"What's black and white and read all over?"

Monday, February 04, 2008
Posted 11:06 PM by

Credibility - not investigatory - gap in Slotsylvania

Hold the whitewash. Pennsylvania must have immediate and legitimate campaign finance reform, as well as a strict ban on all gambling lobbying and a moratorium on new slots parlor licenses. Without them, this painful lesson on how not to run a government will be for naught.

Slotsylvania has the best gambling system political contributions, lobbying and organized crime can buy.Pennsylvania House Republicans on Monday called on Harold James, the Democratic chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, to improve the state's casino licensing process by letting debate on a GOP-backed bill ensue.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell later agreed to back the bill too, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The measure, House Bill 1450, would put the state Attorney General's office in charge of all integrity background investigations of casino license applicants. It won't make any difference other than making its backers look responsive momentarily, but more on that in a bit.

A press conference (a video of which is available on Windows Media) about the 4-month-old bill was held in Harrisburg Monday morning - less than a week after slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples was indicted for perjury after allegedly lying about his ties to organized crime figures to both a grand jury and state gaming regulators.

"This is a black eye on Pennsylvania," state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin), later said of the perjury charges from the floor of the Senate. "If we do not correct this statute, we are hanging out a sign telling organized crime, 'Welcome, open for business - Pennsylvania.'"

The Republican legislators' theory is that the attorney general - the top law enforcement agent in the state - would be able to provide an "advisory opinion" to the Gaming Control Board on whether to grant a license to a slots parlor applicant.

There's two serious flaws with that theory, though.

First, State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller issued a press release in the afternoon that says the bill "would not prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future."

According to Miller, even if his troopers had conducted the background investigation of DeNaples - not private investigators hired by the gaming board - and then reported to the attorney general, "a law enforcement agency cannot share information about an ongoing criminal investigation with any non-criminal justice agency" like the gaming board.

Believe it or not, as far as Miller's concerned, "The bottom line is that every agency involved in this process acted appropriately and professionally under the circumstances."

The second flaw is more crucial and really laid the foundation for this entire fiasco.

In Pennsylvania, the attorney general is an elected official. The current top cop, Republican Tom Corbett, accepted at least $35,000 from DeNaples in campaign contributions when he ran.

And he wasn't alone.

Between 2000 and 2004, DeNaples donated at least $679,375 and possibly more than $1 million to the campaigns of politicians, lawmakers and judges across the state - including at least $115,000 to Rendell and at least $41,200 to the House Republican Campaign Committee.

How much exactly the Dunmore auto parts dealer, banker and former federal felon contributed really isn't known because of the shoddy method in which campaign finance reports are made public in this state. I did, however, confirm the $679,375 with state records along with the minimum amounts to Corbett, Rendell, and the House GOP ratfuckers.

None of those elected officials have publicly acknowledged giving a penny of DeNaples' campaign money back or to charity since his indictment.

Yet, there were state Reps. Doug Reichley (R-Berks/Lehigh) and Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery), the authors of H.B. 1450, standing shoulder to shoulder with House Republican Leader Sam Smith in the capitol Monday morning in front of TV cameras and reporters, claiming their solution would solve this stacked deck.

As deluded as it sounds, Reichley said, "This gaming reform bill leaves no question as to the integrity of the gaming investigations. It is a commonsense fix."

However, House Appropriations Chairman Mario Civera (R-Delaware) nailed it when he said, "We are looking to protect the public's interest. If the public doesn't believe in the process, gaming will always have problems."

Therein lies the rub, folks.

If these lawmakers are so concerned with public perception - and they weren't when they legalized slots gambling without public debate in a single night before adjourning for a holiday in 2004, then adding a new coat of whitewash for Slotsylvania and calling it reform should now wait.

This is a question of influence peddling and credibility, pure and simple.

Although the slots law finally banned direct political contributions from gambling interests, paid lobbying and indirect gifts are still perfectly legal.

Some in Harrisburg have been pushing for legalizing card games, craps, roulette and even riverboat gambling, lobbying state senators at a total cost of nearly $4.6 million in 2006 - the last year for which such figures are currently available online. (The reason why total figures for both the House and the Senate in 2007 are not online will be another rant for another day.)

But which lawmakers benefited from all that money the public will never know thanks to a "lobbying reform law" former House speaker John Perzel ram-rodded into existence just two years ago before he was deposed last year.

Are we going to allow the same jerks who sold their offices and created this mess - some even before they were elected - another chance to pay back more of their invisible friends and contributors?

Pennsylvania must have immediate and legitimate campaign finance reform, as well as a strict ban on all gambling lobbying and a moratorium on new slots parlor licenses. Without them, this painful lesson on how not to run a government will be for naught.

I demand a system that clearly spells out the conflicts of interests that existed even before the then-Republican controlled House, with the assistance of a Democratic governor and possibly the state Supreme Court, was able to ram slots gambling down our throats to benefit a billionaire campaign contributor with alleged mob ties - and who knows how many others.

By the way, slots gambling was approved under the public ruse of "property tax reform," then "property tax relief," and now most Pennsylvanians won't even get that. All $1 billion of the state's annual share of slots money is to be earmarked for eliminating property taxes for "low-income" seniors only - and some in the Legislature now want to RAISE sales or income taxes to give other property owners a break.

Where's the public benefit then, especially in a state which had a huge budget surplus last year yet cannot afford to fix its highways without the governor working behind closed doors to "lease" them to a private company?


For more about Louis DeNaples and to read my complete take on this long-predicted Slotsylvania snafu, click here.

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