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January 15, 2008

The Conveniently Lost Contracts Of Campaign Contributors

Another scandal involving Indian gaming, campaign contributions, and potential misdeeds by government officials has erupted in California. Four tribes proposed expanding their gaming and sent the requests to the Department of the Interior last September. The DoI had 45 days to review the proposals and to deny them, if needed. However, the requests from the politically-connected tribes somehow got lost for three months, forcing automatic approvals of the lucrative expansions when they mysteriously reappeared (via CapQ reader Mark):

Four California Indian gambling agreements, deals worth perhaps more than $50 billion, went missing for nearly three months after they were sent to Interior in early September.

The disappearance forced the agency to approve the agreements automatically without any review, even though they still face a statewide vote on California's Feb. 5 ballot.

Interior officials have dismissed the blunder as a mistake by an unknown employee. But they cannot explain how they determined it was an innocent oversight if they don't know who did it.

Interior hasn't even bothered to launch an investigation into the disappearance and reappearance of the agreements. One might wonder how they reached the conclusion without actually checking into the issue. Supposedly, California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent the agreements by FedEx to the wrong address at the DoI, and they sat in someone else's office, but no one knows who had them. Weeks after a federal deadline for rejection had passed, the FedEx envelope mysterious showed up in the inbox of the man who then had no choice but to approve them all.

Perhaps one answer could be found in the political activism of three of the four tribes in question. The Pechanga, Morongo, and Agua Caliente bands rank in the top 10 tribal contributors to federal candidates. Combined, the three tossed $3.5 million over a decade into campaign kitties, with Sycuan not far behind at $274,000 on its own. With $50 billion in potential new business, that gravy train looks more lucrative than ever -- assuming that the Interior didn't stop the agreements from gaining approval.

The agreements have now become the subject of a referendum for California voters. If they reject the proposals, it will trigger a long and contentious court battle. That may be what it takes to find out how the convenient loss of the agreements, at least one of which Interior had planned to oppose because of its use of non-tribal land, managed to get them past all of the review processes.


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