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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Tribal Money Could Fuel Bustamante Bid

The lieutenant governor and recall election candidate has in the past received major backing.

August 08, 2003|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who announced Wednesday that he will run in the recall election to replace Gov. Gray Davis, has long been a major recipient of money from Indian tribes with casinos, and could receive significant sums from them in his campaign.

Since first winning an Assembly seat in 1993, Bustamante has accepted more than $1.5 million in direct donations from tribes with casinos. Since he took office as lieutenant governor in 1999, tribes have accounted for 12% of his total contributions.

Under California's campaign finance restrictions, Bustamante cannot accept more than $21,200 from any single donor. But moneyed interests can spend unlimited sums on his behalf in independent campaigns.

"Clearly, Bustamante is very popular among the tribes," said campaign consultant Ray McNally, a Republican who represents a tribe. "In terms of what they can do to help him, they could pump millions into an independent expenditure on his behalf."

Nikki Symington, a spokeswoman for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego County, predicted that the tribe, which operates one of the state's largest casinos, would support Bustamante, although she was not sure about contribution amounts.

"They can assume the Viejas will support the lieutenant governor," Symington said. "We have all along."

Just last week, the Viejas donated $35,000 to Bustamante's lieutenant governor committee. Bustamante was allowed to accept that money, although it exceeds the contribution limit, because that committee was formed before the state's contribution laws took effect this year.

Particularly in a campaign in which candidates will have to raise money quickly, tribal support could be important to Bustamante. The tribes are regular contributors to state campaigns and have used their growing wealth to finance independent expenditure efforts, in which donors wage their campaigns on behalf of an issue or candidate rather than donating money to the main campaign. That approach allows tribes and others to exceed the limits on donations to individual candidates.

Tribes have spent more than $120 million on state political campaigns since 1998, making them the biggest spenders on California politics in recent years. The bulk of that money was spent on two statewide ballot measures. But the tribes also are benefactors for several elected officials, Bustamante among them.

In a report issued in 2000, Common Cause of California found that tribes gave Bustamante $664,894 between 1995 and 1998, placing third during that period after Davis and Dave Stirling, a Republican who ran for state attorney general in 1998.

Bustamante has raised an additional $843,000 from tribes and tribal casino interests, or slightly more than 12% of the $6.9 million he has raised since 1999 when he took office as lieutenant governor, reports filed with the secretary of state show.

At a news conference to announce his plans to run in the recall election, Bustamante sidestepped a question about the amount of money he hopes tribes will spend on his campaign. But although he has lagged in fund-raising when compared with some political rivals, Bustamante said, he was confident about his ability to raise money between now and the Oct. 7 election date.

"I'm hoping to raise somewhere between $10 million and $15 million on the campaign," Bustamante said. "I would hope that everyone in the state of California would like to contribute to that effort."

Davis has received tribal contributions, accepting nearly $1.4 million from tribes in recent years. But that sum represents a small fraction of the $70 million Davis raised during his first term.

Some tribal representatives said tribes may not jump into the recall fray until the election draws near. Some tribes also may remain loyal to Davis. Other announced candidates, including Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a Democrat, and state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), also have friends among the tribes, and could receive at least some tribal money.

But Bustamante has supported California Indian tribes on a number of occasions and is connected with them through his main campaign consultant, Richie Ross, who represents two tribes that operate casinos.

During his Assembly tenure, Bustamante cast votes on behalf of the tribes, and led an effort to exempt tribes from legislation that sought to increase regulation of gambling.

In 1998, when lawmakers approved a compact to allow limited gambling on reservations that then-Gov. Pete Wilson had pushed, Bustamante requested a "moment of silence" in the Assembly and said legislators were "destroying Indian sovereignty."

At his news conference, Bustamante would not say whether he would work as governor to lift caps on the number of slot machines at tribal casinos, something many tribes have sought. He called tribal casinos "one of the strongest parts of the California economy."

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