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Tribal lobbying spending falls in wake of Abramoff

After years of steady increases, tribal lobbying spending has fallen in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

In 1998, a decade after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribes only spent about $6.1 million in Washington, D.C., according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But as casino profits grew, so did lobbying -- reaching a record $20.8 million just a few years later in 2003.

Helping fuel the increase were Abramoff's biggest clients. They included the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California, all of whom spent sums approaching or surpassing $1 million in lobbying fees.

But in the last couple of years since the scandal broke, tribal lobbying has declined. While still higher than the 1998 level, spending fell to $14.8 million in 2005, down from $16.7 million in 2004, according to the figures.

The Saginaw Chippewas, who spent a record $2.2 million in 2003, have restrained their spending considerably. After firing Abramoff, the tribe only spent $136,000 in fees in 2004.

Despite the drop, some tribes still maintain an active presence in the nation's capitol. The Seminole Tribe of Florida spent $1.0 million in 2005, the biggest tribal spender for the year.

In 2004, the Gila River Indian Community of Arizona spent $2.2 million as part of an effort to secure passage of water rights legislation. Coming in second that year was the Mississippi Band, with $1.5 million in lobbying fees -- about the same amount in 1998.

Yet even as tribes scale back their representation, the overall lobbying industry continues to grow. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, private companies, labor union and other organizations spent $2.22 billion in 2005, a figure that has risen steadily since 1998.

In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, some Republicans and conservatives questioned the amounts of money tribes spent in Washington, not just on lobbying but on political campaigns. Some bills were introduced to limit the amount of money tribes can spend on elections.

None of the proposals made it very far. Still, tribal spending makes up just a small portion of the overall lobbying industry, ranked far behind sectors like insurance, energy and defense, according to the figures.

And the overwhelming majority of tribes don't spend much, or any, of their money on lobbying. Last year, fewer than 100, out of the 550-plus tribes, had registered lobbyists, according to the figures.

Even of those tribes, some spent sums as low as $10,000 or $20,000. Only about half spent $100,000 or more, according to the center.

In its figures, the Center for Responsive Politics lumps tribes with gaming companies and gaming interests like the American Gaming Association. To provide a more accurate view of tribal spending, the spending by these interests was not included in the tallies reported above.

Lobbying Database:
Casinos/Gambling (Center for Responsive Politics)