One of the issues discussed in my new essay on the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the lobbying by groups of American Indians seeking official tribal status. The BIA has the power to confer tribal status, and it does so in a non-transparent manner. With official status comes tribal access to a wide range of federal subsidy programs plus the ability to earn monopoly profits with a casino. The gaining of official status for tribes was one of Jack Abramoff’s specialty services.
The most recent BIA decision to confer tribal status is a classic case. The 221-member Tejon tribe in California received a thumbs up from the BIA in January 2012. The group’s reservation and its tribal status had been dissolved decades ago, but it hired some powerful Washington lobbyists to work their magic. An article in the Bakersfield Californian notes, “In their quest to gain recognition, the Tejons had the help of an unnamed ‘financial backer’ who had paid $300,000-plus to the tribe’s attorneys.” This financial backer was “banking on a casino.”
A Mountain Enterprise story says that once the Tejon tribe’s status was official, “speculation began almost immediately about the tribe’s plans to affiliate with Tejon Ranch Corporation and Las Vegas investors to establish a casino facility.” Famous D.C. lobby shop Patton Boggs earned $120,000 in fees on the deal.
Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, and editor of www.DownsizingGovernment.org. Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.
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