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Gaming money and republican politics: Let the chips fail where they may

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—For years, it has been known that gambling money has flowed freely into the Alabama political process. There is nothing legally wrong with such high-stakes giving as long as all parties follow the rules.

For years the Alabama GOP has used the fact that Alabama Democrats have accepted gaming money as a way to point out the Republican’s moral superiority.

But it appears that some who claim the high ground, are little more than high rollers of a different kind. It appears that winning elections with gambling money while carrying the anti-gambling torch has a better payoff than the “Pick-Six.”

Writing in 2012 Gary Palmer, head of the conservative Alabama Policy Institute wrote, “While there were a number of issues and reasons why Alabama voters threw out the Democrat majority and replaced them with a Republican majority in 2010, the key reasons were that voters wanted to put a stop to gambling kingpins tying up the Legislature and they were tired of them making a mockery of our state laws.”

In Palmer’s article he also says, “But according to Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, the days of the legislative session being held hostage by gambling interests are over.”

So, according to Palmer, the people voted out those who took gambling money in return for legislative favor. He also seems to think that Hubbard and Marsh would not participate in such quid pro quo.

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But just last week, we learned of a money laundering scheme that would place some top republicans in the middle of piles of gambling cash. No one gives hundreds of thousands of dollars without a promise of something in return, that goes for Democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps, plausible deniability is enough for the most voters and politicos but I am not buying what is being sold. In responding to the recent revelations about $350,000 going from the Poarch Creek casino operators to the RSLC and $1,273,000 going from the RSLC to various Republican PACs in Alabama Hubbard said, “We were assured that none of our contributions came from gambling sources.”

Outside of organized crime and politics it is laughable to think that people accepts millions of dollars and don’t question the source.

According to Al.com, “The RSLC pumped more than $1 million into Alabama campaigns in 2010, largely to the Alabama Republican Party and a political action committee aimed at helping Republicans take over the Alabama Legislature. It also gave to a group that opposed legislation aimed at allowing electronic bingo machines at non-Indian casinos.”

That money trail leads to the Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA) headed by Birmingham lawyer named A. Eric Johnston.

Johnson has been a champion of the anti-gambling movement in Alabama. The CBA website says, “We engage the legal and political culture on a range of issues, including gambling, traditional marriage, and the sanctity of life.”

But it appears Johnson and the CBA received gaming money to fight gambling in Alabama. As the kids would say, “How cool is that?”

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Not very cool in my book, it is a dangerous and dishonorable affair.

Recently, Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) established a commission on Alabama Values and States’ Rights, surely anti-gambling is a part of many Alabamian’s values. Will they support this type of action, taking gambling money to win elections, while lying about the source?

Can we win using vice and still preach our virtue? I am reminded of sins of omission and sins of commission, is this not a part of Alabama values?

To take money from gaming with one hand while saying with your lips that you are against gambling is that not dishonest?

In the 2010 election then chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Mike Hubbard released a statement saying:”When you talk about deceptive practices to move campaign money around and look at what groups are driving the back room deals, Steve Raby and his political action committee will be at the top of every list.”

Is this a case of pointing one finger at someone else while pointing three back at yourself?

Current Chairman of the Alabama GOP Bill Armistead has said that he has ended the practice of taking money from the RSLC and from any gaming interest.

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This is a good thing if the GOP wants to continue its stand against gambling.

However, this is America, in some places gambling is legal. Indian gaming is legal in Alabama, so if a politician takes money from them it is okay.

But, wait, if Democrats are corrupt for taking gambling money in the light of day, what do you call those who take it with a PAC-to-PAC transfer?

A recent editorial from the Dothan Eagle reads, “Now we learn that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates gambling interests in Alabama, donated $100,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee on the same day that the RSLC gave the same amount to Citizens for a Better Alabama, an anti-gambling organization opposing legislation that would allow Alabama voters to consider making electronic bingo legal.

Incidentally, Gov. Riley’s son, Rob Riley, was raising funds for Citizens for a Better Alabama, which is a descendent of the anti-gambling group that earlier received covert Mississippi Indian casino money.

Rob Riley denies knowing about the Poarch donation to the Republican group, and, of course, the state’s loosey-goosey campaign fund transfer laws allow legal money laundering and give recipients plenty of plausible deniability.”

Of course none of these actions appear criminal, only hypocritical.

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But hypocrisy in politics is no crime, for some it is just business as usual.

The Poarch Creek Band of Indians are treated like second class citizens or worse by some in the GOP leadership, yet, they happily take their money.

The Poarch Creek Band of Indians advertise on our site. They get nothing in return but a fair shake which they would receive from us anyway.

I don’t think some in the GOP would do the same.

These leaders should be ashamed and a full disclosure should be forthcoming.

I am ashamed that I voted for some of these people.

So, surprise, surprise, members of the GOP leadership are taking gaming money while preaching against it.

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Like the scene from Casablanca when Captain Renault says, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” as a croupier hands Renault a pile of money. I am not shocked just disappointed.

I fear this latest revelation is just the tip of the iceberg, with more to be discovered.

One has to wonder what all those upright freshman Republicans are feeling today. Do they buy into the plausible deniability, the holier- than-thou sermons of their leaders or are they starting to see that the new bosses may be a lot like the old ones?

How much gambling money got those freshmen elected? If I were one of them I would want to know.

The freshman Republicans promised to root out corruption. It may not be illegal what was done by the GOP, but it breaks the spirit of what they told the voters.

Is there anyone brave enough to stand up for honor and integrity? 
I guess we will know in time but for now we have to let the chips fall where they may.

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Bill Britt
Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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