Fundraising: Counter fake news by supporting Trahant Reports on the radio


Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

This will be a short pitch. (Then back to regular programming.) I am looking for a few financial supporters of Trahant Reports. Well, at least, for the radio version of my commentary. Trahant Reports is a combination of my blog and a weekly commentary carried on Native Voice One. 

My goal is to write about serious policy issues that impact Indian Country. In the era of President Donald J. Trump that mission is more important than ever (and my readership numbers reflect that.)

Traffic for the blog continues to grow. A piece last week on Medicaid, for example, had some 20,000 views on Facebook, hundreds of shares, and my regular reach on Twitter now exceeds 210,000 accounts.  Apple News is another growing vehicle for Trahant Reports: People subscribe on their iPhones and see my latest work immediately.  And, most important, on top of all that, most of my readership is through other media that carry Trahant Reports as part of their report. My idea is to keep the content free (although I should mention that a couple of news organizations send a check anyway. And I am grateful for that.) A shout out to all those who share my work on social media. You have no idea how important that simple act is to spreading the word. Two interesting elements here: First, the more serious the story — such as a deep-dive on Medicaid — the bigger my readership numbers. Second, readers are fond of my early idea white boards. As soon as they are posted, folks send me follow-up ideas or suggestions.  This is cool because it’s really interactive.

So that’s the blog report.

Trahant Reports on Native Voice One is in its third year. We started as an audio web post,  then last year made the programming available to stations directly. Every Monday a new three-minute commentary is made available for tribal and community radio stations. It’s also found on iTunes and Soundcloud. I also produce special reports that are 30-minutes in length. (There is a special coming up soon on Native women running for elective offices).

This is where sponsors come in. I am looking for underwriters to help pay for this programming. Major sponsors will get a credit at the end of a show (as well as many thanks on social media).

July is my fundraising month. So I’ll make this pitch. Sponsor Trahant Reports on the radio. Thank you. Ok, now it’s back to work. I have too many stories in my head to spend much time on the financial end of this operation. I’d much rather be writing and reporting. But I figure if I don’t ask … then the answer is already no. So there, done. Pitch complete. Drop me a line if you’re interested in being an underwriter. Email:








#NativeVote16 – Essence of political organizing is found at Standing Rock


Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

My Facebook feed is rolling with new feeds from those headed to North Dakota to join those protecting the drinking water for the people of Standing Rock and Cheyenne River. Other folks are fundraising using a variety of social media tools. And, still other people are gathering food and supplies for the many people camped near the river site. Plus dozens of tribes, organizations, and individuals are sending letters of support.

That combined is the essence of political organizing.

There is a problem, seemingly intractable, because the Dakota Access Project has opted for a route crossing the Missouri River in a location that threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and eventually the Cheyenne River Tribe). So the tribes and supporters are organizing on multiple fronts. Litigation, set to begin next week, will challenge the role (or lack thereof) by federal regulators that have a trust responsibility to protect the tribes’ interests. And in the court of public opinion, hundreds of people are bringing the dispute into the new living room of America (that’s Facebook) where the story is often trending for all to see. (This shows how social media really is the new media for most people … but that’s another post.)

The magnitude of the organization is impressive. All it takes is a phone call, a Facebook post, or a picture on Instagram and there is somebody ready to act. Even letters of support are identical to “endorsements” of candidates or ballot measures. This is pure political organizing, 101. It’s the exact sort of passion that wins elections. What’s interesting about this debate, this moment in time, is that so many #NativeVote16 candidates are on the ballot statewide in North Dakota and South Dakota. The same organizational tools that bring food must also be configured to win an election. This election.

Imagine Chase Iron Eyes in Congress who is selling t-shirts to fund his campaign instead of Kevin Cramer who has more than a million dollars in contributions, some $652,000 from political action committees and corporations.

Or specifically on this issue: Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, Standing Rock Sioux, is running for North Dakota’s Public Service Commission and Henry Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota, is a candidate for South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission. These are the state regulatory bodies that determine approval process for pipeline companies. One vote in each state might not be enough to change the outcome, but one voice on each of those commissions could raise tribal concerns every single time the issue comes up.

The statements from the current North Dakota Public Service Commission make that very point.  Commissioner Brian Kalk told The Bismarck Tribune: “These groups didn’t come to our hearings.”

