This article originally provided by WV Public Radio

May 9, 2008

Political power shift to gambling in Northern WV

By Keri Brown

Listen Now (5:20)

Itís no secret that industries spend a lot of money on candidates. We will let you decide whether the goal is to influence candidates or just try to elect people who are right for the job. In the Northern Panhandle, the steel industry doesnít have the influence it once had. The political power has shifted to gambling. Keri Brown takes a closer look at the power of gambling and policy making and files this report.

Brown: Gambling interests contributed more than $148K to legislative candidates in 2004. In 2006, that number more than doubled to nearly $335K. Thatís according to data analyzed by the Peopleís Election Reform Coalition in Charleston or PERC. Hereís the organizationís Julie Archer.

Archer: The gambling industry is one of the top 10 contributing interest groups to legislators and then what we have seen as far as individual donors for example in 2004, of the top 10 individual donors, 4 of those were affiliated with gambling.

Brown: The push for table games in recent years has resulted in more money to candidates from gambling Political Action Committees and gambling executives.

In 2006, PACS gave $72K to legislative candidates, but that hardly compares to top gambling executives. Jeremy Jacobs, the CEO of Delaware North Companies, which owns Wheeling Island gave $92,500. Ted Arneault CEO of Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort gave $39,614. And two partners in Mardi Gras Gaming in Kanawha county gave a combined $72K. Archer says gambling money often comes in waves.

Archer: What we have seen in the past is that there will be a spike in contributions from a particular industry prior in effort to get a particular piece of legislation. Like what we saw in 1998, we saw a huge increase in gambling, Greenbrier related contributions then the next year the legislature passed a bill to allow a local referendum at the Greenbrier and then the next year their contributions went way down.

Brown: In Hancock County, some law makers who have supported table games work for Mountaineer racetrack. Senator Ed bowman manages Mountaineers golf course and House Majority Leader Joe Delong, who is now running for Secretary of State is an advertising manager for the track. Also, Mountaineers public relations diretor Tamara Pettit is running for the House of Delegates. Pettit served in the legislature from 1989-2000. She co-sponsored legislation that allowed racetracks to have video lottery machines. Back then, both Pettit and Bowman worked for Weirton Steel.

Pettit: During that time we saw the recognition of gaming industry as an industry that created jobs and brought revenue when I went in Weirton Steel was largest employer in state that brought more revenue and taxes in the state so certainly things have changed.

Brown: Delegate Delong says heís received support over the years from gambling interests for his political campaigns. But He says sometimes itís hard know which contributors come from the industry and which ones donít.

DeLong:  People who are for example big names like Ted Arneault, the President and  CEO of Mountaineer Racetrack its pretty easy to say someone like thatís contributions are direct contributions. But there are contributors who are real estate developers, who are attorneyís who have ties to the gaming industry that a lot of times we as candidates donít even know about. So there are so many people the problem is where do you draw the line you know how far do you go with it.

Brown: Senator Ed Bowman takes contributions from the gambling industry but says heís not opposed to campaign finance reform.

Bowman: But unless we change the political system, look I would be the first to sign up. If you make acquaintances in Charleston and lobbyist and say has no influence well you would have to be very naive and I wouldnít be very honest with you 

Brown: Archer says her organization has the answer.

Archer:  One of the things that our group is advocating is public financing for elections, you know you are never totally eliminate the influence of money and politics but there are states like Maine Arizona who implemented public financing years ago and have been making funds available to make funds available to the legislature and state wide offices and in those states now a majority of those candidates who run for office opt for public funds and itís making a difference in the kinds of public policies that they are passing.

Brown: Archer says the current system not only influences public policy but also dictates who can afford to run for office. For West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Iím Keri Brown in Bethany.


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