Sen. Pres. Not Taking Gaming $$

Senate President Therese Murray is holding a big fundraiser tonight (at Joe Tecce's, natch) for the Committee for a Democratic Senate, the political action committee through which she supports her colleagues and would-be colleagues in the November elections. This fundraiser -- which traditionally brings in a lot of Beacon Hill's registered lobbyists -- comes as the two-year legislative session winds toward its July 31 end date, with several pieces of legislation still very much up in the air -- perhaps most notably, the gaming bill that is in conference committee.

The timing could look a little suspicious -- in fact, does look a little suspicious to a couple of local political observers, who suggested to me that it was awfully convenient that the bill's passage was delayed in the senate, and now sits behind closed doors with a lot of specifics to be determined (slots at tracks? guarantee of a casino in Western Mass.? etc.) that mean an awful lot to certain folks. All of those folks would be inclined to pony up to the Senate President's committee right now, in hopes of a favorable outcome.

And as it happens, we won't be able to see who gave what for a couple of months. The lobbyists disclose that info twice a year, with the cutoff having just passed at June 30, and the committee's first report of contributors this year comes in September.

So, I contacted the committee to ask if they would -- in the spirit of the President's stated commitment to openness and transparency -- provide me with a list of attendees and/or contributors after the event. They declined.

But an official with the committee informed me that Murray is not taking contributions from people involved in the gaming issue -- including lobbyists and owners or executives. That applies to both her own re-election committee, and to the PAC. Both committees will vet contributions as best they can, and not accept those that they can identify as linked to a gaming interest.

That seems to me a pretty impressive commitment. Bear in mind, that would presumably bar contributions from a host of some of the most consistent contributors in town (albeit at a low capped amount): lobbyists who represent a variety of clients on Beacon Hill. Robert White Associates, for example, has Harrah's as a client; Donoghue Barrett & Singal represents Las Vegas Sands Corp.; and I could go on and on. It would also keep out money from owners and execs of the dog tracks, the native American tribes, the gaming-equipment companies, and so on. It's a fair amount to give up, in a year when the election stakes are high, and contributions are hard to come by.

Let's not go overboard, though -- Murray is only applying the ban to this one, particularly touchy issue. Lobbyists and others with other current interests on the Hill -- economic development, CORI reform, and municipal relief are all in conference committee too -- are still welcome to give.

And not everyone with any interest in gaming will be barred. For example, Local 123 of the IBEW has lobbied on the gaming bill; so has the American Lung Association, the MSPCA, Mass. Audubon, and the Fraternal Order of Police. The committee might accept contributions from representatives of some of those groups, I am told, if the gaming issue is just a small portion of the totality of their interests.

That seems reasonable, but the devil is in the details of where the line gets drawn.

Still, the Senate President may deserve credit for turning some money away, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, in a world where we tend to expect the almighty dollar to trump all. (And I will refrain from closing with a bad pun using the fact that Donald Trump is one of the interested developers.)

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