Two Native American tribes battling over a proposed casino in Kenosha, Wis., are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars aimed at influencing public opinion — and the Republican Governors Association is coming up aces.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment Inc., two groups backing the proposed casino, and the Forest County Potawatomi, the tribe leading the opposition, have each cut big checks to the RGA, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday. The two sides gave about $60,000 each to the RGA in the last half of 2013.
The Menominee Tribe would own the casino, but the Seminole corporation would build and manage the proposed $800 million facility. It would be located near the Wisconsin-Illinois border just off Interstate 94.
The Potawatomi, on the other hand, own and operate a casino in Milwaukee. The tribe fears their casino would lose money if the new Kenosha casino opens.
So why contribute to a national group aimed at electing Republican governors? Both sides have a pretty clear incentive: Authority over approving the casino lies solely with Gov. Scott Walker (R), who faces reelection this year — and who sits on the RGA’s executive committee.
Walker has said approving the casino would require buy-in from the state’s 10 other Native American tribes. But the three tribes that currently operate casinos in Wisconsin — the Potawatomi, the Ho-Chuck and the Oneida — have withheld their support. The Potawatomi said the new casino would cost them about 40 percent of their revenue, while the Ho-Chuck claimed the Kenosha venue would cost their Madison-area casino $20 million annually.
The Menominee said they would pay for lost profits their business would cost other casinos.
Walker said in November that he would be disinclined to accept campaign contributions from any of the interested parties. At the same time, Walker urged both sides to stop advertising on television and radio; the state has been blanketed for months with advertising both for and against the casino.
The Potawatomi’s recent contributions to the RGA come on top of more than $100,000 the tribe has donated since July 2011, the Journal Sentinel reported.
The Department of the Interior has signed off on the proposed casino, but Walker seems in no rush to make his decision. He didn’t meet a self-imposed October deadline to decide, and a top aide said in December that Walker might put off the decision until after the November general election.