Strange, strange indeed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 23, 2013

If one were seeking office as the highest law enforcement officer in the state, why would one accept money – lots of it – from an organization one believed to be engaged in illegal operations?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering since Tuesday, when the office of Attorney General Luther Strange emailed press releases about a raid on bingo machines at Victoryland in Macon Co. and about a lawsuit filed in Elmore County alleging that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are “operating, advancing and profiting from unlawful gambling activities at the Creek Casino in Wetumpka, the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore and the Creek Casino in Montgomery.” The lawsuit claims that gambling is a “public nuisance” and argues that the court should enjoin their operations.

Set aside for a moment the fact that state courts have little jurisdiction over federally-recognized Indian tribes and their gaming operations. Instead, let’s go back to money.

Indeed, as Strange’s lawsuit alleges, the Poarch Creek Indians are profiting from gaming. And they’ve been quite generous with the proceeds, giving monies to charities, education, and other worthy causes. In January, they gave just shy of $1 million to the Atmore Community Hospital.

It was that same profitable operation that allowed them to give $100,000 to Attorney General Strange’s campaign in 2010. In November of 2012, The Montgomery Advertiser reported that within about three weeks in 2010, campaign finance documents show the Poarch Creeks contributed $100,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which contributed $100,000 to the Alabama Republican Party, which contributed $100,000 to Strange’s campaign.

One might defend him, saying he didn’t know. But even in races as costly as one for state attorney general, $100,000 is a tidy sum, and one for which one would determine the source. In total, PCI contributed more than $500K to Republicans in Alabama in 2010.

Which takes us back to the original question: If Strange truly believes that not just gaming, but specifically, Indian gaming, is illegal in Alabama, why would he accept money earned from that “illegal” activity? And if he didn’t know from whence it came, why didn’t he return it when he learned of the source?

One wonders if Strange’s strange behavior – suing a strong supporter – is really just window dressing for the critics. Federal law allows Indian casinos to conduct any gaming that is legal in the state. If bingo is legal – and no Alabama court has said it is not – they can have bingo operations. The Federal Indian Gaming Commission has said their machines pass the bingo test.

‘Tis Strange, strange indeed.