But over a 13-month hearing schedule, the commission could have been the one to get out and talk to the people. That would have happened with Hunte-Beaubrun and Red Cloud on the two bodies. They would have made certain to include community voices.

The chairman of North Dakota’s body, Julie Fedorchak, said the permitting process is over because the company’s plans have already been approved.

Then again never say never. The strategy for the Dakota Access Pipeline has been all about getting a quick approval process. The original plan calls for completing construction this year. But if the protests and litigation slow that down, that might cause the company to rethink its route. Especially if they are looking at delays measured in years not months. I am not a lawyer but it sure looks to me like there is a lot of evidence that the Army Corps of Engineers failed the consultation protocol — a point that other federal agencies are making. And when local newspapers report that the route was shifted south to protect an urban water source, well, that no longer passes the smell test to say that same pipeline is safe for tribal communities. As the Bismarck Tribune put it: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the Bismarck route and concluded it was not a viable option for many reasons. One reason mentioned in the agency’s environmental assessment is the proximity to wellhead source water protection areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells.”

And when there is an oil spill a river cleanup is difficult, if not impossible. (An irony: Some of the best data about the potential for oil spills comes for the Pacific Northwest, a region that is impacted by the alternative to pipelines, rail transportation of oil.)

Last year a nearly 40,000 gallon pipeline leak on the Yellowstone River resulted in toxic drinking water for the communities near Glendive, Montana.

What makes this spill worth considering is two-fold: First, the volume of oil was only a fraction of what the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry; Second, a harsh winter made it impossible for the pipeline company to stop the leak. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Paul Peronard told The National Geographic:  “None of us anticipated the drinking water problem.”

This time the problem is anticipated. And, like Montana, it’s certain that icy conditions will make any real time reaction to an emergency spill nearly impossible.

Back to politics: How many votes are needed to elect Hunte-Beaubrun? She would need to find 70,000 more votes than the last Democrat who ran for that office. And Red Cloud would need about 100,000 more votes.

Tall orders? Sure. But it’s no different than organizing food, transportation, and lodging for hundreds of last-minute guests. Or protectors, if you prefer.

(Previous post: Pipelines, rail cars, and the price of oil.)

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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#NativeVote16 – Iron Eyes shakes up his campaign, selling more T-shirts to win

Chase Iron Eyes will send t-shirts to supporters for a $40 contribution to his campaign. (Campaign photo)



Chase Iron Eyes told the Fargo Forum that he is letting his campaign consultants go and is trying to raise enough money to keep his campaign sustainable.

“I was convinced that I needed an advisor, and these advisors brought other advisors who all cost a great deal of money,”he told the Forum. “I didn’t get into this to drag my family through the whole process to end up in debt because of outside consultants.”

Raising money is the toughest challenge for any Native American who runs for office. Most of us just don’t have the kind of network where we can call lots of people up and ask for few hundred dollars. Over and over. Yet it’s an essential task because that money is used to pay staff, develop field operations (such as registering voters and getting them to the polls) and paying for campaign advertisements. It is what is required to be competitive. (HBO’s John Oliver did a great segment on the “call center” approach to campaigns.)

And the Democratic Party is not investing its resources into the Iron Eyes campaign. He’s on his own. (This is not unusual. One candidate told me the party said raise a few hundred thousand dollars … then you will get our money.) It’s that crazy circle: If you need the money, you won’t see it; but if you don’t need the money, it will be there. (Previous: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections)

Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is running against incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Cramer has raised $1.06 million compared to Iron Eyes’ $82,137. Most of Cramer’s funding comes from Political Action Committees, some $652,000.

On his new web site, Iron Eyes said this campaign has never been about money. “Money will make you forget we are a democracy dependent upon our direct involvement in that democracy,” according to the Iron Eyes for Congress page. “Money will make ND forget there are 3000 oil spills that big oil refuses to clean up & that a Republican controlled government says there is no money to clean up.”

Screenshot 2016-08-09 11.43.32 campaign finance report for House candidates in North Dakota.

It’s not uncommon for a campaign to reboot (and that’s true at almost every level of politics). Iron Eyes has a new web page, and is building a sort of retail approach to the campaign. (Contribute $40, send a screenshot, and you’ll get a t-shirt.)

