Defending Democracy, News

Campaign finance watchdog calls for investigation of Cherokees’ soaring political donations, connections to gambling legislation

Veteran North Carolina campaign finance watchdog Bob Hall is calling on the State Board of Elections to investigate the campaign finance contributions of one of the state’s most active givers.

This is from a news release Hall (pictured at left) distributed this afternoon:

With the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) pushing legislation (SB-154/HB-302) to add sports wagering to a sprawling gambling operation, it’s a good time to look at the tribe’s clout in the NC General Assembly.

Turns out EBCI donated $570,400 to state legislators, other candidates and political committees in the 2018 election – and a total of $1,300,000 in the past three elections, which ranks it among the three biggest PACs in the state, along with the Duke Energy PAC and NC Realtors PAC.

It also turns out that it’s long past time for the State Board of Elections to conduct a thorough audit of EBCI’s political arm.

Reviewing EBCI’s contributions is especially difficult because, unlike other PACs and contrary to state law, it does not file its disclosure reports electronically.  You have to slog through PDF’s of paper reports posted on the State Board’s website; the reports are not searchable or easily converted into a single data file. They also don’t always match what recipients report they received as a campaign donation.  My analysis uncovered more than two dozen mismatched contributions – i.e., discrepancies in what EBCI and the recipient reported….

EBCI’s political giving is unique. Other PACs are required to amass their money by soliciting donations from their members, executives, and supporters. EBCI doles out millions to its tribal members – over $150 million in per-capita payments in 2018 alone – but it is not required to ask its 15,000 members for money to build up a tribal PAC. Instead, in the early 2000s, EBCI argued it was a sovereign nation, not a normal corporation or association, and it received special permission from the State Board of Elections to donate directly from its non-gambling business revenues, i.e., profits from its hotels, restaurants, etc., which have grown rapidly because of its expanding casino operations.

The $570,400 donated to state politicians and committees in the 2018 election is four times the $136,250 it gave in the 2006 election….

My request for the State Board to conduct its first comprehensive audit and investigation of EBCI’s political donations is attached. The letter provides additional examples of discrepancies, background information, and a table with over 400 EBCI contributions.

Click here to read Hall’s letter to elections board executive director Kim Strach. Click here and here to see the legislation referred to in Hall’s letter.

One Comment


  1. Dennis Justice

    March 7, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    I say this as someone who considers himself a Christian Libertarian:

    I was at Harrah’s last night. Am a Lyft driver, drove the guy from the Asheville Airport 1 hours 20 minutes to Harrah’s. Yeah, I lost $30 at the roulette wheel. No biggie. And yes, I had an awesome time. They really do a good job there.

    I want the Cherokee to get theirs. But not at the expense of everybody else.

    The idea that the Cherokee will obtain what is a SECOND gambling monopoly is outrageous. You are talking only two casinos to place sports bets, with NO mobile or proxy betting allowed. If I wanted to start a proxy business for football betting (which I do, full disclosure), which is the only proxy betting Nevada allows, I wouldn’t be allowed to as they do not WANT proxy betting for football.

    But why? In Vegas, the Super Contest is a huge event for Westgate. You pay the $1,500 at that sportsbook personally, pay $300 for a separate proxy company, send your proxy the pick, and s/he puts in your picks every week. Of course, there’s no way I’d be able to go to Vegas every week to make my picks. So why would Cherokee turn off everyone who is over an hour away?

    It’s very simple: They’ll eat the cost to get the bigger gain of those who CAN make it to play slots. The Nevada Control Board reported that slots makes NINETEEN times the profit in casinos that sports betting does! In fact, sports betting is the LEAST profitable casino venture in Nevada. When you are there to watch football or other sports, you will likely lose your shirt on the slot. Foot in the door. That’s why I play roulette to minimize risk, when I play.

    Something else to consider: The Fitch bill on horse betting is awful. There’s no saving it. 20% off the top and it all goes to the lottery fund? Not fair. Even Tennessee’s sports betting bill gives 30% to local governments for infrastructure.

    So if Berger buries the horse betting bill, and rams through Davis’ sports betting bill, what stops the Cherokee from monopolizing horse betting? Nothing.

    The irony is WHEN Tennessee legalizes, people in DAVIS’ OWN DISTRICT will get better odds and taxes crossing state lines, like a lot of us in Hendersonville can go to Landrum, South Carolina for cheaper booze, gas, and those fireworks that aren’t legal in NC. WHEN SC legalizes, tons of $ will bleed out of this state to Virginia and South Carolina.

    Stop these bills, get back to the drawing board. Now.

    For more information, visit my Twitter @LetUsWager. I want EVERYBODY to benefit not just a few.

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