Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
WyBETT   Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow

An editorial in the Albuquerque Journal, on January 24, 1998, criticized the efforts of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling in attempting to introduce legislation that would make campaign contributions from the gambling industry illegal. There seemed to be two main complaints. First, political contributions have been judged by the U.S. Supreme court to be expressions of free speech and therefore protected by the Constitution. Second, the tribal casinos would have ways of funneling casino money through other tribal accounts, so they could disguise it, whereas the tracks, fraternals and veterans organizations would have no such ruse to escape the regulation.

To the second point, our recommendation would be that it would be illegal for elected and non-elected public officials in the state to receive campaign contributions from ANY branch of the gambling industry, and the regulatory people would have to determine the true source of the contribution.

Regarding the freedom of expression argument, freedom of speech is not an absolute right, and is subject to practical limitations relating to public safety, security, slander and other considerations. One argument to justify the possibility of satisfying constitutional considerations is that other states have passed similar legislation. New Jersey, one of the most gambling infested states in the Union, has had state law forbidding campaign contributions to public officials from the gambling industry for several years. It has been challenged, but it is still state law. Maryland and Virginia are working on developing similar laws.

The New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling feels that another reason that such a law would be constitutionally acceptable is that we already have New Mexico Constitutional law that forbids certain kinds of contributions to elected officials. Article 11, Section one of the constitution, referring to the Public Regulation Commission, states, "No commissioner or candidate for the commission shall accept anything of value from a person or entity whose charges for services to the public are regulated by the commission. (Adopted November 5, 1996.)" This is not an exact parallel, but the principle at work is very similar.

Other people have raised the objection that the gambling industry shouldn’t be singled out, since realtors, grocers, auto dealers, etc., etc. legitimately contribute to the political success of candidates and office holders. The gambling racket isn’t just another business. Very few other businesses depend on the weaknesses and addictions of their clients for their success, cause so much misery and devastation to society, cannibalize local businesses to such a great degree, or are

flooded with such torrents of loose cash. The mob is connected to legalized gambling in varying degrees throughout the country, including lotteries, tracks and tribal casinos.

There is no other industry (outside of the illegal drug trade) with the record of promoting the corruption of public officials around the country that gambling has. State legislators in Louisiana, Arizona, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and elsewhere have recently been indicted and/or convicted on various bribery and fraud charges relating to various forms of gambling. The former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards, along with his friend, and former 49er manager, Edward DeBartolo, are under FBI investigation for fraud and bribery relating to casino gambling. A staffer for Representative Traficant of Ohio, along with numerous Ohio police officials and local school district officials are under investigation in Mafia related gambling charges, including bribery, fraud, and murder. Comparing the gambling industry is to normal business is like comparing leprosy to a wart.

New Mexico politics is flooded with gambling money. The casinos donated almost a quarter of a million dollars to the Johnson campaign during and shortly after his election. Since then, Governor Johnson has never questioned any request from the casinos, no matter how frivolous or outrageous.

The casinos contributed almost half a million dollars to state legislators in the year before the last legislative session. Fifty-four (54) legislators received at least $2,000 from the gambling industry, some receiving as much as $47,000. Fifty-two (52) of those fifty-four (54) voted to pass the gambling industry bill, HB-399. That’s almost a hundred percent success in conversion of money into votes. There has never been another industry in New Mexico that has thrown as much money at our state political process.

There may not be a proper opportunity to present a bill restricting campaign contributions from the gambling industry this session, since matters outside of state finance are on the governor’s call, but we will try. If the state is not successful some way or another in cutting the link between the gambling industry’s millions and the political process, the gambling industry is going to be calling all the shots in the future in New Mexico.

Dr. Guy C. Clark, executive director

New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling