Public advocacy group denounces casino contributions
WASHINGTON (AP) – The casino industry and its opponents clashed Thursday over a report charging that campaign cash was the decisive factor last year in keeping Congress from outlawing betting on college sports.
The skirmish marked the beginning of a renewed dispute over legislation that the gambling industry considered its main threat in the 106th Congress, and which will likely be a major point of contention in the 107th.
In its report, the consumer group Public Citizen said casinos lavished money on both political parties last year. While the cash flowed in, Democratic and Republican leaders competed to see which side could deliver the knockout blow to the bill, the group said.
”This is the most transparent and blatant illustration of how soft money corrupts our politics,” said Steve Weissman, a co-author of the report.
Public Citizen was founded by Ralph Nader, who attacked corporate influence in politics in his Green Party presidential campaign last year.
Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., who lobbies for casinos as president of the American Gaming Association, said the report is ”filled with innuendo, half-truths and whole lies in order to support Public Citizen’s anti-gaming and pro-campaign reform agenda.”
But Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a chief sponsor of the proposed ban, agreed with the report’s central contention that political contributions helped derail the bill.
”The influence of money to both parties last year after this bill got a hearing was immense, and it mattered,” said Graham, who said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the House next week.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also plans to reintroduce the bill in the Senate. The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a prominent supporter of the legislation.
Last year, the bill was approved by committees in both chambers but never was posted for a floor vote.
Betting on college sporting events is legal only in Nevada. Its gambling industry took in $2.3 billion in sports wagers in fiscal 1999, with 30 percent to 40 percent bet on college sports.
Defenders of the casino industry say the NCAA should clean its own house. Lawmakers from Nevada have proposed alternative legislation that would crack down on illegal gambling on college sports nationwide.
The American Gaming Association recently formed an offshoot group, Americans for Casino Entertainment, to organize public campaigns against the proposed ban and other attempts to limit gambling. Entertainer Wayne Newton will lead the group.
Public Citizen released its report to coincide with ”March Madness,” the annual college basketball tournament that means big business for Nevada’s legal sports-betting operations – and for illegal betting elsewhere in the nation.
The study found that the American Gaming Association, its member casinos and manufacturers, and their executives donated $2.3 million in soft money to Republican committees and $1.6 million to Democratic committees during the 1999-2000 election cycle.
The total, $3.9 million, represents a 70 percent increase from the previous election.
Soft money refers to unregulated contributions to political parties from corporations, unions and individuals.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took in more than $1 million, compared with $42,800 in the previous election cycle, while the National Republican Congressional Committee accepted $889,550, up from $77,250, according to Public Citizen.
Key players in the competition to woo casinos were Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairmen of the GOP’s Senate and House fund-raising committees; House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.; House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.; and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
McConnell denied playing any role in holding back the bill last year.
”It’s a bill that’s widely supported, and I think it’s going to pass,” he added.
A Gephardt spokeswoman said Republicans, as the majority party in the Senate, have sole control over what issues reach the floor.
On the Net:
Public Citizen report: http://www.publiccitizen.org/congress/reform/sportsgambling.htm
American Gaming Association: http://www.americangaming.org
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