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Sunday, August 20, 2006
Posted 10:56 PM by

Slots of gambling money still buying Pa. influence

Lawyers and lobbyists for gambling interests have contributed $750,000 to the state's top politicians despite a ban on donations from slots-related businesses.Gambling interests are supposed to be barred from giving political contributions under Pennsylvania's two-year-old slots law.

But the law only outlaws direct contributions, not those passed through a lawyer or a lobbyist.

And since this is the only state without a lobbyist disclosure law, those who really want something are continuing give - to the tune of $750,000 in political contributions this year so far, according to the Associated Press.

Last year $125 million was spent on lobbying lawmakers, of which $4.5 million came from gambling interests.

And just what are these high rollers getting for their money?

For once thing, the Pocono Record reported July 30 that gambling lobbyist Stephen R. Wojdak was one of several who had a hand in getting 17 Pennsylvania House members to switch their votes and grant a handful of companies an unprecedented monopoly on distributing slot machines.

A group of senators would like to see at least some of the money pipeline closed off - specifically, contributions from lobbyists for gambling interests.

"Our concern is the public perception of the campaign contributions," said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. "It's the public perception of the connection of the gaming entity to the lobbyist and the lobbyist to the politicians, and we're trying to sever that connection."

House Speaker John Perzel's spokesman, Al Bowman, agreed. "I think it's more perception than reality, but public perception is important to public trust."

So just for public show, those donations may be barred.

Perzel, R-Philadelphia, would be also willing to consider barring attorneys and other professionals from making political contributions that draw from fees paid by gambling-industry clients, Bowan said.

It's a bit like letting the fox in charge of the hen house. Perzel has taken $46,000 so far this year from gambling lobbyists and lawyers, the AP says.

Besides, that still leaves the loophole for gambling interests to give to Political Action Committees and trade groups, who will then turn the money over to the politicians.

Gov. Ed Rendell was reportedly in Las Vegas on April 26, 2005 soliciting donations from gambling executives to the Democratic Governors Association. The association has since contributed $300,000 to Rendell's reelection campaign.

Different players. Same corrupting effect.

By the way, Rendell has received $60,000 this year from gambling lobbyists and lawyers.

So you see, any last-minute attempts to plug holes in the slots law before licenses are handed out is going to be a bit like the little Dutch boy plugging the leaky dike with his thumb.
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