WASHINGTON – In a second major campaign fundraiser with tribes this year, President Barack Obama met with a group of tribal donors on July 18, collecting at least $1.5 million.
The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. It lasted approximately an hour, according to tribal officials in attendance.
Press was not allowed in, but a campaign official told the press pool covering Obama that day that tickets started at $60,000 per person, and 25 people were in attendance. Under federal law, donors could have given as much $75,800 to attend. The campaign says it does not release specific numbers on the total amount raised from any single event.
Proceeds were to go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee, and several state Democratic parties.
Confirmed to be at the event were Deborah Parker, vice-chair of the Tulalip Tribe; Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Todd Hembree, attorney general of the Cherokee Nation; David Bean, a council member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians; and Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation representative (Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation). Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Suquamish, and other Indian-focused and tribal officials were also in attendance.
Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett was seen riding to the event with the president by the press pool.
Among items discussed were presidential support for tribal jurisdiction provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); federal reimbursement of contract service monies owed to tribes; the push in some tribal circles for a pardon of Leonard Peltier; tribal taxation issues; protection of Indian water rights and natural resources; Internet gaming; expanding federal law enforcement dollars; and environmental protection.
“President Obama assured us support of the tribal provisions [in VAWA],” Parker said, adding that she believed it was an effective meeting overall. She was also invited to attend an event at the White House featuring Baylor’s basketball team.
Keith Harper, a Cherokee partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, played a major role in organizing the event as Obama’s finance bundler for Native Americans and tribes. He also works as a lawyer representing Indian interests in the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement, which was announced by the Obama administration in December 2009, soon after Harper served on the Obama transition team. Harper has concurrently advocated for both the Indian interests involved in the case, as well as for the Obama administration and its campaign interests.
Harper said soon after the event on Facebook that tribal officials “effectively represented Indian country in this important meeting from all accounts.” He has not responded to a request for comment.
Obama’s July 18 campaign fundraiser is the third major collection of cash from tribes by his campaign this election cycle. In January, 70 tribal donors attended a brief meet-and-greet with the president, also at the Mandarin Oriental, where the minimum donation started at $15,000, and many gave $35,800, the maximum allowed by law and the campaign at that time. The campaign said that Vice President Joe Biden had hosted a similar event with Natives in October 2011, but did not say how much was raised there.
Limits for contributions at the latest event were capped at $75,800 per individual with starting donations requested at $60,000. Earlier this year, the Obama Victory Fund put a program in place for wealthy donors called Presidential Partners, which asks donors to offer $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint project of the campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That amount is the maximum donors are allowed to give national party committees for the entire 2012 cycle. The Romney campaign has a similar program in place.
USA Today reported in mid-May that tribal governments had donated more than $1 million to the Obama campaign by the time of its report. His campaign received a reported $264,000 from tribes in 2008.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has not responded to requests for comments on whether it is doing tribal fundraising.