Bill would ban political gifts by gambling groups

February 22, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,STAFF WRITER

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons renewed yesterday his pitch for a bill to prohibit political donations from gambling interest groups and said that, if necessary, he will propose a ban as an amendment if a slots bill makes it to the House floor for a vote.

The Montgomery County Democrat told a House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting that such a ban "deserves to be urgently considered."

"If we do not act now to staunch the flow of gambling money into the state of Maryland, we will find ourselves with a constant battle that this General Assembly has to wage against the lobbyists of organized gambling," said Simmons, who called such contributions "a magnet for political corruption."

This is the third year that Simmons has introduced a bill that would prohibit people or companies with gambling licenses, or those seeking licenses, from donating to Maryland political campaigns. In previous years, the bill has died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Last week, the Senate passed for the third consecutive year a version of a bill to legalize slot-machine gambling, and this week a House Ways and Means subcommittee is continuing work to craft a compromise bill.

Gambling interests have contributed more than $850,000 to Maryland lawmakers and candidates over the past five years, according to Common Cause studies of political donations. A $10,000 limit on donations has been skirted by funneling money through limited liability corporations and other entities, said James Browning, director of Common Cause Maryland.

"Our current laws aren't working, and they aren't really even being enforced," said Browning.

Simmons said Pennsylvania, frequently mentioned by slots proponents, included a similar amendment in the bill passed last year legalizing slots. Louisiana and New Jersey have similar bans, both upheld by the courts.

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