Monday, July 23, 2007

Slots Political Donations

8 On Your Side Investigation: Slots Political Donations
POSTED: 4:41 pm EDT April 13, 2006
UPDATED: 6:16 pm EDT April 13, 2006

Pennsylvania politicians took a gamble on slots. Now, are they the ones winning big with political contributions from gaming interests?

News 8 On Your Side government reporter Ben Simmoneau looked for the answer to this question.

Two months after Gov. Ed Rendell signed Pennsylvania's slots bill into law, he took a $10,000 campaign check from David Levan, who is now hoping to open a slots parlor near Gettysburg.

A month after that, Senate majority leader David Brightbill took a $10,000 check from a company connected to a slots proposal in the Poconos even though Brightbill voted against gambling.

The two contributions are just a fraction of the money slots applicants have doled out to Pennsylvania politicians over the last two years.

"What campaigns are about are raising large sums of money," said News 8 Political Analyst Dr. Terry Madonna.

Slots hopefuls seem willing to pay up.

Every major statewide elected official has taken money at some point since 2004. Both of the major candidates for governor are on the list. Lynn Swann took in one donation worth $100,000 despite the fact that he's anti slots.

House Speaker John Perzel has taken numerous contributions, ranging up to $25,000.

Dozens of other lawmakers have followed suit. The biggest direct recipient in the Susquehanna Valley is Sen. David Brightbill, who took at least $22,000. But this week, he decided to give it all back. Brightbill would not comment on camera for this 8 On Your Side story.

Lancaster Rep. Mike Sturla received $10,000. He agreed to speak with News 8 about it: Sturla: "I'm up front about it."

Simmoneau: "Why do you think they gave you $10,000?"

Sturla: "Because I'm a deputy whip and have influence in the state of Pennsylvania and because I've been supportive of gaming in Pennsylvania."

Sturla's contribution came last year from a company run by the Denaples family. That family is the one behind a Poconos slots application.

"I don't know them. I learned about it when I got the check from them," Sturla said.

Counting Contributions

News 8 arrived at the numbers for this story by taking the gaming board's list of slots applicants, found online, and plugged each name into the state's campaign finance database. If you'd like to see a full list of the numbers we found click here. The link goes to a PDF file.

According to this method, News 8 found that state Sen. Terry Punt took in $10,000 for his 2004 reelection campaign from Levan, the Gettysburg slots backer. Punt said he didn't know at the time that Levan would be applying for a slots license.

"Dave Levan is a very good personal friend," said Punt.

A number of other Susquehanna Valley state lawmakers received much lower gaming-related contributions. Most said they didn't know a check was linked or would be linked to gaming when they received it.

"What becomes problematic is the size of the contributions," said Madonna.

Madonna said the $10,000 and $20,000 contributions are huge for state lawmakers.

"People believe now, will believe now, that the gaming interest has an undue influence," Madonna said.

Sturla, though, said it would be tough to find a state lawmaker in Harrisburg who hasn't received money from gaming, directly or indirectly.

"Because the gaming industry in particular has hired just about every lobbyist in the state of Pennsylvania, there's very few members of the legislature that can say they didn't receive some money from a lobbyist somewhere," Sturla said.

Pennsylvania's gaming law prohibits slots applicants from handing out campaign contributions once they've submitted their application to the state gaming control board. That means there cannot be any state campaign donations this year.

Copyright 2006 by All rights reserved




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