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Senator Battin says no conflict of interest on solicitations for business

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - One day after a potential conflict of interest story broke in the Los Angeles Times, an influential state Senator announced that he would not seek consulting business from tribal casinos.

The Times reported that a consulting group that includes Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta, admitted that the group had solicited public relations and advertising campaigns from three tribes that operate large casinos.

Gordon Hinkle, who works in Battin's office, blames the flap on a noted Democratic political campaign consultant and lobbyist, Richie Ross, who is a well known opponent of Sen. Battin. Ross made statewide news a few days after the Battin story broke for threatening lawmakers in a belligerent manner who were about to break ranks on a bill that would give farm laborers health insurance, actions that caused the legislature to consider conduct code measures for lobbyists.

Hinkle points out that Battin's consulting side business is perfectly legal. Perhaps surprisingly to many, California law does permit lawmakers to have outside business interests while they are in office.

Battin is also one of the largest recipients of tribal campaign donations and sits on a committee that oversees horse racing and card rooms, which launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against Proposition 1A last year which made Indian gaming legal in California in 2000.

Several large-scale tribal gaming operations sit squarely in Battin's district and the Senator has been a vocal proponent of tribal sovereignty.

Though Battin has also drawn fire for his substantial campaign contributions from Indian tribes, totaling nearly $150,000 last year, it should be noted that Battin often tangled with the administration of former Gov. Pete Wilson over Indian issues before tribal gaming was legal, though both men are Republicans.

In the last two years Battin, along with Senate minority leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga and Assemblyman Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, have organized Republican caucus meetings with tribal leaders in hopes of luring more tribal supporters, and campaign contributions away from Democrats.

To this regard Battin has called for lifting the current cap of 2,000 gaming device licenses that are currently in compacts under re-negotiation with Gov. Gray Davis. While the governor has recently suggested lifting the cap in exchange for increased revenue sharing with the state, Battin has maintained that he wants no strings attached.

Also reported in the Times article were details of a memo that Battin sent to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and the Barona Band of Mission Indians - all tribes who operate large scale casinos.

It was reported that Battin proposed a series of "offensive" measures in which the tribes mount a pre-emptive campaign to address public concern about Indian casinos. He also cited the potential of eroding public support, which he suggested horse racing and card room interests might try to take advantage for their own gain.

Battin, however, feels that he is fighting from the defensive in this case and said he has been unfairly targeted because the business groups that he is dealing with are American Indians.

It should be noted that in all previous media interviews, including the Times story, Battin has been forthright about his business solicitations and stated that he feels he is not doing anything wrong.

"There is nothing illegal, unethical or even uncommon about this, lawmakers are allowed to have outside jobs," said Battin who also added that he spoke at length with his attorney about the matter before making the solicitations.

Battin said that his consulting group had previously solicited clients without notice of the statewide media, and that several committee heads, including the agriculture committee, all have business interests in fields with a vested interest in those committees and wonders why the media has largely ignored them.

Prior to entering politics Battin worked for a decade in advertising sales for a Southern California television station and buys his own ad time for his and other Republican campaigns.

When asked why he decided to drop the campaign a day after the story broke, Battin said "all hell broke loose."

"Look, I had every reporter in the state wanting to talk to me about this and I realized that I wasn't going to win over the media so I had to drop (the business solicitations).

It's really frustrating to me."