OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The amount of money the state is spending in its legal fight over tribal compacts keeps climbing.
A new report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) shows the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) is paying over $3.3 million in legal fees for the Governor’s lawsuits over tribal gaming compacts, as first reported by Oklahoma Voice.
In July, News 4 reported that Governor Kevin Stitt’s office turned to three private law firms for legal aid located in Washington DC, Georgia, and Oklahoma City.
Those numbers total out to almost $600,000 as of June 2023.
By August, a report by The Frontier found fees from all the lawsuits total out to more than $1.9 million from 2020 to June 2023.
Now, a LOFT report published Tuesday says over $3.3 million of the Tribal and Gaming Revolving Fund has been or will be used to settle the state’s numerous lawsuits.
In 2021, the Legislature appropriated $10 million to a newly created revolving fund, called the State Tribal Litigation Fund, for the purpose of defending the State in ongoing legal disputes between Oklahoma and tribal governments, the LOFT report notes. Expenditures from the fund are considered restricted and are only available to use if they are approved by the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations of the Oklahoma Legislature.
The Tribal and Gaming Revolving Fund, connected to the Model Tribal Gaming Compact and funded through fees collected from tribes, is used to assist the State in administration and oversight of the gaming compacts. However, that fund is listed by OMES as non-restricted and therefore do not have to be approved by the Legislature.
“It’s not what we set up for this process, whether it is legal or not. That will be a question for the attorney general and others to look into. It’s definitely not the process that was agreed to by the speaker, the governor and myself,” Greg Treat, the Senate President Pro Tem, told KFOR in July about using the gaming funds for litigation.
In a statement Thursday to the station, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), a non-profit organization of Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members addressed the purpose of the fund:
The Tribal & State Gaming Revolving Fund is designed to offset the state’s costs in implementing the Model Tribal Gaming Compact. Use of these fees, which are paid by tribal governments, to fund litigation that rejects and undermines the Model Compact is misaligned with the clear intent and purpose of the fund.Matthew L. Morgan, Chairman, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association
Although the report does not give a breakdown of how the $3.3 million is being spent, LOFT says the number includes the total amount of purchase orders, paid or unpaid, relating to tribal legal disputes.
In an email Thursday to the station, Abegail Cave, Director of Communications for the Governor, said his office would review the numbers closely.
“I’d have to look more closely but we’re not sure where the $3.3 million number came from,” she said.
“It’s important to remember that these costs arise from legal counsel needed to defend the states in lawsuits that tribal governments have filed against the state. The Governor has never sued any tribal governments,” Cave added.
Following the report, Attorney General Gentner Drummond also released a statement:
This revelation in the LOFT report is further proof that the Governor has drained millions of public dollars in his ongoing vendetta against tribal nations. The Attorney General has been strongly opposed to using public money in a futile and seemingly endless effort to invalidate state law in favor of expanded federal authority.Office of the Attorney General Gentner Drummond
The legal spending review was part of a crackdown by LOFT of OMES, which describes itself as the backbone of our state government.
OMES was also criticized for poor budgeting, a lack of transparency and poor organizational structure, all adding up to added costs for multiple state agencies.
In response, OMES’ Chief Operating Officer said the agency is open to the feedback:
“If there’s some conflict, let’s fix the conflict, if there’s some transparency, let’s get transparency but I would just ask this group to consider not ruining the efficiency that you’ve gained over a decade’s worth of work,” said John Suter during the meeting.
LOFT recommended several, general policy changes for OMES, including for budgeting, accountability and billing practices.