10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

All the many millions that Inland tribes spent during the recent campaign over casino-expansion deals didn’t just win an election.

It also helped put the tribes into the upper echelons of California political spending, surpassing traditional powerhouses such as energy companies, business groups and big tobacco, according to a new study.

Last week’s report by the state Fair Political Practices Commission found that the 15 top spenders together have racked up more than $1 billion for campaigns and lobbying since 2000.

Topping the list was the California Teachers Association ($211,849,298), which spent to the hilt during a 2005 special-election fight against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The California State Council of Service Employees ($107,487,272) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ($104,912,997) ranked second and third.

Fourth and fifth were the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, near Banning, with $83.6 million in spending, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, near Temecula, with $69.3 million.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which operates two casinos in the Coachella Valley, ranked 10th, with $49.01 million spent.

In 2007 and 2008, the three tribes funneled a combined $109 million to push through Props. 94through 97 in the February 2008 election. The ballot measures were referendums on recent casino-expansion agreements with the state.

Some horse tracks, other tribes and the union representing hotel and restaurant employees opposed the deals and spent millions of their own, making it one of the most expensive ballot fights in state history.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, near San Bernardino, was 19th in last week’s report, with $29.7 million spent.

backing off 44th?

When the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recent days released its Red to Blue list of Republican districts being targeted in the upcoming election season, there was no surprise that California’s 45th made the list.

Committee members have made it clear they think Democratic Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet can unseat incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, in the Riverside County district, which extends from Murrieta to the Arizona line.

But notably absent from the list of 13 is the neighboring 44th — which includes Riverside, Corona and Norco, along with part of Orange County.

Ever since Corona-Norco school board member Bill Hedrick, a Democrat, nearly defeated incumbent Ken Calvert in 2008, the Dems have said they intend to go after the Corona Republican again this year.

The omission of the 44th on the Red to Blue list could be a signal that the national party isn’t going to throw much cash behind the effort to oust Calvert, who again faces a challenge from Hedrick.

Calvert has vowed to get more involved in county-level politics and said he has raised more money in the current cycle than ever before to keep the seat.

Late last week, he stopped short of saying that exclusion of his seat from the target list is a good sign.

“Ask me in November,” he said.

Better, stronger

Her surgically repaired knee on the mend, Inland Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter was back on the Assembly floor last week for the first time in months.

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