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
shouldnt be singled out, since realtors, grocers, auto dealers, etc., etc.
legitimately contribute to the political success of candidates and office holders. The
gambling racket isnt 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.
Thats 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
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 governors call, but we will try. If the state is not
successful some way or another in cutting the link between the gambling industrys
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