There is also a new social media push using the hashtag #FaceTheStorm. The idea is that people will tell their own stories about why they support Iron Eyes. Iron Eyes explains the idea this way on a video: “Faced with a dangerous blizzard on the Northern Plains, when snow storms are blasting everything that lives here, the buffalo do not hide. Because they have thicker fur, a thicker head, and thick skin, the way they are designed makes it more probable for them to survive if they face the storm. That is what we must do who value people over politics. We must come together and face the storm.”

How are other the other Native American candidates for federal office doing? The latest Federal Election Commission reports show how difficult a task raising money is for new candidates on the #NativeVote16 list. (Edgar Blatchford in Alaska is not yet reporting his campaign contributions.)

Republican Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin are incumbents so money is not a problem. Cole has raised $1.44 million and Mullin $1.3 million in their bids for re-election.

But in Arizona Republican Shawn Redd has raised a little more than $23,000 for his upcoming Aug. 30 primary for an open seat in the 1st congressional district.

To the south, Democrat Victoria Steele, running in Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, has raised nearly $200,000 while her opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, has tallied more than $5 million.

That same mismatch is occurring in Washington state. Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas has topped $166,000 from his fundraising efforts, but trails incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who has received contributions of more than $2.5 million.

Denise Juneau is raising serious money. Her latest campaign report shows that she trails incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke, but not as badly. Juneau’s contributions total more than $1.1 million to Zinke’s $3.5 million.

There are better ways to elect candidates. In Canada the party funds the candidates who earn a nomination. Other countries have public financing of campaigns so that every candidate has an equal shot at winning. That’s the direction we ought to be heading. But in this election, money still counts and Native candidates will need a boost in the form of many personal contributions from across Indian Country.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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#NativeVote16 – Raising enough money to win seats in state legislatures

North Carolina Senate candidate Laurel Deegan-Fricke is running in the capital city of Raleigh. (Campaign photo)


Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

There is a hundred dollars-a-plate fundraiser planned on August 21 for Laurel Deegan-Fricke. She’s a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and running in a highly competitive seat in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two years ago that race was decided by less than a thousand votes out of some 82,000 cast.

If you missed the fundraiser. Don’t worry. It won’t be Deegan-Fricke’s last. The “cost” of a Senate seat in North Carolina averages $173,576, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics. So if you’re not doing the math that means some 1,735 dinners. Then again Raleigh is not average. Four years ago, according to Open Secrets, candidates spent nearly $600,000 trying to win that Senate seat. Two years ago the winning candidate spent $470,000 and the losing candidate a whopping $1.1 million.

How much time do you have to spend raising money? “All day and night with less than 100 days to election,” answers Deegan-Fricke. She says she needs $500,000 to stay competitive.

This seat in Raleigh, North Carolina, is the most expensive district on my spreadsheet of Native American candidates for legislatures.

Yet the issue of money is one reason why there are not more Native Americans serving in Congress, state legislatures and as  governors. Of course the problem is that any “outside” candidate has an uphill climb in this aspect of representation.  The fact is the system greatly favors those who are already in office. And money is one way to scare away potential challengers. In 2014 nearly a third of all Americans lived in states with an uncontested state senate race and more than forty percent in states with uncontested house races. (Previous: Hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.)

There are solutions. One alternative is a system that includes full or partial public financing for campaigns. In an ideal setting, once a candidate meets the requirements to run, such as gathering signatures, and raising a limited amount, then state dollars are made available. A second system that’s used in many countries is that the political party funds its candidates. (In the U.S. it’s the opposite: You’re told by the party that you will have to raise “X” dollars before you will get funding. And usually the “X” is a big number.)


Wenona Benally, candidate for Arizona House of Representatives in District 7. (Campaign photo)

Arizona and Minnesota both have public financing options. According to the National Conference of State Legislators,  “a candidate for state office in Arizona must raise $5 contributions from at least 200 people in order to qualify for the program. In return, the state provides the candidate with public money in an amount equal to the expenditure limit.” States cannot require candidates to participate in public financing and that limits the program’s effectiveness because some candidates can raise unlimited amounts. I should also mention that some of the most interesting experiments right now are occurring at the local level, such as Seattle’s new approach where voters are given vouchers to send to candidates.

Wenona Benally, Navajo, who’s running for the Arizona House in District 7, said, “qualifying as a ‘clean elections’ candidate and receiving public funds helps tremendously with paying for campaign activities. However, the process for qualifying as a CCEC candidate is very time-consuming & arduous.” She said the Secretary of State reviews every donor and if it cannot verify all of the data, then the form gets kicked out.

