Cherokees Spend Big In NC Politics
North Carolina Republicans announced this week they will hold their 2014 convention at the state's only casino, operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians high in the Smoky Mountains.
The decision is of particular interest since many of the state's top Republicans – including House Speaker Thom Tillis and Governor Pat McCrory – have recently come out against plans for a competing casino two and a half hours away. That proposal comes from the Catawba Indians of South Carolina.
The Cherokees worry the competition would hurt their own casino profits and they have considerable clout with North Carolina politicians.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope says the decision to hold next year's state convention at the Cherokee casino was made well before the Catawbas announced their plans to try and build a competing casino.
"That really didn't play any role in going up to Harrah's at all," says Pope. "The decision point on Harrah's was location, venue, accessibility, size, price - the normal things that a large group considers when they're trying to locate a convention."
Pope says Harrah's made an "aggressive" offer to lure the state party convention, which draws more than a thousand Republican delegates and politicians.
But the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has also been generous to the party and its candidates - giving nearly $250,000 just since the start of 2012. That includes $50,000 to the State Republican Party, $30,000 to Governor McCrory's inaugural ball and $8,000 each to Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Republican Senate President Phil Berger. Both of them were on the committee that chose Harrah's for the state party's 2014 convention site. Tillis and McCrory have also both come out against a proposal by the Catawba Indians of South Carolina to build a casino near Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
Tillis and about 100 other state house members signed a letter expressing "serious opposition" to the Catawba plan. Most of those lawmakers got donations of at least $500 from the Cherokees in the last election. And the Cherokees have covered their political bases – giving more than $140,000 to the state Democratic Party and its candidates in the last two years.
Democrats used to get a lot more from the tribe until they lost control of the General Assembly and Governor's mansion.
The Catawba Nation, on the other hand, has made no political donations because, without any tribal business enterprise to speak of, it has no money to give. That's what the Kings Mountain casino plan is all about, but the tribe will likely need the backing of North Carolina officials to make it happen.
And they'll be up against the deep-pocketed political power of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, whose chief believes a competing casino would hurt his tribe's gambling revenues.