WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders are getting their fancy dress clothes and shoes together in preparation for a Native American fundraiser with President Barack Obama this evening.
“Time to shine up our new caiman boots and bolo ties and head out to D.C. for this mighty big (and expensive) shindig!” exclaims the Native Vote Washington (state) organization, which works on getting out the vote in Indian country.
Only the richest of rich tribal leaders are expected to attend, as the dinner costs a whopping $35,800 per person. No word on whether frybread will be on the menu, but for the price, attendees will also get their picture taken with the president. $35,800 is the legal maximum campaign donation. $5,000 goes to the Obama re-election campaign, which is the most an individual can give there. The rest goes to the Democratic National Committee. $30,800 is the most an individual can give there.
“For those whose per caps have not come in just yet, for $5,000 you get three tickets to a reception with the President,” adds Native Vote Washington. “A photo will cost you another $10,000.”
The eat-and-greet will take place at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in downtown Washington.
Indian Country Today Media Network has learned that 70 tribal donors will be at the swanky affair, according to a campaign official. If each donor gave $35,800, the president will have raked in $2.5 million alone from the brief tribal feast.
The dinner is being hosted by the Obama campaign and the Native American Leadership Committee. Members of that committee are unclear, as it is not known to be a formal group.
A campaign official said that Vice President Joe Biden hosted a similar event with Natives in October. No similar fundraising events with tribal donors are believed to have been held during Obama’s 2008 campaign for president.
All proceeds will go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint committee authorized by the Obama campaign and the DNC, the official said.
Tribes – although many are poor – are overall among the biggest campaign donors in the nation, to both Democrats and Republicans. Rich gaming tribes are the largest contributors.
An analysis of state and federal campaign donations by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. found that in the campaign cycles of 2007 and 2008, four of the top 10 largest donors in the U.S. were tribes and tribal interests in California.
The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and a tribally organized group called Tribes for Fair Play spent a combined total of $129.8 million on state and national political campaigns; together they donated more than double that of the top national donor, the National Education Association, which spent $56.3 million. All of them are big gaming tribes (except for Tribes for Fair Play), and all of them want to protect their gaming empires.
Beyond the top 10, California tribes had three more donors in the top 50 and another three in the top 1,000. Non-California tribes in the top 1,000 were the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine; and the Seminole Nation of Florida.
“Campaign contributions, like money, can’t buy you love, but tribes are told that money opens doors and ears,” Philip Baker-Shenk, an Indian policy lawyer with Holland & Knight, told ICTMN last March. “And for tribal leadership long used to being marginalized as mere fleeting afterthoughts, attention by the powerful can be as dizzyingly addictive.”
Read more: Tribes Among Biggest Campaign Contributors