But most tribes oppose the bill for going too far. Several tribal leaders who object to the measure on those grounds were in town last week for a legislative conference, and they made time to lobby Senators to place holds on the bill, according to Jason Giles, the deputy executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, which represents casino tribes. Though a minority of NIGA’s members do support McCain’s efforts, the trade association has always opposed his bill on the grounds of tribal sovereignty.
“It would overburden tribes with federal regulations,” Giles said of the measure.
The Choctaws, in addition to Ring’s firm, also retain Capitol Resources, the Jackson, Miss., firm of John Lundy, a former top aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). For the last half of 2005, the Choctaw tribe paid Barnes and Thornburg $200,000, according to lobbying disclosures. For that same period, records show it paid Capitol Resources $60,000.
The tribe’s lobbying push is also getting a big assist from a Bayou State heavyweight.
On March 14, onetime lobbyist and now Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) sent letters to Cochran, Lott and McCain, touting the Choctaws as “Mississippi’s third-largest employer.” Barbour’s letter added that McCain’s bill “would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and change the way the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is regulated.”
If enacted, Barbour’s letter said, the Choctaws “would be punished because of the Abramoff scandal.” He added to Cochran and Lott: “Help the Senate to remember that it was Jack Abramoff who ripped off the Tribe, not the other way around.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.