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Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Casino

June 14, 1999

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Casino
Gambling Industry?s Campaign Contributions

Four days from now, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission will officially report its findings. The Gambling Commission was created amid broad public concern about the impact of gambling on our society. As these concerns have grown, the funding of political campaigns by gambling interests has skyrocketed. Today, we release our own findings about the casino gambling industry?s adept use of the campaign finance system to obtain its political objectives. And we find that the odds of payoff from corporate investments in our political system are far better than the odds faced by the people betting in the casinos.

During this decade, the gambling industry’s contributions to federal elections have increased quite dramatically — from about $1.2 million in the 1992 election cycle to almost $6.4 million in the 1998 cycle. Most of that cash infusion in the last cycle came in the form of soft money, the single most corrupting influence on our democracy.

This is not penny-ante dough. They?re not paying out this kind of money out of the goodness of their hearts. They?re placing their bets on politicians who they expect will play the right cards in Congress. And as our report shows, they got their money?s worth — and more.

Our report focuses primarily on the activities of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who is one of the Republican Party?s chief fund-raisers and has repeatedly put the financial interests of casino gambling above most of his Mississippi constituents and the country at large.

Sen. Lott has proven a powerful drawing card for gambling money. In the past two election cycles, 40 percent of the soft money contributions to Republicans from the casinos went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where Lott is most deeply involved as a fund-raiser and political strategist. In fact, from the 1994 election cycle to the 1998 cycle, the NRSC?s take from the casino industry skyrocketed from a paltry $7,800 to almost $1.3 million.

Despite his party?s “family values” posture and its long courtship of conservative Christians, Sen. Lott has worked quietly but diligently on behalf of the wealthy casinos owners, who are clearly not interested in what?s best for America?s families. He has gone to bat for the casinos time and time again, even going so far as to help quash federal environmental assessments of the impact of casino development along Mississippi?s sensitive Gulf Coast.

He helped the casinos get a tax break on free meals they provide to employees, costing the U.S. Treasury more than $30 million a year. He helped dilute the subpoena power of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, so that top executives wouldn?t be subjected to public scrutiny. He played a major role in preventing a Senate debate on a measure that would have helped pay for an education initiative by stopping high rollers from deducting gambling losses from their income taxes.

Sen. Lott?s sustained and energetic activity on behalf of the casino gambling industry?s political agenda is clearly related to his official party role in collecting industry soft money. The financial incentives for his actions are clear, and they undermine public confidence in our democracy.

Once again, we see how massive campaign contributions influence government decisions. Once again, we see how wealthy special interests get special deals in Congress. Once again, we see how our government has been captured by special interests. And it?s not just gambling interests. It?s banking. It?s telecommunications. It?s hi-tech companies. It?s the drug companies. It?s across the board. And it?s out of control.

We can?t be any more plain. This is government of the special interests, by the special interests and for the special interests. It is a stacked deck that harms people in their everyday lives and fundamentally undermines our democracy.

The good news is that a majority in the U.S. House and a majority of the U.S. Senate are willing to pass ground-breaking campaign finance reforms. These reforms would stitch up the gaping loophole of soft money that is collected in unlimited amounts from special interests and wealthy Americans with business before our national legislature. And they would curtail the use of phony “issue ads” that are really campaign ads in disguise.

Unfortunately, Sen. Lott stands in the way of majority rule. Lott is a serial filibusterer who is almost single-handedly stopping the McCain-Feigngold reform bill from becoming law. Last year, as you know, the House passed the companion Shays-Meehan bill with 252 votes. But Lott led a filibuster that kept the Senate from voting on it. This year, House Speaker Hastert has employed delaying tactics to keep the House from voting on the legislation until September, when he knows it will be easier for Lott to avoid a fair up-or-down vote in the Senate.

This is not what our nation stands for. Our founding fathers did not envision a government for sale to the highest bidder, the gambling industry or any other. But that?s what we have. And it?s shameful.

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 erode our political institutions.