Sen. McCain denies being influenced by tribal casino lobbyists

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians. February 28, 2006. Washington, DC
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). File photo by Indianz.Com

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said his efforts to prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from opening a casino have nothing to do with the millions of dollars in lobbying fees being spent on Capitol Hill.

At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in July 2014, McCain raised questions about the legality of the Keep the Promise Act. Now he's come out in strong support of S.152, a bill that prevents the tribe from using its trust land for a new casino in the Phoenix area.

It's not clear why McCain changed his tone. Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor whose work at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington helped expose the Jack Abramoff scandal, suggested a lobbyist hired by a rival tribe had something to do with it.

Artist's rendering of the West Valley Resort now under construction near Glendale, Arizona. Image from Tohono O'odham Nation

"Perhaps the lesson in this instance is one that Abramoff knew all too well: If the Tohono hopes to build a casino, it should hire a friend of Sen. McCain," Sloan wrote in an opinion published in The Glendale Star, an Arizona publication.

The lobbyist is a close McCain associate named Wes Gullett, who represents the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, one of the opponents of the new casino. The tribe spent spent $560,000 in 2014 and has spent $140,000 so far this year, according to Center for Responsive Politics.

Those expenditures, however, pale in comparison to another casino opponent. The Gila River Indian Community spent $3.7 million on lobbying in 2014 and has spent $980,000 so far this year.

The lobbying appears to be paying off. McCain's committee approved S.152 last month after failing to take action on it during the last session of Congress.

“I wrote the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, so therefore, I know the intent of Congress,” McCain told Politico. “Anybody who alleges that somebody influences me – some lobbyists — that is an outrageous and disgraceful lie.”

The tribe plans to open the West Valley Resort later this year.

Get the Story:
Tribal casino fight tests lobbying clout (Politico 5/15)

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