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Margolis wants to ban campaign cash from gambling operators to lawmakers

Calling it the "Public Confidence in Gaming Act," Sen. Gwen Margolis on Wednesday filed legislation to prohibit gambling operators from contributing to legislators,the Cabinet, and the governor.

 “A sea of cash has been sloshing into the campaign coffers of members, state-wide officials, leadership funds, and issue-advocacy bank accounts,'' Margolis said in a statement. "This area has such potential for abuse we must take strong measures to assure public confidence.”

As former Senate president who has taken her share of campaign contributions from the gaming industry, the Miami Democrat is now in a position where she's fighting a battle to keep casinos away from Miami Beach.

Judging by the fact that it's 1) an election year, 2) it's the Florida Legislature and 3) the U.S. Supreme Court has frowned upon campaign restrictions, this bill is not likely to get far. Still, it sends a message -- and maybe provokes some debate.

Here's the press release:

Senator Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) today filed a bill based on a report by Spectrum Gaming Group “to restrict the ability of the gaming industry to directly influence the political process.”   (Spectrum report, page 154) The Legislature commissioned the $400,000 report on impacts of gambling and expansion proposals to inform its review this session. 

Margolis said, “Prospective players have spent millions already as they seek to expand gambling in more forms and more areas across the state.  If a large casino is placed in your backyard, you should have some assurance the decision wasn’t fueled by large amounts of campaign cash.  We need to establish a firewall between elected officials and the gambling industry.  Any decision to change the character of our state should be made on the merits and not by influence-peddling and money.” 

Senate Bill 848, “The Public Confidence in Gaming Act,” would prohibit anyone seeking or holding a license from the state for pari-mutuel activity from making campaign contributions to any state lawmaker, the governor or cabinet, or any political committee associated with those state office holders or seekers.

 Additionally, regulators within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering would be prohibited from working or consulting for the industry for a period of 4 years.  “The additional two years is because the public perception of collusion is so great, and the industry has mega-bucks to spread around,” she said.

Margolis has been vocal in her opposition to a resort casino in her district.  Genting Americas has purchased the Miami Herald Building and Omni Hotel and wants to place a casino there.  “Biscayne Boulevard is already congested, and a casino does not fit with our two performing arts centers, two museums, and the American Airlines Arena.  This is a healthy and thriving area, with high hotel rates and occupancy.  My constituents do not want a casino here.”

“I expect to have a hearing on this bill as the Senate’s Committee on Gaming looks at gambling.  We spent the money to access the expertise of the Spectrum Gaming Group, and we cannot ignore the only specific recommendation I found in the report,” she said.  “A sea of cash has been sloshing into the campaign coffers of members, state-wide officials, leadership funds, and issue-advocacy bank accounts. This area has such potential for abuse we must take strong measures to assure public confidence.”

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