Tribes, guards and a nice bank balance

If you’re looking for a combination of words capable of making a California legislative candidate quake in their boots, you could do worse than “prison guards,” “tribes” and “$350,000 cash on hand.”

All three come together in the Native Americans & Prison Guards Independent Expenditure Committee, or NAPO. The group has taken in about $3 million in nine years of existence, including over a half-million dollars in the most recent cycle. Eighty-five percent of this money–and every cent since the end of 2000–has come from either the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Tribe of Mission Indians or the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which shares a phone number with the group.

The financial alliance between Pechanga and the CCPOA is based on finding candidates that both groups agree on, according to CCPOA spokesman Ryan Sherman.
“I don’t know if it’s shared issues so much as they support and oppose candidates and we do the same thing,” Sherman said.

Over NAPO’s history, Pechanga has contributed $1,290,000 to the IE, including $195,000 last year and $45,000 in reported contributions this year. CCPOA has paid in $990,000, putting in $60,000 last year and $120,000 in 2005.

NAPO was founded in 1998, partly by Don Novey, the longtime but now-retired president of the CCPOA, according to many familiar with the IE. It’s first move was to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Democrat Gray Davis in his successful run for governor in 1998, largely for phone banking.

Two other large gaming tribes contributed early on: Morongo gave $275,000 in 1998, while Viejas added $175,000 between 1998 and 2000. Representatives from both tribes said these contributions were made under different tribal administrations and neither tribe had been actively involved in years.

While both California’s tribes and prison guards are known for spreading campaign money around, NAPO typically makes just a few donations a year. This amounts to fewer than two dozen since 2000–but most were for $25,000 or more, the kind of money that can tip a close race. During last year’s busy campaign season, it made only one: $300,000 to the Monterey County Republican Central Committee.

The Monterey Republicans spent over $500,000 in support of Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, according to the group’s political director, Brandon Gesicki. Most of this came in the form of issue ads on television.

Both Pechanga and the CCPOA also have bills up this year. Pechanga’s main focus is their amended gaming compact–SB 903 by Senator Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles–which passed off the Senate floor in April.

The CCPOA has been seeking a new labor contract. They’ve also lost two major legislative battles recently. They opposed the AB 900 prison-reform package, which was passed and signed by the governor in May. The CCPOA also sought to derail the nomination of David Gilb as the head of the state Department of Personnel Administration; the Senate confirmed Gilb last week.

With so much business before the Legislature, as well as a history of putting big money in a small number of races, NAPO would appear to be primed to thank or punish legislators up for re-election next year.

Denham may have gotten both treatments. In 2002, neither NAPO or the CCPOA gave directly to Denham’s opponents, Democratic candidate Rusty Areias and Libertarian David Eaton.

However, the groups were rumored to be behind mailers supporting both men, including a late-campaign pro-Eaton mailer allegedly designed to siphon off enough conservative votes from Denham to tip the election for Areias. During the 2001-02 cycle, NAPO paid $181,000 to McNally Temple Associates, a PR firm that has represented the CCPOA for years; the CCPOA paid them $624,000. Denham beat Areias by 1,825 votes.

Last session, Denham voted for several gaming bills. But he rarely broke with other Republicans to do it, and he never got a chance to vote on the Pechanga compact, AB 2549 by Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego. However, he also become a strong law-and-order voice, carrying and supporting numerous pieces of criminal-justice legislation.

“Our political consultants looked at his voting record and decided he was someone supportive of our issues,” Sherman said of NAPO’s support of Denham.

Of course, it was also widely speculated that the money was a way of making peace with Denham as he largely coasted to re-election; he beat political unknown Wiley Nickel by 19 points. And NAPO was hardly the only group sending money to help Denham. The Monterey GOP took in nearly $2 million for the cycle–including $1.7 million in the last six months of 2006–as state Republicans sought to protect one of the state’s few potentially contested seats.

“The district was drawn to be a Democratic district and he was running in a not great Republican year,” said political analyst Tony Quinn of the California Target Book.

“A lot of people gave us a lot of money,” Gesicki said. “That was our top-targeted race last year.”

While Pechanga and the CCPOA may seem like an “unusual alliance,” according to Ned Wigglesworth of the watchdog group Common Cause, it makes practical sense.
“Both of these groups have issues that spread out over years,” Wigglesworth said. “If you’ve constantly got stuff in front of the Legislature, it makes sense having money sitting in an account ready to go.”

NAPO still had $350,000 in their accounts at the end of last year, not counting $45,000 Pechanga has put in since January 1. If the past is any guide, this money could find it’s way to a wide variety of candidates. NAPO has given almost equally to Democrats and Republicans–and to candidates as different as senators Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego–a prominent liberal gay Democrat–and Bob Margett, R-Glendora, a conservative Republican.

NAPO also has paid into favorite CCPOA causes, such as $155,000 for the Governor’s Cup Invitational Golf Tournament between 2002 and 2006. This is a charity golf tournament hosted each year by the CCPOA.

The CCPOA also has their own IE, giving out nearly $4 million last year and ending the year with $1.7 million in cash. In April, the CCPOA IE gave $100,000 to the Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform, Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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