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Casino Tribes Target Hancock in Mailer

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday May 22, 2008 - 09:37:00 AM

A political hit piece targeting state Senate hopeful Loni Hancock, ostensibly from a band of educators, was bankrolled by casino-owning bands of Native Americans attacking an outspoken foe of Bay Area tribal casinos. 

The bill it attacks her for sponsoring was also supported by her chief rival for the nomination, Wilma Chan, who has denounced the mailer.  

“Loni Hancock Is Lowering Expectations” declares the headline in the four-page mailer from the “Education Leaders for High Standards Independent Expendi-ture Committee,” which targets the lawmaker for spearheading “legislation to weaken academic standards in public schools.” But the law in question, Assembly Bill 2975, was passed in 2006 with Chan’s support. 

That measure, which was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwar-zenegger, would have changed state student English and math proficiency standards required under the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act. Hancock sponsored the bill, which was supported by the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association but opposed by the state Chamber of Commerce. 

Hancock had called the existing standards unrealistic, faulting them for penalizing schools that steadily improve scores but fail to meet the requirements. 

Flanked by Oakland City Councilmembers Jean Quan and Jane Brunner, Contra Costa County Superintendent John Goia, and representatives of the Sierra Club and the East Bay Coalition Against Urban Casinos, Hancock held an Oakland City Hall Plaza press conference Tues-day to denounce both the urban casino interests and the attacks against her. 

Hancock said that “the hit piece was put out by a committee formed in the dead of night and paid for by Indian gaming interests” because she has been an “outstanding opponent of urban casinos in the East Bay, most particularly against putting a massive, Las Vegas-style casino in Richmond.”  

A representative of the campaign of Wilma Chan, the former District 16 Assemblymember who is Hancock’s opponent in the June 3 Senate District 9 Democratic primary, passed out a prepared statement from Chan at the Hancock press conference referring to the mailer and AB 2975.  

“Like Ms. Hancock, I voted for this legislation,” Chan said in the prepared statement. “My campaign has no knowledge of the organization that sent out the mailer. I am opposed to this attack on Ms. Hancock.” 

The mailer offers no endorsement of any candidate and urges recipients only to “Tell Loni Hancock that Sacramento politicians should have higher standards and higher expectations for our kids.” It features an address that traces back to River City Business Services, a Sacramento accounting firm that specializes in political campaigns. 

And a look at state campaign finance records reveals that the committee, which was just formed on May 14, is funded entirely by the California Tribal Business Alliance (CTBA) political action committee (PAC). The alliance is a consortium of six casino tribes which disperses funds allocated under gambling compacts with the state, and their PAC is duly registered with the state and federal election commissions as a political action committee. 

The committee received a $50,000 contribution from the CTBA Monday. Its initial organizational filing four days earlier listed only one purpose for its existence: opposing Loni Hancock. 

The CTBA was founded in 2004 and includes six tribes: the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, the Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.  

The reason the ersatz committee bankrolled a campaign mailer targeting Hancock becomes clearer with a look at the source of its funding for the last year. 

While five tribes kicked in $75,000 each last year, the sixth, the Lytton Band of Pomos, contributed $164,000. The alliance PAC reported taking in $7,500 in the 2006 election cycle, of which it spent $6,6568. According to the group’s latest filings, it had taken in $50,000 for the 2008 races and had spent only $1,863 as of May 13, the day before the “education leaders” committee was formed. 

CTBA Executive Director Alison Harvey declined comment on the donation. “Let me get you to our spokesperson,” she said, transferring the call to the line of Sacramento public relations consultant and former lobbyist Douglas Elmets, who also represents the Lytton, Pala and United Auburn tribal groups. 

Elmets said the contributions represented the support of progressive tribes for Hancock’s opponent, Chan. When told Chan had supported the same bill, Elmets said that Chan’s record on education is good, while Hancock’s was “lousy.” 

Pressed on the casino connection, Elmets cited Hancock’s “shameful” acceptance of support from card clubs and her failure to take action “against the 250 illegal bingo machines” in her district, machines used by charities and similar to those at the Lytton casino. 

He would not name any educators connected with the committee. 

The Lyttons are the same tribe Hancock battled after they signed a tentative pact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to win a Bay Area casino monopoly in exchange for giving the state a quarter of its profits.  

