Casino-owning Indian nations are different from you and me, to paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald. They are not only richer, but also face no legal limit on the number of federal election campaigns to which they can contribute money.
That may be about to change, however.
In a cover story last week, HUMAN EVENTS reported that the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law had left in place a loophole that not only allowed Indian tribes to contribute to candidates for federal office — which foreign nations and corporations cannot do — but that it also placed no aggregate cap on the amount tribes could donate. By contrast, individual Americans were limited to contributing no more than an aggregate $95,000 per election cycle.
Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) told me last week that the law he sponsored had intentionally declined to close this loophole because Indian tribes are "sovereign nations." But when Carpenter visited Capitol Hill this week, she discovered Republican lawmakers were not only willing, but already preparing, to pass legislation imposing aggregate caps on tribal contributions. On the other hand, Democrats, including Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.), co-sponsor of McCain-Feingold, seemed unaware that tribal contributions were even an issue.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indians to contribute to federal election campaigns without an aggregate cap. Should this loophole be closed?
Sen. Joseph Biden (D.-Del.): I didn’t even know it existed. I’d have to think about it.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, under McCain-Feingold, Indian nations are allowed to give to federal candidates without an aggregate cap. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.): I think that everything will be looked at in the reform bill.
Senator, I’d like to ask about lobbying reform. Can I grab you for a quick one?
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.): Sure. Hi.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to donate more to political candidates than regular individual contributors. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Clinton: I don’t know anything about that, I’ll have to look into it. You’re the first person that’s ever asked me that.
But, on principle, I mean–
Clinton: I don’t know, I don’t know.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to contribute to federal election campaigns unlimitedly. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.): I know we’re looking at that. What I think we should do is put together a bipartisan commission to look at all these issues and then make some determination. Right now we’re piece-mealing things, so there has been a number of issues like that that are out there, and I haven’t looked at them fully, but I think we should take a look at some of the campaign finance stuff, some of the earmark stuff obviously, some of the gift stuff and act in a rational way. So that’s something I would certainly take a look at. But I haven’t yet.
But on principle, should Indian nations be allowed to give more than. . .
Coleman: No, on principle, we should have an equal playing field for everyone, but what I’m saying, what my concern is, is let’s deal with all of these instead of trying to piecemeal them.
Sir, I need to change gears here and ask you about your campaign finance bill.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.): Yeah. Which campaign finance, the one that’s already a law?
McCain-Feingold, yes. When that came about, there was no language included to make Indians subject to aggregate caps on their contributions. Can you explain to me why that wasn’t included?
Feingold: I’m going to have — it was never considered an issue. We were simply banning soft money. We didn’t create any exemption and don’t think that fell in that category.
Would you support reforming that now?
Feingold: I haven’t thought about that right now.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to contribute to federal candidates without limit …
Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.): You’ll have to get to my office, or get with, I’ll get back to you on that.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to contribute to federal candidates without limits. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.): I really do. I want to talk to the legal experts and to the Indian representatives to make sure I understand what their side of the argument is and you know, do them due diligence, but what my perception is and my predisposition is it seems we would want to close that.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to contribute unlimitedly to federal elections. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Sen. Ken Salazar (D.-Colo.): The way you explained it, I think so, but I don’t know enough about it. I haven’t studied it to know exactly what it is that Sen. McCain and Sen. Feingold included in the law.
Another aspect of it is that Indians, unlike a corporation, aren’t required to set up PACs. I know you have to take my word for this, but this is in the law. Do you think they should be required to set up a PAC? Would that be a good start?
Salazar: It seems to me that if we have rules for the political process for our nation then everyone that would participate in that political process should abide by the same set of rules.
Under McCain-Feingold, Indian tribes are allowed to contribute to political candidates unlimitedly without an aggregate cap on total donations. So, conceivably, they could contribute to every race in the union. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Rep. Clay Shaw (R.-Fla.): I don’t think many of us were really aware of that, and I think all of us should go by the same standards so that exception should be eliminated and you know, the Native Americans have a vested interest in gaming and things of this nature and their presence up here lobbying legislation is very real and they should have certainly a right to be heard through the political process and through contributions. That’s fine. But, the question of complete transparency and a level playing field with the rest of the population is a real thing and I frankly did not realize that was in that bill and it shouldn’t be.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows American Indian nations to contribute to federal candidates without an aggregate cap, or limit. Do you think this loophole should be closed?
Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.): Yes. I think it should.
I wanted to ask you specifically about the Indian so-called loopholes you were talking about. Under McCain-Feingold, we all know now, Indian tribes are allowed to contribute unlimitedly without an aggregate cap. How will this loophole be closed?
Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.): Well, I don’t know how–
But do you think it should be?
Shadegg: Well, first of all, I think Mr. Abramoff victimized the Indian tribes by, as a result of loopholes in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and I think Sen. McCain agrees with me on that. With regard to the provision on campaign financing, I believe the rules should be uniform for everybody. I don’t think we should put Indian tribes under more strict rules than everybody else, and I don’t think they be under more lenient rules than anybody else. We need to have, I think, a level playing field. But I also think that should go through a hearing process which I believe Sen. McCain would agree with.
Unlike corporations and foreign governments, McCain-Feingold allows Indian nations to contribute to federal campaigns without an aggregate cap. Should we close this loophole?
Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.): Yes. In fact, I am literally just coming back from a meeting with Sen. McCain about all sorts of Indian gambling and reform issues, and we talked about that.
Is this what they’re going to be talking about tomorrow in the Indian Affairs hearing?
Vitter: No, this would, that cap issue would probably be more in the campaign and lobbying reform bill which would be different. But we were talking about both ends.
When do you think we could see the soonest action on this?
Vitter: We’re trying to get a lobbying reform bill to the floor in the next two to three weeks.
And this might be included in that?
Vitter: I certainly will include it.