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WARNER, Okla. (KFOR) – A measure that reforms the tribe’s election code, which included strong provisions to prevent dark money from coming into tribal elections, has been signed into Cherokee law.

“As a sovereign nation it is settled law that Cherokee Nation can govern the conduct of its own elections which go to the core of Cherokee democracy,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said during the signing. “Unlimited and unregulated cash pouring into our elections, as happened in the 2019 election, is destructive of our precious democracy and this law helps us fight it.”

Under the reforms, any ‘person or entity’ involved in making independent expenditures is subject to criminal sanctions, including up to two years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine and civil penalties of up to $500,000.

In 2019, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission and Cherokee Nation courts found that Principal Chief candidate David Walkingstick had coordinated with a non-Cherokee special interest group to raise an undisclosed amount of money.

Officials say there was no public disclosure by Walkingstick or the group, which is a violation of the tribe’s campaign donation disclosure laws.

As a result, Walkingstick was declared ineligible.

“Cherokee law protected the Cherokee people from unregulated dark money to some extent in 2019,” Chief Hoskin said. “However, the law did not result in any accountability for the outside interests who dumped unregulated and undisclosed funds into our elections. This new law will send a message to outside interests that we are a sovereign nation, we have strong laws concerning campaign finance transparency, and that dark money is banned and candidates for office are not up for sale by the highest bidder.”

Deputy Chief Bryan Warner praised the measure as important to public interest.

“Strong candidates can and should raise funds, and in a highly regulated and transparent manner, to share their message with the voters. But, the voters should know where every penny of funds comes from. That is how we build trust and accountability,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “This dark money ban is very much about empowering Cherokee citizens with full knowledge about campaign donations. It is building trust. Chief Hoskin and I certainly trust the Cherokee people and think they are entitled to know who funds political campaigns.”