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Casino magnate's donation to GOP might be illegal, activist says

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 2:14 p.m.

HARRISBURG — An activist is asking the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to determine whether a donation from a casino executive that went to a state Republican group was legal.

Nathan Sooy, a member of the advisory board for the liberal group Keystone Progress, said he complained to the gaming board's Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement about an almost $1 million donation he suspects violates the state's ban on political donations by the gambling industry.

Pennsylvania's 2004 slots law prohibits casino interests from contributing to campaigns.

The complaint, which Sooy said he mailed on Thursday evening, draws on campaign finance records filed with the Department of State. A spokesman for the gambling board said on Friday that the board had not received Sooy's letter.

Records show the Republican Governors Association Pennsylvania 2014 political action committee received $987,844 from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson on Dec. 31. Adelson is CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns Bethlehem Sands Casino Resort in the Lehigh Valley.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for the company, said Adelson made a donation to the Republican Governors Association but didn't intend it to go to the Pennsylvania committee or any candidate for state office in Pennsylvania.

“The RGA mistakenly allocated a contribution to the PAC, without Mr. Adelson's knowledge or consent,” Reese said in an email. “The RGA is working to correct this mistake.”

A spokesman for the Republican Governors Association declined comment.

Finance records show the GOP committee donated $1.6 million to Gov. Tom Corbett's re-election campaign on April 30. The committee made multiple donations to the state Republican Party.

“There is nothing wrong or questionable about the contributions we have received from the RGA,” said Chris Pack, Corbett's campaign spokesman.

Sooy's complaint argues that the donations show Adelson intended for the money to influence Pennsylvania politics, even if he didn't specify a candidate.

“We really want the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement to go over this with a fine-tooth comb,” Sooy said.

Larry Otter, a Doylestown attorney who specializes in election law, said Adelson didn't break any laws if his donation to the Pennsylvania committee was a mistake.

“If he did write a check to Tom Corbett, that's a pig of another squeal,” Otter said. “(But) if Mr. Adelson, in good faith, wrote a check to the Republican Governors Association and it went to Pennsylvania, then that's their mistake.”

Critics of political action committees say big-money contributors often use them to get around restrictions on campaign donations. Craig Holman, campaign finance reform lobbyist for the consumer group Public Citizen, said authorities should take Sooy's complaint seriously.

“Just saying ‘I made a mistake' generally doesn't get you off the hook,” Holman said. “It is definitely something the (gaming) board should look into.”

Sooy's complaint cites the law that bans casino owners and managers from contributing to candidates or political parties.

Sooy said Adelson's donation “just didn't pass the smell test.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chairs the Republican Governors Association. A spokesman for his office declined comment on the allegations in the complaint.

Gideon Bradshaw is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. Reach him at bradshawgideon@gmail.com.

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