Calif. governor's debate turns to tribal donations
Thursday, September 4, 2003

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) came under fire on Wednesday for accepting millions of dollars in campaign donations from the state's politically-connected tribes.

Bustamante, considered the leading Democrat in the upcoming recall election, defended his close relationship with tribes who have pledged more than $2 million so far to support his campaign. At a debate in Walnut Creek, he said he stood with Indian Country when no one else would.

"I've been involved with them for over 20 years. I visited reservations when they lived in shacks, in abandoned cars, there was 95 percent poverty," he said. "Gaming has been an opportunity to for them to expand options, put people to work, put their kids through school. So I was with them many, many years before they are in their present condition."

But other candidates at the debate said they wouldn't take money from wealthy gaming tribes. "You know, casinos, I would never accept money from casinos, tobacco companies or energy companies, whatever," said Peter Camejo, a Green Party candidate. "Once you accept money from them, there is a compromise there."

"It is nothing but legalized bribery," independent Arianna Huffington told Bustamante. "You have made a mockery of campaign finance laws by using a ludicrous loophole to get that money into your campaign and bypass the limits."

"Tell me how you really feel," Bustamante responded.

Even state Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican who has earned praise for his views on tribal sovereignty, weighed in with criticism. He said the tribal donations, to a political committee formed before a new state law limiting the dollar amount of donations went into effect, were on the "shady side of the law."

"On the policy, I believe that we made a promise to the California Indians a century ago that they would have sovereignty on their reservation lands, and it means that local and state jurisdictions end at the reservation boundary," he said. "But I agree with Arianna, receiving millions of dollars through a suspect hole in the law circumvents the will of the people in establishing campaign finance law in the last election."

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading Republican, skipped yesterday evening's debate, and will only attend one scheduled debate. He has already said he won't take money from tribes, whom he characterizes as "special interests," but will take money from large corporations and businesses.

"It is very very important that we get in a situation where we don't accept any money from people that we will sit across the table and negotiate with," he told reporters during an impromptu question and answer session. "We will negotiate with the Indians, the gaming tribes."

Gov. Gray Davis (D), did not take part in the forum, but took questions before a separate panel as he fought to save his political career before the October 7 election. No tribes have publicly announced monetary support for his campaign, though he has received significant donations in the past.

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, which operates a casino in southern California announced on Tuesday that it was spending $2 million on Bustamante. The tribe will contribute $1.52 million to two Bustamante re-election committees and additional $479,800 on a grassroots campaign.

The donation followed a $500,000 pledge from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and $300,000 from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians. All the money will go to committees that Bustamante says are not subject to a $21,200-per-donor limit.

Last Thursday, Bustamante and McClintock reportedly received warm welcomes at a meeting of California Nations Indian Gaming Association, a lobbying and trade group that represents 57 tribes with and without casinos. Both said they supporting lifting a cap on the number of slot machines each tribe can operate. McClintock also said he opposes forced unionism at casinos.

Davis went before CNIGA but was not as well received, according to news accounts. He has been criticized for seeking to renegotiate existing gaming compacts in order to shore up an additional $1.5 billion for the state's empty coffers. Tribal leaders have said they weren't consulted before Davis went public with his strategy.

At the meeting, Davis said he would consult with tribes on picks to the state's gaming regulatory commission. Schwarzenegger called the offer "unfortunate and misguided."

Although tribes are playing a major role in the recall, no candidate has focused on what they would do for the state's Natives. With more than 600,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives, the state has the largest Native population in the U.S.

Read the Debate:
Transcript of the candidates portion of the forum (KTVU CHANNEL 2 September 2, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante -
Arianna Huffington -
Peter Camejo -
Tom McClintock -

Related Stories:
Viejas Tribe spending $2M to boost Bustamante (9/3)
Pechanga Tribe donates $500K to Bustamante (9/1)
Schwarzenegger says tribal consultation 'misguided' (9/1)
Editorial: Schwarzenegger right about special interests (9/1)
Editorial: Bustamante on the take from tribes (8/29)
ICT: Vote NO on recall but YES to Bustamante (8/29)
Calif. recall candidates seek tribal support (8/29)
Calif. tribes to host three recall candidates (8/28)
Schwarzenegger won't take money from tribes (8/27)

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