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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.

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