Opinion: Why is Sen. McCain carrying the Gila River Indian Community’s water? — Glendale Star

From 2004 to 2006, Washington was transfixed by the revelations that several Indian tribes had paid exorbitant fees to then-uber lobbyist Jack Abramoff to stop other tribes from opening casinos that might siphon gamblers away from their own operations.

Ten years and little has changed. Since 2009, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) in Arizona has spent nearly $11 million on lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from opening a competing casino. A sister tribe, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, also with casinos in the Phoenix area, has dropped a couple million dollars more on the fight.

That’s a lot of money spent in service of an issue that most Americans care nothing about. Two Arizona members of Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. John McCain, keep the issue bubbling. The question is why.

For Gosar, the issue makes little political sense. The Tea Party Republican has spoken often of the sanctity of land rights, writing on his own website that the freedom to exploit and enjoy one’s own property is an issue “upon which America was founded.’’

But sometimes cash trumps politics: the Center for Responsive Politics reports he relies heavily on political donations from casino interests – $50,750 in the past four years.

McCain’s support of anti-Tohono legislation is more puzzling. According to local officials in Phoenix, he vowed several years ago not to take sides in the squabble.

Read the full guest opinion by Melanie Sloan at the Glendale Star.