Rep. Peggy Flanagan represents St. Louis Park and District 46. (Campaign photo)

Minnesota candidates for the Senate must raise $3,000 and House candidates $1,500 in order to receive public funds for their campaign. Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Ojibwe, representing St. Louis Park and District 46, said she will receive $7,451 from public campaign financing. “I raised $50,000 for my race last year and I am trying to do the same this year,” she said. “I want to run a robust field campaign, but also want to make sure I can give money back to the party to take back the House.”

Successful fundraising is essential in any campaign.

As Rep. Flangan said: “I also think it’s important that candidates of color and Indigenous candidates are good fundraisers to demonstrate our power to folks in our caucus and in the state overall.”

Indeed that might be the most important point to remember. Yes, the challenges of fundraising are real, and a barrier to office for too many potential candidates. But if you look at the overall levels of representation, then state legislatures are where Native American candidates have been the most successful. So candidates are already raising what they need. That matters because it lays the groundwork for when more of those candidates choose to run for Congress. And “when” is the right word.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Spreadsheets& data here. 

#NativeVote16 – The mechanics of reaching Indian Country voters

Amy Croover is the Native Vote Director for the Montana Democratic Party. (Photo via press release)
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

First the news: Montana Democrats hired Amy Croover as director of the Native Vote program. A Democratic Party press release said her task is to increase the number of Native American voters.

The message is significant. Montana Democrats are investing real resources to give American Indian voters a greater say. “As a country and as a state, we’ve moved the needle in the right direction when it comes to our cherished Native American communities and culture, but more work needs to be done,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the state’s Democrats. 

Croover has a solid resume. She’s a Ho-Chunk tribal member and has worked with Montana tribes. She’s worked with young people at the Salish Kootenai College. And she was Sen. Jon Tester’s Native American liaison for seven years. “I jumped at the chance to be a part of the team that elects Denise Juneau as the first Native American woman to Congress,” Croover said. “I believe that when Democrats govern, Indian Country wins.”

This is a nice turn of the phrase. It’s a flip of what Denise Juneau often says in her stump speech, when Indians vote, Democrats win.

Now the context. At its core politics is about two things: Policy and mechanics. Policy is the ideas, often the stuff that happens after elections;  mechanics is how policy gets made.

Another way to think about the difference: Policy is usually what politicians talk about. Mechanics is the work that’s actually done by people whose names we may never know.

Political parties (both Republicans and Democrats) talk a lot about American Indian and Alaska Native policy. President Nixon’s 1970 message that declared an end to termination and the promotion of self-determination was a policy prescription. But the mechanics of that pronouncement was left up to Congress, largely, Forrest Gerard working with Sen. Henry Jackson and Franklin Ducheneaux, who was Rep. Morris Udall’s counsel in the House. The idea was not enough. Someone had to do the work.

It’s the same with elections. It’s one thing to lay out an American Indian policy, most candidates who have an interest in Indian Country do just that, but it’s another step entirely to invest in the mechanics. 

This is important because no matter how many of us want to vote for Denise Juneau (or any of the seven other Native federal candidates) that will not happen unless we have registered first. The process is mechanical. Register voters. Then count them. Find out where the numbers could be higher and then register more people. Repeat as often as necessary.

It’s the same step by step process for voting. (I especially like absentee voting because it’s a way to bank and count actual votes.)

And this election is the right one to test the mechanical approach to democracy in Indian Country because there are so many Native candidates on the ballot. The incentives are aligned for people to vote for Denise Juneau as well as Native Democratic candidates for the legislature. 

Other states have seen initiatives to improve the mechanics of the Native vote. Two years ago, for example, Sen. Mark Begich made Alaska Native voters a key element of his unsuccessful bid for re-election. But. The thing is. Begich made the election a lot closer than it would have been had he not made the effort. And, his staff work in the many villages probably helped elect Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot. The mechanics paid off.

The most common complaint I hear from Native candidates (especially former candidates who have lost) is that they get no help from their state or national party. That needs to change because in the years to come Indian Country will need more investment in the mechanical side of politics. As the demographics of the nation shift, there will be more and more states and districts where the Native vote will make the difference. But for that to happen, someone has to do the work.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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#NativeVote16 – Big money targets Arizona’s first congressional



Three Native candidates; one Arizona seat

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

My list of Native American candidates for Congress keeps changing. (Actually my entire databases are moving parts because I keep adding new names, see new reports filed, and find other data). I am now back to eight Native American candidates for Congress. Well, maybe nine. I had dropped Shawn Redd from my active list because he had not filed a campaign finance report. Redd has now done that. (Previous: Seven Native American candidates for Congress.) I also removed Kayto Sullivan from my database. Let’s move that up to a “maybe.”

