Friday, December 22, 2006

CA Indian Tribe Political Donations Under Campaign Finance Laws, Court Rules

Somewhere a potential Abramoff weeps.

A fractured California Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Thursday that Indian tribes, some of the state's biggest political donors, are bound by campaign-finance disclosure rules.

The justices upheld a lower court decision that said tribes were subject to campaign-finance enforcement lawsuits from the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency that oversees elections.

The case is significant for California's political culture. The Golden State's more than 100 tribes, some flush with casino revenue, are major campaign donors, having given at least $200 million to candidate and ballot measure campaigns during the past decade, according to the tribes. ...

The tribes that were sued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to comply with disclosure rules maintained they are sovereign governments immune from most state intervention, including lawsuits to enforce state laws.

Justice Ming Chin said the majority reached its decision based on the "significant importance of the state's ability to provide a transparent election process with rules that apply equally to all parties who enter the electoral fray."

The three-justice minority said it was up to Congress or the tribes themselves to authorize such enforcement actions against an Indian tribe. Justice Carlos Moreno noted the U.S. Supreme Court has said Oklahoma could not sue tribes in that state over the collection of cigarette taxes, and said the California Legislature should petition Congress to allow campaign disclosure enforcement actions.

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