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McClendon introduces legislation to rein in gambling influence in state politics

At a press conference earlier today, Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced legislation that prohibits gambling interests from giving money to candidates for the Legislature, the lieutenant governor, and the governor. It likewise bans candidates for those offices from accepting campaign contributions from gambling interests.

“The purpose of this legislation is to get things in Alabama back in balance,” said McClendon. “There is a multibillion-dollar international corporation that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alabama senate candidates. This corporation owns casinos in three countries, three states, and has four locations in Alabama and they want more.”

McClendon was clearly referencing the Poarch Band of Creek Indians without mentioning its name. 

“No other entity in Alabama that has an interest in gambling, whether it be a lottery, electronic bingo, horseracing, or charity bingo, has amassed the buying power of this group,” continued McClendon. “Any other competitor in Alabama is ill-equipped to compete.”

Over the last decade, PCI has used cash resources from its billion-dollar gambling empire to give millions to political candidates, giving them unprecedented access to influential Republican members of the state legislature. 

McClendon points out that other states have legislation prohibiting or limiting contributions from those in the gambling industry to elected officials, candidates, or parties. These states included Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Virginia.

“Champions of campaign finance reform praise this reform as a necessity to curb excessive influence and corruption,” said McClendon.

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He also listed three persuasive reasons as to why such legislation is necessary and wise.  

“First, a state has a compelling interest in regulating gambling and protecting its citizens from the dangers associated with gambling. Secondly, a state has a compelling interest in preventing or attempting to prevent gambling entities from gaining influence over legislators or other political officials and thirdly, a state has a compelling interest in protecting the gambling entities themselves from being pressured into making such political contributions.”

McClendon said he was not, “making claims of corruption,” or “undue influence based on monetary contributions,” but said the state offices holder should “be wary of the appearance of corruption” or “undue influence.”

He also acknowledged that there is a possibility that some gambling entities or others might bring a legal challenge to the legislation but says there is precedent for such restrictions.

“There is precedence in Alabama for campaign contribution restrictions in Alabama,” said McClendon. “Public utilities are banned from making political contributions to candidates for the Public Service Commission. No attempts were made to overthrow the legislation.” He further stated, “There is precedence in Alabama for restrictions to be placed on advocacy groups that overstep their bounds.”

He concluded the press conference saying, “Let there be no doubt about my intent in advocating for the passage of this bill. I emphatically state that the purpose of the bill is to limit the gambling industry’s influence in the political process.”

He also urged his fellow lawmakers to “realize that we are at a crossroads for our state. Now is the time to put a stop to this invasion of gambling dollars with such high propensity for corruption.”

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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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