Redd, Navajo, is running as a Republican in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Remember that’s the district with the highest percentage of Native American voters. In his latest filing, Redd raised $8,762, spent $7,615, leaving cash on hand of $1,785 as of March 31. He significantly trails another Navajo Republican, Arizona state Sen. Carlyle Begay. Begay raised $39,906 during the same time frame. (Spreadsheet here. Previous: Little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

Screenshot 2016-05-01 11.55.28

But let’s be clear about the Arizona 1st Congressional District: It has the most Native American voters of any district in the country, but it’s also an open seat, and there will be a lot of money thrown at winning this seat.

Two years ago this seat was one of the most expensive for so-called “dark money.” Some $2.5 million was spent by the conservative groups, American Action Network, and Young Guns Network. This is where large donors fund independent political action groups who buy mostly negative ads against a candidate. These independent campaigns do not need to disclose the source of their funding. In the 2014 campaign these groups spent more than the Republican candidate, Andy Tobin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Indian Country, of course, cannot compete with that kind of spending. But this district two years ago defeated big money and if the Native American vote turns out that can happen again.

Redd and Begay are counting on help from Navajo voters during the primary. But that’s a long shot for a couple of reasons.

First, Arizona requires voters in primary elections to be either unaffiliated or registered as Republicans. The registration deadline is August 1. And early voting begins a couple of days later.

The second reason is math. In Apache County, where most of the voters are Navajo, there are 26, 784 active Democrats and only 7, 893 Republicans. That’s a huge gap. The good news is there are also some 13,000 voters who are independent and that is a potential source of primary votes. The numbers are similar in other Arizona counties with large Native American populations.

But there is a “however” here.

This is a district where the national Democratic Party is risking a future base. If Begay or Redd can somehow win the primary, they would be strong candidates in the general election. Yes, it’s because they are Navajos, but especially in Begay’s case, it’s also because he works hard at constituent services. In March, for example, when a Navajo girls’ basketball team was sanctioned by referees for wearing traditional tsiyéél hair styles, Begay filed legislation to make state law clear.

So it may be a long shot but Begay could win this primary. Two years ago only 52,487 people bothered to vote in the primary. The winning candidate had 18,814 votes. This time around that winning number will likely be smaller because there are four other well-funded Republicans splitting the vote. The question is, then, how many Navajos will vote Republican in a primary?

Democrats have different problems in this race. Kayto Sullivan announced that he was running. He has not raised any funds but on Twitter said he was in Window Rock gathering signatures. He also tweeted: “Many candidates running for congressional office have donations of several thousand but I’m just a normal person with nothing near that.”

Perhaps Sullivan won’t be the only Native American Democrat running. There is still time for a surprise candidate to join the race. The filing deadline is June 1.

The party apparatus has more or less settled on former State Sen. Tom O’Halleran. Like Begay he switched parties, once serving as a Republican in the legislature, now a Democrat. If the race ends up being between O’Halleran and one of the other big money Republicans, he will probably do no worse than the current incumbent, Ann Kirkpatrick.

Navajos will likely turn out and vote in significant numbers in November because of the presidential race. And O’Halleran is likely to benefit from that. Unless his opponent is Begay. Then all bets are off.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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#NativeVote16 – Tribes weigh in, power of endorsements

Denise Juneau
Mark Trahant


Tribes in Montana and North Dakota went on record last week “endorsing” candidates. 

The Salish Kootenai Tribe endorsed Denise Juneau’s bid for Congress. Juneau is scheduled to visit all of Montana’s reservations during the month. (Previous: Denise Juneau, It’s Really Good To be Here.) Tribal chairman Vernon Finley said on Montana Public Radio that it’s not common for the tribe to endorse political candidates. However Juneau is “a viable candidate and she represents all of the issues that we find important,” he said.

North Dakota’s Three Affiliated Tribes endorsed Chase Iron Eyes for Congress, Cesar Alvarez and Kenton Onstad for seats in the North Dakota House of Representatives, and Ruth Buffalo for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner. The MHA Times reported that the candidates made a pitch to the tribal council. “Following the presentations, Chairman Mark Fox gave each of the councilmen an opportunity to speak to the three candidates. The individual councilmen affirmed their support of the three politicians, praising them for their accomplishments, and wishing them good luck,” the Times said.

