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California tribes among biggest political donors nationwide

Earlier this week, the California Fair Political Practices Commission released its top 10 list of the biggest individual political spenders in the state between January 2000 and the end of 2009.

Pechanga, political spending

It's a lot of money flying around: $266 million from the 10 donors alone. KQED's John Myers summed it up nicely.

But if that wasn't enough, just a few months ago, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., released a similar, but less-noticed study, which should cement the Golden State's place atop the national political spending pantheon.

The study revealed, among other things, that California's tribal gaming interests, including the Pechanga and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians, were among the largest contributors to federal and state campaigns across the United States in 2007 and 2008.

According to the Center's study, six of the top 10 largest nationwide donors were associated with Indian gaming interests. Four of those have ties to California and between them dropped more than $125 million. And that's over two years, not 10.

Here's the list:

Donor Total contributions
National Education Association $56,349,269
Pechanga Band of Mission Indians $43,960,451
Penn National Gaming $40,522,447
Morongo Band of Mission Indians $39,053,909
Service Employees International Union $35,699,957
National Association of Realtors $28,591,134
Lakes Entertainment $25,694,898
Tribes for Fair Play: No on 94, 95, 96 and 97 $24,754,413
ActBlue $23,183,948
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians $22,079,201

Gambling interests likely occupy the top spots because of their free spending on statewide initiative campaigns, although many of the tribes also spend millions supporting candidates, often of both parties.

The Center's list was the first attempt to quantify state and national campaign giving together on such a large scale. Reading down the list of the Top 100 donors is like reading through a who's who of political power-players -- most of which are active in California.

Even the California Democratic Party locked down a spot: number 24 -- after spending more than Planned Parenthood, the Teamsters or even the Republican Governors Association.

It's a fascinating study and well worth a look, especially given the changes in corporate campaign financing that are coming down the pike.

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