Loopy Campaign-Finance Hole

When the Senate votes soon on a campaign-finance bill, it should also close a loophole that now allows native American-owned casinos to dole out as much money to candidates as they wish.

Indian tribes are in a separate donor category and don't need to comply with a current rule on "hard" money contributions.

Indian-owned gambling is now a $12 billion-a-year business, and growing. Much of its campaign money goes to state and local politicians. Indian tribes gave nearly $500,000 in 2001 to the state legislature in New York alone. Altogether, gambling interests gave $4 million to state coffers, which no doubt helped lead to permits for six new casinos.

During the Clinton administration, so lucrative was Indian gaming money that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was presided over by two campaign fundraisers - a sad comment on the lopsided relationship between money and politics.

The two officials presided over decisions designating some groups of questionable descent as tribes, thus helping to bring to 196 the total number of legally identified tribes that can seek to run casinos.

A federal probe had found a Clinton administration official approved a tribal designation three days after he and Mr. Clinton left office, and then had the document backdated.

Closing the loophole won't eliminate the problem, but it should help reduce politicians' reliance on money derived from a source already eroding the values of American society - legalized gambling.

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