Do political endorsements from tribes matter? Absolutely. At a meeting of Montana Democrats last month Sen.  Jon Tester urged to tribes to endorse candidates because “when it comes to national fundraising,” he said.”It counts a lot.” One reason why it matters is that it sends a signal that candidates who earn endorsements understand what’s important to Native Americans.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
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#NativeVote16 – Little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down


Congressional candidate Victoria Steele leads in the Little Money race. What would it take to make that a competitive metric? (Campaign photo)


Measuring contributions of $25 or less

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s turn the world upside down.

A “normal” political story might examine finances for political candidates starting with who raised the most money, where it came from, and what that means for their prospects at the ballot. Money equals success.

I am not going to do that. Instead I am going to start by reporting who’s winning the battle for little dollars. Which one of the seven Native American candidates for Congress are getting money from people who might be giving up a dinner out. Then sending $25 or less to a candidate for Congress. And “sending” isn’t the right word. It’s investing.

Let’s measure how American Indians and Alaska Natives are investing in our our candidates, in our future, in ourselves.

We can’t control who gets the money from Political Action Committees, casinos, or even many tribes. But we can decide for ourselves who is worthy of our investment.

So who does well using this measure? Victoria Steele in Arizona. Of the seven active Native Americans running for Congress she has the most small donors, 86 to be precise, who invested $1,924.00 That’s not a lot of cash. But what if that idea could be expanded across Indian Country? What if our values, and then our actions, rewarded candidates with lots of little donors?

Of course this is exactly what happened on the presidential level. First, Barack Obama, and now Bernie Sanders, showed that you could raise tens of millions of dollars from small amounts.

Indian Country could do the same thing. If even a small fraction of American Indian and Alaska Native voters sent money to Native American candidates the total could be significant.

So, borrowing an idea from my manager days, I am going to start capturing this data. (You change what you measure.) Starting with the April 15 Federal Election Commission filing, I  am charting on a spreadsheet which Native candidates earn the most support at $25 or less.

For now I am just looking at the reports for congressional candidates, but the principle ought to be for every candidate for every office. Especially those running for state legislatures. (Previous: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.)

Over the years I have heard from so many candidates who said they did not get any financial support from the Democratic or Republican Party or even wealthy individuals who give to just about everybody. (The Washington Post recently reported that half of all Political Action Committee donations come from just 50 people.)

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can take that authority away from the parties, tribal enterprises, casinos, even fat cats, all by sending little dollars. (There are even easy third-party online tools to send money in small amounts, such as ActBlue for Democrats, or ActRight for Republicans.) As I have written before it would be great to see a Native American version of these kinds of groups that bundle, report, and pass along donations to candidates and causes.


Big money is important too

I don’t want to discount candidates who are raising serious money. Kudos to Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who’s raised more than a million dollars, or MarkWayne Mullin in the same state. Both incumbents have primary challengers. Cole is Chickasaw and Mullin is Cherokee.

Montana’s Denise Juneau is breaking fundraising records for Democrats in her state. She has raised $626,741 as of March 31. Most of her money has come from Montanans and about a third has been in increments of less than $100. “From farmers and nurses to software engineers and teachers, the excitement and momentum for our campaign comes from every corner of Montana,” Juneau said. “Montanans are ready for a leader who puts them first, and they know I’ll be that leader in Congress.”

But Juneau is also resetting the bar higher in terms of donation from a wide cross-section of Indian Country. She has received donations from tribes and tribal enterprises, including from Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Lummi Indian Nation, Oneida Indian Nation, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Quinault Indian Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Squaxin Island Tribe, Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Suquamish Tribe, Swinomish Tribal Community, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington.

Arizona Republican Carlyle Begay has already raised $39, 906 in his bid for the first congressional district. He has few individual contributions, but his report shows contributions from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Porch Band of Creek Indians.

One of the challenges for Native American candidates is that they need to reach a minimum level of funding before they will get financial help from the national political parties.

Joe Pakootas is the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington. He is now a candidate for Congress in Washington’s 5th District. He remembers when politicians would approach the tribe for donations. “We’d interview them and make sure they were going to support the issues that were important to us. That happened and we would throw some dollars at them,” Pakootas said. “Well, when I got into this race in 2014, I thought, this is going to be easy. I can go around and talk to all the tribes, I am Native American, and one of them, and maybe they will support me graciously, handsomely. I was completely wrong on that issue.”

