This article originally provided by The Charleston Daily Mail

May 27, 2007

Gaming donations up in legislative races, group says

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

Gaming interests made more political donations during the 2006 election cycle than ever before, according to an analysis released Friday by the West Virginia People’s Election Reform Coalition.

Norm Steenstra, a representative of PERC, said, “Gaming contributions to House candidates rose from $61,368 in 2004 to more than $243,400 last year.

“Never has an increase been that dramatic in contributions to candidates in House of Delegates races,” Steenstra said.

Gaming and casino interests contributed more than $92,000 to state Senate candidates, an increase of less than $4,000 from contributions made during the previous election cycle.

PERC has analyzed contributions to all state legislative and gubernatorial candidates since 1996.

Records of those political contributions are filed with Secretary of State Betty Ireland and are available to the public, at no cost, on her office’s Web site.

Earlier this year, legislators passed a bill allowing residents of four counties to vote on whether to allow local racetrack/casino facilities to add table games to their current operations. Those referendums will begin in June.

PERC, a coalition of several groups, takes no position to support or oppose any issue in a referendum or any candidate on an election ballot.

Today, some PERC members take opposing stances on whether gaming should be expanded. The West Virginia Council of Churches opposes expansion, while the West Virginia Labor Federation, part of the AFL-CIO, supports it.

Steenstra said: “Regardless of how one feels about the gaming issue, last year’s campaign contributions sent a message to every special-interest group: If you throw a lot of money at the Legislature, you will probably get your bill passed.”

During 2006 election campaigns, West Virginia racetrack/casino owners and their supporters gave more than $335,000 to legislative candidates.

The four racetracks in West Virginia are: Tri-State Race Track & Gaming Center in Cross Lanes, owned by Tyner & Hartman Inc. of Southfield, Mich.; Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in Chester, owned by MTR Gaming Group Inc.; Wheeling Island Gaming, owned by Delaware North Cos.; and Charles Town Races & Slots, owned by Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing, Pa.

The vast majority of their contributions went to Democratic candidates, many of whom also received labor union contributions.

The United Steelworkers, for example, actively supports the gaming industry, in part because its members include hundreds of employees at Tri-State in Kanawha County.

Only three Republicans running for seats in the House of Delegates last year reported taking gaming contributions, PERC found.

They were: Delegates William R. Romine, R-Tyler, and Gil White, R-Ohio, as well as Scott Reed, a nonincumbent candidate running in Ohio County. Romine won, while White and Reed lost.

The biggest contributors in 2006, according to PERC, were:

  • Jeremy Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Delaware North Cos. and owner of the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League, $57,250.
  • Herbert Tyner, a Tri-State co-owner, $25,250.
  • Penn National PAC, $23,750.
  • Bernard Hartman, a Tri-State co-owner, $23,500.
  • Robert Blatt, MTR’s executive vice president, $16,400.
  • Robert Ruben, a former MTR director, $16,400.
  • Edward Arneault, MTR’s chief executive, $8,400.
  • Louis Aronson, a law partner at Ruben’s law firm in Maryland, $6,679.

    In addition, $44,596 came in smaller contributions from a variety of other donors with interests in owning or representing casinos and racetracks.

    Other political action committees created by the state’s racetracks contributed another $25,550, PERC reported.

    Of the 12 individual House of Delegates candidates who received the most from gaming interests, five came from Kanawha County and two from Wyoming County.

    House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, $9,761, got the most.

    The other top recipients were: Delegates Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, $9,002; Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, $7,550; Mike Burdiss, D-Wyoming, $7,336; and Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, $7,251.

    Also: Delegates Bobbie Hatfield, D-Kanawha, $6,252; Sharon Spencer, D-Kanawha, $6,002; Lidella Hrutkay, D-Logan, $6,001; Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, $6,001; Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, $6,001; and Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, $6,000.

    Paige Flanigan, a Democrat who lost his race for a House seat from Mercer County, received $7,337.

    Amores won, but resigned his seat in March, after serving 12 years, when he became deputy secretary and general counsel for the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

    The biggest Senate recipient of gaming contributions was Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, who received $27,502. Green, who breeds racing greyhounds, won the Democratic primary by defeating former Sen. Bill Wooton, D-Raleigh, and Delegate Sally Susman, D-Raleigh.

    Other top recipients were: Sens. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, $8,300; Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, $8,002; Randy White, D-Webster, $8,002; H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, $7,500; and Larry J. Edgell, D-Wetzel, $6,500.

    Former Sen. Fred Parker, D-Monroe, received $8,500 for his Senate campaign, but lost to incumbent Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier. A retired schoolteacher, Parker was supported by teachers and labor groups.

    PERC is still refining its data, Steenstra said, noting that slight changes might be made after candidates submit amended versions of their reports at the secretary of state’s request.

    “But I am confident these figures are at least 95 percent correct,” Steenstra said.

    To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.


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    Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246