Gambling opponents today called for Illinois to ban casino interests from making political campaign contributions and for Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a pending casino expansion bill.
Common Cause, a government watchdog organization, released a report saying the casino industry has contributed more than $9 million in Illinois since 2002.
The group's research comes after a Tribune analysis that showed gambling interests contributed about $812,000 to members of the General Assembly, the governor and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel since the beginning of 2010 in the run-up to the legislature's passage of a bill that grants Chicago a casino and greatly expands gambling around the state.
But James Browning, the regional director of state operations for Common Cause, said loopholes in the Illinois make it difficult to track the true spending levels because special interests can funnel funds through other organizations. And since Illinois does not require lobbyists to report how much they have earned in fees and compensation from their clients, the actual amount is likely much greater than records indicate.
"What that means is that Illinois citizens are largely in the dark when it comes to tracking the lobbying by casinos and other interests," Browning said at a Loop news conference.
The state banned such political donations in 1972 in the midst of a horse-racing scandal that rocked the state and led to the conviction of former Democratic Gov. Otto Kerner. The ban was lifted in 1990.
At the very least, loopholes should be closed to make the true amounts spent by the gambling lobby in Illinois apparent, Browning said. "The debate going forward cannot be full, cannot be fair, cannot be open until the state's laws are strengthened to shine a much, much brighter light on the industry," he said.
Legislators told the Tribune there is no connection between the amount of money they have received from casinos and their votes on the gambling issue.
Quinn has remained noncommittal about the gambling expansion bill, which the General Assembly passed at the end of May but which has not yet reached the governor's desk. It's being held in the Senate by a procedural move.
Under the bill, Chicago could get a land-based casino and authority to put slot machines at O'Hare International Airport. The state's 10 casinos along Illinois rivers would have the opportunity to leave the water altogether and nearly double in size. Four new casinos would be permitted, in Lake County, the south suburbs, Rockford and Danville, as well as slot machines at Illinois' racetracks.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun