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Gambling Industry?s Bets on Senator Lott Pay Off

June 14, 1999

Gambling Industry?s Bets on Senator Lott Pay Off

New Investigative Study Reveals Majority Leader?s Pattern of Party
Fundraising and Pro-Casino Legislative Actions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the National Gambling Impact Study Commission prepares to deliver on June 18 its final report — which will include a recommendation for modest restrictions on state but not federal gambling industry campaign contributions — Public Citizen announced at noon EDT Monday the release of a report based on a four-month investigation of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott?s (R-Miss.) performance on casino gambling issues.

The Public Citizen report reveals for the first time strong links between Senator Lott?s Republican Party “soft money” fundraising from casino interests from 1995 to 1998 and his little-known legislative actions that protected the casino industry from rigorous federal inquiry, advanced industry-favored tax breaks and loosened federal environmental restrictions on casino development in Mississippi.

“Senator Lott?s sustained and energetic activity on behalf of the casino gambling industry?s political objectives is clearly related to his official party role in collecting industry soft money,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The financial incentives for his actions are clear, and they undermine public confidence in our democracy.”

The 30-page report, Betting on Trent Lott: The Casino Industry?s Campaign Contributions Pay Off in Congress, is based on new, detailed analyses — by company and date — of Republican Party soft money contributions and new interviews with congressional aides, federal officials and lobbyists about Lott?s legislative performance. A chronology of key activities and contributions is included. Among the report?s findings:

From 1995 to 1998, Republican Party committees received $4.23 million from the casino gambling industry — 40 percent of which went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), where Senator Lott is most deeply involved as a top fundraiser and political strategist. Under Lott?s leadership, the NRSC?s share of GOP soft money rose from less than 1 percent ($7,800) in 1993-94 to 52 percent ($1.26 million) in 1997-98.

In 1996, as he ascended to the rank of Majority Leader, Lott was instrumental in diluting the proposed subpoena power of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, depriving it of authority to grill top casino executives on the industry?s controversial marketing practices. While Congress debated the Commission, Lott helped raise and benefited from $1.78 million in casino soft money, of which 23 percent went directly to the NRSC. In a several-week period before and after Senate action, three casino companies contributed $450,000 to the Republican Party, including $250,000 from Trump Casinos the day before Senate passage of the weakened bill.

In the spring of 1998, Lott played the major role in preventing a Senate debate and vote on a proposal to finance an education initiative by stopping high rollers from deducting their losses from their winnings when calculating their federal income taxes. During the same period, he quietly inserted into a House-Senate Conference Report on the IRS Reform Bill a provision permitting employers and employees solely in the casino industry to receive 100 percent tax exemptions for employer-provided meals, regardless of whether workers needed to eat on the premises to do their jobs properly. This saves the industry an estimated $316 million from 1998 to 2007.

In 1998, Lott virtually single-handedly forced the overturning of a Department of the Army-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joint policy to assess the direct and indirect environmental impacts of past casino development on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and delay certain casino permits in sensitive areas while the study was under way.

During the 1997-98 election cycle surrounding these tax and regulatory initiatives, casino interests gave $2.46 million to the Republican Party — 52 percent of which went to the NRSC. In five days in March, while the Senate was considering the gambling loss tax deduction and pro-casino groups were lobbying Lott against environmental restrictions, the NRSC took in $450,000 from three casino companies, including $250,000 from Mirage Resorts.

While toiling on behalf of pro-casino contributors, Lott has also directed a nearly two-year filibuster against the majority-supported McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that would eliminate the gambling and other industries? large soft money donations.

The report also concludes that Senator Lott has tried to conceal his pro-casino activities, which are anathema to many conservative Christians in the Republican Party. He has suppressed public debate and votes on key legislation, has almost always refused to talk to the press on gambling issues he is influencing, and has spurred federal agency investigations (on trumped-up charges) of officials who dared to oppose his pro-casino policies.

“If Senator Lott again succeeds in killing meaningful campaign finance reform? legislation as embodied in the McCain-Feingold bill, the destructive soft money system that appears to have helped the casino gambling industry get its way in Congress will continue to expand and to erode our political institutions,” Claybrook said.

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook