Editor's Note: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire reporters examined overall campaign contributions in this election cycle and looked at contributions by three industry groups: casinos,health care and banking. Their reporting was based on Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. This is the second of four stories.
WASHINGTON – The casino industry spent less money on political campaigns this year than during the last midterm election,but it showed much greater support for Democrats.
Through Monday,the gaming industry contributed $9.72 million to political campaigns. That’s $2.37 million less than the 2006 midterm elections.
During the 2009-2010 election cycle,the industry gave more than twice as much to Democrats as to Republicans. In 2006,the industry gave 7 percent more money to Democrats than Republicans.
In 2006,two of the top five casino donors were affiliated with Native American tribes. Four out of the top five contributors donated most of their money to Republicans. Overall contributions in 2006 were $11.84 million.
This election cycle,four of the top five contributors are American Indian-owned casinos,and all but one gave primarily to Democrats.
While most casinos are regulated by states,American Indian gaming is regulated at the federal level,according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
David Damore,an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas,said the casino industry gives more to Democrats because,although Republicans are friendlier to businesses,the party is usually socially conservative and opposes expanding the industry.
Damore said the poor economy hasn’t stopped casinos from giving campaign money.
“They are always going to donate,” he said. “But they have to be more strategic this time around.”
The casino industry is weighing issues such as legalizing online poker and increasing gaming on American Indian reservations.
Jerry Paresa,chief administrative officer of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians,of California,said casinos owned by American Indian tribes decide to contribute money to campaigns based on issues affecting the entire tribe.
His tribe was the second-largest casino-industry contributor to political campaigns. The largest contributor is the Chickasaw Nation,the only tribe that gave mostly to Republicans. The third is the Morongo Band of Mission Indians,followed by Harrah’s Entertainment. Pechanga Band of Mission Indians is the fifth-largest contributor.
Paresa said San Manuel Band of Mission Indians donated heavily to congressional campaigns. During the health-care reform debate,the tribe donated to members of Congress who favored reform because it was an important issue for the tribe.
Paresa said his tribe donates to parties that support funding for tribes because those communities are underfunded.
“We always sort of got the bread crumbs of federal funding,” he said.
This year the tribe has given $442,700,and in 2006 it contributed $260,200 to campaigns,according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Harrah’s Entertainment was the fourth-largest donor in this election cycle and the only casino company in the top five not affiliated with a tribe, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website. Harrah’s donated $400,150. Seventy-five percent of the money went to the Democratic Party and its candidates.
In 2006 Harrah’s gave $535,221,and 51 percent of the money went to fund Republican campaigns.
Harrah’s Entertainment declined to comment.
Holly Wetzel,communications director for the American Gaming Association,said many casinos choose which political campaigns to donate to based on federal issues that affect all businesses.
Casinos might also lobby and fund political campaigns that support issues important to the tourism industry because both industries are closely related.
Sen. Harry Reid,D-Nev.,who is in a tight race with Republican Sharron Angle,received the most of any candidate from casinos this year.
Damore said casinos have invested money and time in Democrats hoping they will resolve key issues for the industry. However,if Republicans gain the majority in the Senate or House,the industry’s support might change.
“They have to start all over again,” he said.