What: All Issues : Aid to Less Advantaged People, at Home & Abroad : Native Americans : S. 1. (Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007), Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) amendment to bar Indian tribes from making political contributions directly to candidates/Motion to table (set aside) (2007 senate Roll Call 3)
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S. 1. (Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007), Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) amendment to bar Indian tribes from making political contributions directly to candidates/Motion to table (set aside)
senate Roll Call 3     Jan 10, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This vote was on a motion to table (set aside) an amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that would have barred American Indian tribes from making political contributions to candidates directly from their treasuries and instead require them to form political action committees (PACs).

Vitter attempted to attach the amendment to a bill to overhaul Congressional lobbying and ethics rules for Senators and their staffs. The bill would prohibit the acceptance of gifts and free meals, extend the time period before former Senators can become lobbyists and outlaw lobbyist-funded travel.

Vitter described his proposal as a fix for a "clear loophole in campaign finance law" that allows tribes to use gambling proceeds to contribute directly to candidates, "without any necessity of forming a PAC and going through those rigorous requirements that corporations, labor unions, and other entities have to do."

"If this is going to be a meaningful exercise about real reform, really cleaning things up, getting serious, not protecting sacred cows, then let's get real about it," Vitter continued, adding that the scandal that started the most recent quests for reform started with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose clients included Indian tribes. Abramoff is now in prison.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said Vitter's amendment would not close a loophole but instead single out Indian tribes for the purposes of campaign finance laws by defining them as corporations.

"Indian tribes are constitutionally recognized sovereign governments," Inouye said, adding that the primary purpose of Indian tribes is to provide governmental services to their members, whereas a corporation's primary goal is to maximize profits for its shareholders. "Treating Indian tribes as corporations for the purposes of campaign finance sets a dangerous precedent for their treatment in other areas of the law.

"We must ensure that the tribes, who were the victims of illegal acts, are not penalized in the name of reform. Without a seat in the U.S. Congress they must be allowed to use other means to participate in this process," Inouye continued.

During the 2004 election cycle, political contributions by Indian tribes comprised one-third of 1 percent of total contributions nationwide, which Inouye said proved that the tribes did not have undue influence on the elections process.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) added that contrary to what Vitter indicated, Indian tribes are treated exactly the same as other unincorporated entities under federal election law, and thus should not be unfairly singled out.

Eight Republicans joined 46 Democrats (including the chamber's most progressive Senators) in voting to table Vitter's proposal, and by a vote of 56-40, the motion to set aside the amendment was agreed to. Thus, a bill to restrict lobbying activities and tighten ethics rules for Senators and their staffs went forward without an amendment that would have prohibited Indian tribes from donating to candidates directly from their treasuries.

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