Thursday, May 14, 2015

Centaur Skirts Indiana Campaign Finance Laws: Who Is Surprised?

The Star's Tony Cook actually does something we've seen too little of as of late from his newspaper--real investigative journalism. The reporter has a good read today about how the gaming company Centaur, which owns both of Indiana's horse race tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville and their complimentary trackside racinos and downtown Indianapolis off-track betting parlor, has served as host to about 30 fundraisers for State House politicians over the past two years. Aren't Indiana gaming companies and their principal owners prohibited from making campaign contributions? Yeah, sort of.

The Winner's Circle off-track betting parlor has a private party room where state lawmakers who aren't concerned about appearances of undue influence like hosting their campaign fundraiser. Centaur's CEO Rod Rodcliff and one of its principal lobbyists, Jim Purucker, have a storied history of questionable lobbying activities over at the State House which would have long ago attracted the attention of federal prosecutors in any other city in America besides Indianapolis. Rodcliff hired a long-time former state lawmaker, John Keller, to serve as the company's general counsel. Thanks to their lobbying efforts, their racinos will be allowed to become full-blown casinos with live dealers of table games starting in 2021 under a new law passed this year. Curiously, The Star finds that expenditures for fundraisers hosted at the Winner's Circle rarely, if ever, show up on the politicians' campaign finance reports.
. . .  Most of the fundraisers at the Winner’s Circle have been held in its members-only “Triple Crown Club,” a private cocktail lounge with its own cigar humidor. Renting just a portion of the room typically costs $250, according to the facility’s concierge, though that fee is usually waived if the party spends more than that on food and beverages.
But those expenses rarely show up on lawmakers’ campaign finance reports.
An Indianapolis Star review found that lawmakers failed to list any expenses or in-kind contributions for at least 20 of the Winner’s Circle fundraisers. In 10 other cases, lawmakers listed in-kind contributions of $500 to $1,100 from Jim Purucker, a contract lobbyist for Centaur.
Legal and campaign finance experts said that, at best, the fundraisers represent a gray area. At worst, they say, the practice could be illegal.
“It certainly undermines the spirit of the law if your goal is to make sure lawmakers are not influenced by campaign contributions from casinos,” said David Orentlicher, a law professor at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and a former state lawmaker. “If this is not a violation, it shows the law is not written the way it should be.”
The Star’s findings sent lawmakers from both parties scrambling to file amended campaign finance reports. Others struggled to explain who paid for the fundraiser or said they couldn’t remember . . .
If you read the rest of the story, at least part of the costs of the fundraisers were being picked up by Centaur's lobbyist, Jim Purucker. From the outset of Indiana's law banning campaign contributions from gaming licensees, the gaming industry has skirted the ban by paying very generous fees to outside lobbyists it hires to represent its interests with a wink-and-nod understanding that part of those fees will be used to make generous contributions to the politicians with whom they wish to curry favor. Everyone knows that's the case, and if they deny it, they are lying. For good measure, lobbyists like Purucker always make very generous contributions to the Marion Co. Prosecutor as a sort of free get out jail card. Even the lobbyists know that prosecutors here in Marion County are for sale just like our lawmakers. Among the lawmakers caught failing to disclose any in-kind contributions according to The Star are: Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville); Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson); Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette); Rep. Chuck Mosely (D-Portage) and Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette). Centaur's race tracks are located in Eberhart's and Lanane's districts.

The Star doesn't mention a fact that was exclusively reported by Advance Indiana last year that Centaur hired Frank Thompson last year, the husband of Sen. Jean Leising (R-Batesville), to work as a marketing specialist, as well as the president of the Indianapolis City-County Council, Maggie Lewis, who the company hired to work at its Indiana Grand Casino in Shelbyville as a human resources officer. It does mention how the company set up a phony non-profit to give State Rep. David Frizzell (R-Indianapolis) a job paying $68,000 a year back in 2005 and hired former Sen. Jeff Drozda (R-Westfield) to work on a casino project in the state of Colorado.


Anonymous said...

Have Democrat Maggie Lewis and her hubby ever taken paychecks from anything but taxpayer funded or taxpayer connected sources??? No surprise to see that Mr. Maggie Lewis is on another "connected" payola payroll.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Mr. Maggie Lewis fired for inappropriate behavior only to be rehired by sell-out Assessor Joe??

Marycatherine Barton said...

Campaign contributions = legalized bribery.

Anonymous said...

so what happened to Phil B running Centaur?