Ex Alabama Governors Aid claims tribes gave ill-intended money

By Phillip Rawls
Montgomery, Alabama (AP) 11-09

A former member of Gov. Bob Riley’s Cabinet said during early November that Riley received campaign contributions from Mississippi Indians who operate casinos, with the money intended to limit their competition in Alabama.

Bill Johnson said a senior official in Riley’s 2002 campaign, Dan Gans, told him the tribe promised $3 million in donations, but didn’t deliver all of it. He was unsure of the exact amount, but felt it has influenced Riley’s fight to shut down electronic bingo operations in Alabama.

“I’m concerned that those dollars from Mississippi tribal casino owners are manipulating public policy in Alabama,” said Johnson, who was a coordinator in Riley’s successful campaigns for governor in 2002 and 2006. Johnson is now a GOP candidate for governor.

Riley’s spokesman, Jeff Emerson, and Toby Roth, political director of Riley’s 2002 campaign, said there were no donations from Mississippi Indians and their casino operations.

Roth said Johnson “was in no position to know about fundraising because he wasn’t involved in fundraising.” He said Johnson is attacking his former boss and longtime friend to try to draw attention to his campaign in a crowded Republican field.

A spokesman for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment, but the tribe has said in the past it gave Riley no contributions.

Johnson spoke out against Riley twice during the hearing – once in front of his Capitol office in Montgomery and once in front of the Country Crossing entertainment and gambling complex that is scheduled to open in Dothan on Dec. 1. Riley has opposed the development’s use of electronic bingo machines, which Riley maintains are illegal slot machines.

“Decisions about gambling in Alabama should be made by the voters of Alabama and not by Mississippi casino owners,” Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Johnson served as grass-roots and logistics coordinator in Riley’s campaigns for governor, and Riley appointed him director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs in 2005. Johnson resigned that post in June to run for governor as a Republican.

Johnson said the Mississippi Band of Choctaw wanted to limit expansion of gambling in Alabama to protect their casinos in Philadelphia, Miss., and that’s why the tribe wanted to contribute to Riley’s Republican campaign in 2002.

Riley reported no direct contributions from the tribe on his campaign finance reports in 2002. But Alabama law allows money to flow through political action committees before being donated to a campaign.

Johnson is not the first to allege Indian money flowed into Riley’s campaign. Former Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley made it an issue in her 2006 race against Riley.

She and others have pointed to convicted Washington lobbyist Mike Scanlon, who served as press secretary to Riley when he first became a congressman in 1997. Scanlon later started working for the Choctaw tribe in Washington and received millions to try to boost its political influence.

Campaign records show that in 2002, Scanlon contributed $100,000 to political action committees run by two Montgomery lobbyists. The lobbyists’ PACs were major donors to Riley.

Scanlon also contributed $50,000 to a Republican organization that was a major contributor to Riley’s campaign.

Scanlon pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiring to bribe public officials in connection with his lobbying work on behalf of Indian tribes and casino issues. scanlon serve a prison sentence?

In Johnson’s remarks, he laid out a timeline that he said shows how Riley’s actions have helped the Choctaws’ casinos.

He said Riley created his Task Force on Illegal Gambling in late December 2008, when business was declining at the Indian casinos. Then Riley’s task force raided an electronic bingo hall in central Alabama to create a test case for determining the legality of the machines that are operated in several Alabama counties.

Roth, who defended Riley’s record, now runs the Montgomery office of Capitol Resources, a lobbying firm. Its Jackson, Miss., office represented the Choctaw Indians in that state until mid-2008, but Roth said he never represented the tribe in Alabama.

Johnson said he has not received or been promised any campaign contributions from gambling interests.