when tribal casinos have expanded to record numbers, The Oklahoman reported.

"Prior to this time, they did not have the financial resources," said former state Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney, a Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) Indian. "Gaming just has really created a whole new economy."

The Chickasaws are the biggest donors. The tribe, its business operation and tribal leaders gave more than $480,000 since 1996. During that period, the tribe increased its gaming operation to 17 sites.

"We contribute to candidates for political office because we want them to know that Indians and Indian tribes are involved in the political process," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said.

"We want our issues to be heard and our views to be considered," Anoatubby said.

But critics say Indians are among the largest of the special interest groups that donate in hopes of favors.

"The concern is they may be buying the political process," said Mike Cantrell, co-founder of One Nation, a coalition of businessmen concerned that tribes disrupt a free market economy.

"It's just special interests exerting themselves over the rest of us," Cantrell said.

The Choctaw Nation, its leaders and employees have given $280,000.

"We just feel that it's important that we help our friends that have helped us so we have a voice where it's needs," Assistant Chief Mike Bailey said.

An analysis of tribal contributions to Oklahoma politicians revealed that Gov. Brad Henry has accepted more than $100,000 in Indian money.

Since 1996, Henry accepted $4,100 as a state senator, $22,950 while he ran for governor and $73,550 toward his inauguration.

As governor, Henry negotiates with tribes on compacts over cigarette sales and off-track betting. Tribes are currently seeking agreements over their video gaming operations.

"Just like every Oklahoman, tribal members have a right to participate in the political process, but I don't give them or anyone else any special treatment," Henry said.

"My actions are based on what I believe is best for the people of Oklahoma, nothing more, nothing less," the governor said.

American Indians are among the biggest recipients of tribal contributions.

Anoatubby collected about $61,000 from tribes and tribal officials in Oklahoma and across the United States during his unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1998.

Haney collected $22,100 from Indian donors while in the state Senate and $43,985 during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year.

Kalyn Free, a Choctaw and former district attorney for Pittsburg and Haskell counties, collected $42,100 in Indian money when she ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year.

The analysis also revealed:

--Indian donors donated $121,070 to Democrats compared to less than $25,000 to their Republican counterparts.

--Tribes and tribal officials have contributed to more than 250 Oklahoma candidates since 1996, sometimes giving to both candidates in a race.

--Most of the Indian donations, $677,000, went to state candidates while nearly $300,000 went to candidates running in Oklahoma for U.S. Senate and House seats.