Tribal money fueling Califonria political campaigns 4-14-07

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) - Democratic state lawmakers carrying bills that would launch a massive expansion of Indian gambling in California have benefited from $1.6 million in tribal donations in recent years, according to an Associated Press review of campaign finance reports.

The contributions helped Democratic state senators' campaigns and political causes, either directly or through donations to independent committees that supported them.

The AP review of tribal donations comes as the Legislature is considering a series of gamblingexpansion bills similar to ones that died last year when they had Republican sponsors. The bills returned this year with new sponsors, all members of the Legislature's majority Democratic party.

The donations raise questions about how closely the Democratcontrolled Senate will scrutinize the bills. Critics, including the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, say the agreements with the casinos will not deliver as much tax revenue as promised.

During a recent legislative hearing, questions surfaced about whether the agreements would limit the state's ability to test whether slot machines were being run fairly and would roll back union protections for tens of thousands of casino workers.

The AP's review showed a number of financial ties between the bills' authors and gambling tribes.

Two freshmen Democratic senators elected last year with the help of $540,000 in contributions from tribes are carrying bills that would let those tribes more than triple - to 7,500 - the number slot machines they can operate.

Tribes also contributed more than $900,000 to an account controlled by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata to support bond measures he backed on November's ballot.

For Perata, DOakland, support for the tribes is nothing new. He voted for a casinoexpansion bill last year and says the Legislature should not stand in the way of tribes' sovereignty.

He coauthored a bill this year for a new Indian casino in Northern California and has a fulltime tribal liaison in his office. Tribes also have poured $74,000 into his election campaigns and legal defense fund since 2000.

Sen. Denise Ducheny, DSan Diego, author of two other casino expansion bills and chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, has taken more than $49,000 from tribes since 2000.

Republican authors of last year's casinoexpansion bills took similarly large donations from tribes. By switching sponsorship of the bills to Democratic lawmakers, gambling tribes may have a better chance of getting the bills passed, at least in the Senate.

The fate of the bills in the Assembly, where the Democratic leadership has strong ties to labor unions that oppose most of the compacts, is unclear.

The tribes turned to the Democrats last year after their longstanding Republican allies failed to win approval for the expansion of Indian gambling. The tribes had struck the deals with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who agreed to renegotiate compacts originally signed under former Gov. Gray Davis in exchange for the state getting a share of casino revenue.

The agreements will allow for 22,500 new slot machines, or more than enough to fill 10 Las Vegassized casinos. Schwarzenegger said he signed them because they will bring in an estimated $500 million a year over 30 years in new tax revenue. But the timing of the governor's deals also assured that the tribes would not oppose his reelection campaign.

It became clear only this week which lawmakers would carry the bills in the Legislature, which must ratify the agreements before they become law. The tribes cleared what may be their first and only hearing on the compacts before the Senate votes on them, possibly as early as next week.

The deals won support from a Senate committee despite hours of testimony from labor unions, the horse racing industry, community groups and others who warned the deals were bad public policy.