The tribe and the governor had signed a compact that would have allowed the Lyttons to build a 2,500-slot-machine Las Vegas-style gambling spa at the site of Casino San Pablo, then a card room the landless tribe had purchased in hopes of pursuing the gambling dollar. 

In exchange, the tribe would have given the state a guaranteed, independent auditor-certified quarterly payment of one in every four dollars the operators won. The pact also gave the tribe exclusive gambling rights—beyond existing card rooms and race tracks—within a 35-mile radius, effectively freezing out any potential competitors and ensuring a Bay Area monopoly. 

Assemblymember Hancock took a leading role in opposing the San Pablo accord, which was shelved after Democrats in the state legislature made clear they would torpedo the pact when it came time for a vote. 

Opposition to the lawmaker, who is now seeking a seat in the state Senate after hitting the term limit for the Assembly, is even more logical for the PAC, given that one of its five directors is Marjie Mejia, chair of the Lytton Band, which had to settle for Class II gambling machines after the casino pact died. The key difference between the two classes of machines is that with Class II you play against other players, while with Class III machines, you play against the house.  

Class II games, which mimic bingo games, don’t require the same rigorous special state approval process as the more restrictive traditional slots and poker machines. Ironically, the casino’s revenues soared with the machines—which critics contend play so fast that they virtually amount to slots. San Pablo city councilmembers have credited the casino with saving essential government services and keeping the city from being forced to disincorporate. 

Hancock has made her opposition to urban casinos a major issue, and her position has placed her at odds with the city councils of Richmond and San Pablo, where majorities support casinos. Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisor and other regional political agencies have opposed Class I casinos, and the California Tribal Business Alliance has opposed the use of Class II machines by non-tribal charities. 

The California Tribal Business Alliance IE PAC reported giving $100,000 in donations to the California Democratic Party (which has endorsed Hancock and contributed to her campaign) in the spring of 2007, as well as $30,000 to the California Republican Party. 

Tribes are playing an increased role in California politics, with the Sacramento Business Journal reporting March 14 that tribes have emerged as major money sources in that region, including $120,000 in funds from CTBA PAC member United Auburn for Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt’s campaign two years ago. The journal also reports that the tribe has a $150,000-a-year lobbyist in Washington. United Auburn also spent $9 million to defeat four casino-related measures on the February state primary ballot.  


Dead project 

Two other East Bay tribal casino projects are still in the works, one at Point Molate in the City of Richmond and the other in unicorporated North Richmond. While Hancock has opposed both proposals, she took $3,000 on Dec. 18 from Upstream Point Molate LLC, the company created by Berkeley developer James D. Levine to build a casino/resort/hotel/ shopping complex at Point Molate casino in partnership with the Guidiville Rancheria Band of Pomos. 

Levine has stated that should the casino plans fall through, housing might rise at the site instead. 

Long-stalled plans for a fourth casino, planned for undeveloped land near the Oakland airport, were given a death notice in the Federal Register Monday. Wilma Chan was one of its opponents. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which must approve all tribal casino applications, issued a Notice of Cancellation for the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed casino-hotel project of the Lower Lake Rancheria Koi Nation, another Pomo band, on the grounds that the tribe “has not submitted a complete land acquisition application ... and has ceased pursuing activity” on the required environmental impact statement. 

In that project, the tribe had partnered with the same developer who is partnering with the Scotts Valley Pomos on the North Richmond casino, and which also claimed to have had an earlier agreement with the Guidivilles. 

Noram LLC is part of the multi-corporate empire which has evolved from North American Sports Management, which began as a sports talent management company. Noram’s interlocked corporations are creations of Alan H. Ginsburg of Maitland, Fla., a major if little-known player in the Native American gambling boom with casino ventures spanning the nation from the extreme Southeast to the far Northwest. 

In seeking an endorsement from the Oakland City Council, Noram and the tribe promised city officials nearly $11 million to compensate for lost taxes and to cover city services as well as fund a police administration and youth sports and gambling addiction programs. But that wasn’t enough to win a council majority, and the project fell into development limbo, with Monday’s announcement apparently the last word on the project. 



Staff writer J. Douglas Allen-Taylor contributed to this report.