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Taxpayer Group That Backs Casino Measure Gets $1.8 Million From Tribe

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Times Staff Writer

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., a prominent backer of an initiative to expand Indian casinos, has taken a $1.8-million campaign donation from the initiative’s main promoter, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

The tribe gave $1.83 million to a campaign committee called the California Spending Limits Coalition, a project of the Jarvis organization, according to a campaign finance report filed Tuesday. The group reports no other donations this year.

The Jarvis group’s president, Jon Coupal, has appeared in television commercials touting Proposition 70, the November ballot initiative that would allow tribes unlimited casino expansion rights. In return, tribes would pay the state 8.84% of their gambling profits.

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In one spot, Coupal says the initiative would require that tribal casinos “help share the burden for schools, healthcare and public safety.” Coupal could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

In a recent interview, he said his endorsement had nothing to do with any payments directly or indirectly to the group named for the anti-tax crusader best known for the property-tax-slashing Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Agua Caliente’s donation of $1.83 million is expected to help pay for a mailer urging people to vote for Proposition 70.

“There were no strings attached to their endorsement,” said Gene Raper, the Yes-on-70 campaign manager.

Raper said the tribe could not dictate how the group spent its money, but added that “the Agua Caliente made a contribution because they are confident that [the taxpayer association is] going to be undertaking activities that will be helpful to Proposition 70.”

Politicians and initiative promoters covet the Jarvis group’s endorsement, hoping it suggests to voters that they or their measures are fiscally responsible.

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the leading foe of Proposition 70. He points to the Jarvis group’s stand against another initiative, one that would increase funding for mental health care, as justification for his opposition to that measure.

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