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Indians Find That Money Buys Access

With cash accumulated from reservation casinos, tribes host caucuses and parties for convention-goers.


American Indians are flexing their rapidly developing political muscle at the Democratic National Convention, fielding a record number of delegates, hosting parties at swank locations and drawing a steady stream of politicos to daily caucus meetings.

Of the 75 American Indian delegates here, organizers say, 10 are from California. Both figures far outnumber the six Indian delegates to the Republican National Convention earlier in Philadelphia, noted Mary Ann Martin Andreas, tribal chairwoman of California's Morongo Indians.

Flush with cash from reservation casinos, tribes from around the country, particularly California, have stepped up their involvement in state and federal politics in recent years.

"We don't have the numbers that Latinos or African Americans have, or the organization that the Asians have," said Martin Andreas, who is scheduled to address the Democratic National Convention today. "But what we do have is money."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 31, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--An Aug. 17 story in the Democratic National Convention section incorrectly stated the name of a source. Hal Dash is president of Cerrell Associates, a lobbying firm that works with two California Indian tribes.

California tribes raised about $21 million to push Proposition 1A on the March ballot this year, which changed the state Constitution to allow them exclusive rights to operate Nevada-style slot machines in reservation casinos.

The hefty amount was far less than the breathtaking $68.6 million that proponents of a similar measure, Proposition 5, raised in 1998. That year, tribes pumped millions into state Democratic and Republican campaigns in just over 10 months, and they have continued to shower lawmakers with cash, in the process becoming one of the biggest forces in state politics.

Nationally, tribes have contributed $1 million to fund Democratic races for congressional seats. And efforts are underway by one group of Native Americans to raise another $1 million against U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican from Washington state who has drawn the ire of tribal members.

"All we're doing is enjoining the role of corporate citizenry as Coca-Cola and other companies do," said Andrew Masiel of the Pechanga Indians.

In California, tribes have formed their own caucus. Masiel is the outgoing chairman of the state Democratic Party's Native American Caucus, a 2-year-old group with 220 members.


Other tribes have hired public relations firms and lobbyists to draw attention to their issues. Morongo consultant Waltona Manion helped the tribe devise a promotional gimmick being given out at the convention: chocolate candy bars dubbed the "Morongo Sovereignty Bar." The wrapper lists the ingredients as self-determination, participation in the political process, education, willingness to fight, vision and hard work.

"Tribes are realizing you need to get involved in the political process in order to be heard," said Tom Dash, president of Cerrell Associates, a lobbying firm working with two California tribes. He added that Native American issues go beyond gambling to include water and land-use matters.

The strides made by Native Americans are evident in ways large and small at the convention. "Look at that sign," said Masiel as he pointed at a blue "Native Americans for Gore" poster hanging in a spacious hotel conference room where he has been meeting daily with his counterparts from across the country to discuss tribal issues and listen to lawmakers. "We didn't have that four years ago. Then again, we didn't have a room four years ago."

The Agua Caliente Indians, from the Palm Springs area, are one of a number of tribes that sponsored events this week in Los Angeles. They were the main sponsors of a breakfast for the California delegation at the Bonaventure Hotel, and later that evening helped pay for a fund-raiser for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) at B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal CityWalk.

Richard M. Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente, added that hosting such events allows tribal leaders to present their issues to lawmakers. As the main sponsor of Tuesday's breakfast, Milanovich--a Republican who was also in Philadelphia for his party's convention--addressed the delegation and dined at the same table as California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.

"Many of these people here, legislators and their parties, have been supportive of tribal issues," Milanovich said in an interview at a crowded California delegates' breakfast. "We just want to express our support and appreciation."

Lawmakers and aspiring officeholders have taken note. A steady stream of Democratic politicians, including vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, made time in busy convention schedules to address Native Americans.

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island also addressed the group, urging them to support Democratic state Sen. Mike Honda in his bid for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Tom Campbell (R-San Jose), a U.S. Senate candidate. He said Honda is one of the candidates they are supporting through the Democratic National Committee's Native American fund.

The fund, now at $1 million, according to Kennedy, was formed to ensure that Democrats understand how much money tribes contribute.

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