By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
While tribal officials of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have argued for years that donations to political candidates have been necessary to get favorable representation, some have questioned the practice. Critics say that donations to candidates are made on behalf of all tribal members, and voting results in the last several elections demonstrate that tribal members don’t agree about who are the best candidates.
One principal chief candidate objects to the practice. Mary “Missy” Crowe posted a pic on social media depicting a $1,000 campaign donation made by the tribe to the Committee to Re-elect Curtis Cochran (Republican Swain County Sheriff who was reelected Nov. 6). No such donation was made to his Democratic Challenger Rocky Sampson, who is also a tribal descendent. “I personally did not support Curtis Cochran,” she said. “But apparently I did as a member of the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians). Apparently the EBCI made several campaign donations to individual candidates across the state of North Carolina.”
According to a transaction report from the N.C. Board of Elections, from Jan. 1, 2017 – Oct. 31, 2018, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians donated $128,400 to candidates for state offices.
Top donation getters at $5,200 each were: Friends of Tim Moore (N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain); Philip E. Berger Committee (N.C. President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Eden); McGrady Campaign Committee (N.C. House 117th District Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville); Jackson for NC (N.C. House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson (D-Raleigh); McKissick for N.C. Senate (N.C. Senator District 20 Floyd B. McKissick, Jr. (D-Durham); Davis for N.C. Senate (N.C. Senator District 50 Jim Davis (R-Franklin); Friends to Elect John Torbett (N.C. House 108th District Rep. John Torbett (R-Stanley); Citizens to Elect Kathy Harrington (N.C. House 43rd District Rep. Kathy Harrington (R-Gastonia); Josh Dobson for N.C. House Committee (N.C. House 85th District Rep. Josh Dobson (R-Raleigh); Citizens for Dan Blue (N.C. Senate District 14 Dan Blue (D-Raleigh); Ralph Hise for N.C. Senate (N.C. Senate District 47 Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine).
Nationally, according to opensecrets.org, the tribe donated a total of $203,650 to congressional candidates for the 2018 campaign season. Top recipients were: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at $68,900; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at $33,900; the National Republican Congressional Committee $33,900; the National Republican Senatorial Committee at $33,900; Representative-elect Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) at $5,650; Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) at $5,400; Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) at $5,400; More Conservatives PAC at $5,000; Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.) at $2,700; Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) at $2,700; Rep. Ben Lujan (D-N.M.) at $2,700; Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) at $2,500 and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) at $1,000.
Sampson confirmed that he has received no donation from the tribe. He said his campaign was funded through individuals. “A lot of it was myself,” he said.
Since the beginning of casino gaming, the tribe has found itself in a position of influence, and has been able to flex some political muscle through campaign donations. Crowe said in the years the tribe has been making political donations, “The Eastern Band has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican parties. I was told it was ‘so we can get what we want and what we need.’” Yet Crowe points to treaties and other trust obligations to the tribe to which governments need to be held. She particularly points to small amounts of contributions made to housing, education and health care, funding the tribe has increased on its own. “We are a sovereign nation, and we’ve got to start looking at ourselves like that.”
Teresa McCoy, who also announced her candidacy for principal chief and is a former Big Cove representative for Tribal Council, agreed with Crowe that there is a problem with the tribe making campaign donations on behalf of the entire tribe. “We’re going to have to come up with some rules and regulations.” McCoy said she doesn’t recall there ever being a policy during her time in tribal government, and that at times, lobbyists working for the tribe would throw out names of politicians for donations. “I don’t believe the tribe should ever obligate the tribe’s voters.”
Crowe was also critical of Principal Chief Richard Sneed’s list of candidates he said were friends of the tribe or supportive of tribal issues. That list was emailed to tribal employees. Sneed in a statement said, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians actively engages elected officials from other governments to advocate for issues that benefit the Cherokee people locally, in the state of North Carolina, and nationally. We also support elected officials that support us, focusing on the protection of Eastern Band of Cherokee sovereignty and fundamental rights. The Office of the Principal Chief works closely with Tribal Council to finalize the governmental affairs budget, which is where contributions are made from.” As for Sampson not receiving a donation, Sneed said, “In the case of Rocky Sampson, a candidate for Swain County Sherriff, the EBCI did not receive an official request for a donation.”