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Stealing the Statehouse

The GOP, Gaming and the Politics of Hypocrisy

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then many prize-milking cows can be found at casinos. Just ask George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Bob Riley, Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard.
What do all of these politicians have in common? They are all republicans who have taken big money from gaming interests.

Some may say there is nothing criminal or immoral in their actions. Gaming is a legal business in many of our states and has been since its founding of our republic.
What is troubling are the hypocrites who demonize gambling while filling their campaign coffers with casino cash. Such was the case in 2010 when the Republicans campaigned to take over the Alabama State House.
In 2012, perhaps acting as apologist for the ALGOP, Gary Palmer, then 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.”
But during the battle to take control away those who Palmer disdains as “gambling kingpins tying up the Legislature and…making a mockery of our state laws,” it is well documented that Hubbard and Marsh then heads of the ALGOP solicited money from the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI) in order to wrestle control away from the Democrats.
What Palmer, who is now running for congress to replace retiring legislator Spencer Bachus, perhaps did accurately state, was those who gave gaming money to Republicans, would not be given any special privilege.
During the 2010 campaign cycle, Hubbard through Marsh solicited $350,000 from the PCI. In turn, Hubbard and Marsh gave that money to men like Senator Phil Williams (R-Southside) and Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), who would actively seek to destroy the PCI in Alabama.

In 2010, Williams received $35,000 and Taylor received $23,200 from gaming interests.

A detailed account of who received PCI money from Hubbard and Marsh can be found at the Alabama Political Reporter, under this link.

But taking money from gaming interests by the GOP is nothing new or unusual. While striking in its hypocrisy, for those who woo the evangelical voting block, it is simply business-as-usual within the National Republican Party.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, hundreds of millions of dollars poured into GOP candidates. The Republican primaries saw unprecedented sums of cash flow freely into the war chest of presidential hopefuls, most notably were the contributions given by billionaire casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire. Adelson, who is a stalwart supporter of Israel’s right-wing and an avid foe of U.S. labor unions, began flexing his political muscle as a super-donor after the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United. Again, Adelson, like the PCI, is exercising a legitimate right granted him by law. He has used his vast fortune to advance candidates and ideas that are to his liking or advantage. This is not a liberal phenomena, but a very conservative notion.

There are certainly those who truly believe in the evils of gambling and therefore refuse to take money from gaming operators.
However, more often Republican politicians, at least in Alabama, will take casino-born money, as long as the public doesn’t became aware of the fact.
Of course, that is why Hubbard and Marsh created such an elaborate ruse (moving the PCI money from Atmore to Washington, D.C. and back into Alabama).
Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour does not share in Marsh and Hubbard’s  sanctimony. He became a major gaming booster in his home state. Barbour, while governor, held a major fundraiser hosted by casino mogul, Steve Wynn.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics website, the campaign cash received from gaming operations has been just about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. In 2014, it appears the money flow will be trending more toward the GOP. Open Secrets also shows that Republicans in Congress are the top beneficiaries of gaming money. But top-tier republicans don’t generally hide their contributions from casino owners, they welcome them.

Hidden gaming money in Alabama did not originated with Hubbard and Marsh it was not even perfected by the duo. Former Gov. Bob Riley will stand for now as the ALGOP politician who most benefited from gaming, which he continues to deny to this day.
In a four-part series WTVY exposed some of the former Governor’s dealing with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
According to the report, “Governor Riley signed a letter opposing expansion of gambling casinos in Alabama on behalf of the U.S. Family Network, a public policy group funded in-part by money from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Additionally, a Congressional hearing discovered a December 2002 emails between Abramoff and Scanlon discussing the need to get Riley elected so they could keep Indian casinos out of Alabama, therefore guaranteeing the Mississippi tribes a monopoly. Scanlon writes to Abramoff, “She definately (sp) wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can’t qualify for a state contract for something like that…”
WTVY quotes from the final report in the hearing of disgraced felon Jack Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians lobbyist, saying,
“[The] report stated Abramoff told a tribal leader that Chief Phillip Martin had spent 13-million dollars to…”get the governor of Alabama elected to keep gaming out of Alabama so it wouldn’t hurt… his market in Mississippi.’”
Riley denied the report by WTVY but abundant proof has been produced to back up the finding.
As long as the rule of law is followed there is nothing wrong with taking money from gaming operators.
In the 2013 Alabama Legislative session, the State approved a bill that would allow unlimited political campaign contributions from all corporations in Alabama. Current ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead has said this will level the playing field. However, Armistead has made it clear that the Alabama Republican Party would not accept gaming money. Even stating that the party would not take funds from the Republican State Leadership Committee, (RSLC) which does accept campaign contributions from gambling interests.
However, this has not stopped many prominent Republicans from receiving money directly from the RSLC.
What seems abundantly clear is that there is a disconnect between the national party and those who wear the mantle of GOP in Alabama. Perhaps the greatest difference is in the way that Hubbard and Marsh solicited money from the PCI.
In 2012, API Director Palmer pointed out that he believed the people voted out those who took gambling money in return for legislative favor. He said he felt strongly that Hubbard and Marsh would never participate in a quid pro quo with gaming interests. Hubbard and Marsh not only took gaming money they begged for it, then tried to hide the fact that they asked for and spent gaming money liberally. The one thing the pair didn’t seem to do was give the PCI anything in return. In their acts they personified the politics of hypocrisy.
Editors note: The Alabama Political Reporter is owned by free market conservatives. Our news organization is a commercial enterprise funded by advertising, We will and do accept advertising from any legal business or individual.

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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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