Pakootas said he received about $39,000 from tribes. He said he thought it was a lot until he talked to some of the other candidates, non-Indians “who let me know he had received $80,000 from tribes. It was kind of disappointing.” He said this time around he hopes to change that, even if dollars aren’t flowing in just yet.

The national party has not helped the Pakootas campaign. He said when he started running he was told he would need to generate about $500,000 in revenue before the Democrat’s congressional committee would help him raise more money. (Previous: Six seats Natives can win to flip Congress.)

One of these days we will find a way to reduce the role of money in political campaigns. I have long thought we should come up with a better alternative, such as taxpayer-funded campaigns, that level the playing field. But that kind of reform is far off.

“It’s sad that money plays such a huge role in winning these races,” said Denise Juneau. “We have to raise money to make sure we get the message out about my record of accomplishment, my ideas for moving forward, how I am going to include everybody in the  path that goes to Congress.”

Juneau said you don’t always need a lot of money to win. Sometimes even selling t-shirts helps a campaign. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a significant difference. Because, just like votes .. we gather up every little vote in Montana and it comes in aggregate and we win.”

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant /




#NativeVote16 – Juneau’s jobs tour

Denise Juneau (campaign photo)

Juneau earns endorsement from unions

Denise Juneau earned an endorsement this week from Montana’s largest labor unions. Juneau is running as a Democrat for the state’s only congressional seat. The campaign made the announcement as it launched a statewide tour for Juneau to meet with workers and business owners.

“As I hit the road to listen to the needs of Montana’s employers and workers, I’m pleased to know I have the support of the groups that represent thousands of Montana workers and their families,” Juneau said in the news release. The unions represent some 55,000 workers, educators, city, state, and municipal workers, fire fighters, police officers, construction workers, engineers, artists, postal workers, bus drivers, highway patrol officers, and road crews.

Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe. She is the first American Indian woman in Montana to ever be elected to a statewide office – serving as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction since 2009 and winning re-election in 2012.

Juneau told The Billings Gazette that the union endorsements are an expression of confidence in her winning the House seat. “When I look at this race for this year, what I see is a person who has won statewide elections twice already, and we haven’t had somebody in this position to challenge this seat that has actually done that,” Juneau told the Gazette.


#NativeVote16 – Story ideas range from climate issues to “the Native primary.”

Housekeeping. Planning day.

I am still researching and writing the energy and climate (part 3) post. I am giving a speech next week on this topic, so it’s a good time to finish the piece. There is a lot going on and it has election ramifications, especially because more federal spending will be required to keep up with damage and infrastructure needs associated with climate change.


Another piece I’d like to write soon is about how a third-place finisher could win the White House. As the presidential field narrows, we could be returning to the historical problem of a split electoral college. If there are three candidates and one of those candidates *cough * Ted Cruz * cough * can win a large state such as Texas that would be enough to prevent the other two candidates from winning 270 electoral votes. IF that happens, the House gets to pick the next president. The only constitutional criteria is that the next president will be chosen from top 3 finishers.


I have a cool idea. If I can find the time. So what if I pulled the precinct votes from Iowa, Nevada, and So Carolina, and created a “NativeVote16” primary election? I could add to a spreadsheet after every new primary. This would be a look at how Indian Country wants to be the next president using actual votes instead of polling.  (Any data wonks want to help?)


I am still working on a story/data/chart for state legislative candidates. I talked to a couple of candidates last week who told me they would be filing soon and I should hold off. I think I might wait until late March to get as many names as possible. (Previous story here.)


Finally I am pitching a couple of video stories to networks. Two purposes: Broader audience for #NativeVote16 stories. And, it will help me finance more stories. I’d especially like to have enough resources to cover party conventions this year. (Either that or I need to find a summer job.) (Previous video here. )

I posted a book outline and I have had talks with several book publishers and editors. There is not a lot of interest; mostly because of the time factor. I could produce the book myself (like I did with The Last Great Battle) but I would need to find outside money to make that happen. I am reviewing foundations that are interested in democracy & voting to see if that might be possible.

Feel free to weigh in with comments, suggestions and ideas.

That’s enough reflection. Back to work.

— Mark Trahant