Tribe looks beyond political donations

With campaign season upon us, Indian tribes are once again a focus of
political journalists. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians recently
gave $450,000 in contributions to the Riverside Republican Party, leading
critics to blast the influence the tribe has over local GOP officials. But
one tribe is getting out of the political-donation business altogether,
choosing instead to focus on education grants sponsored by the tribe and
elected officials.

In April of this year San Diego’s Barona Band of Mission Indians launched
the Barona Education Grant Program, which provides grants of $5,000 to
schools to “fund materials that promote academic improvement.” Since its
inception, education grants have been awarded to 16 schools across
California, totaling $80,000.

Each of the grants handed out by the tribe must be used for something other
than day-to-day operations of the school. Each grant submission must be
accompanied by a written endorsement from a legislator representing that

Representative for the grant program, Sheilla Alvarez, stated that the
program was not political in nature and that the primary goal was to
“inspire children to make education an important part of their lives.”
Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny was one the first three legislators to promote
Barona’s program. She became aware of the program after a proposal was
submitted by Barbara Worth Junior High School in Brawley.

“Through the course of this we learned that they [Barona] have decided to do
nonprofit donations rather than engage in direct campaign donations,” said
Ducheny. “Obviously it’s the tribe’s choice.”

But internal Capitol ethics watchdogs are requiring members to report the
grants, said Ducheny. “Afterward, they [Barona] contacted our office and
said that we had to report it

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