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Gambling money reaches only one local lawmaker

January 25, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A cascade of money that flowed from gambling interests to state elected officials last year did not trickle down to Washington County lawmakers.

Only one lawmaker received money from groups lobbying to legalize slot machines, recently filed campaign finance reports show.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, received $500 from Ocean Downs. The horse racing track in Berlin, Md., is owned by William Rickman Jr., who has a license to build a racetrack in Allegany County.

It was a drop in the bucket compared to the $95,605 Mooney raised from the end of last session through Jan. 14. Mooney voted against slots last year.

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Gambling interests contributed thousands of dollars to lawmakers who supported slot machines last year, campaign finance reports show.

Of the $2.5 million that Gov. Robert Ehrlich raised last year, at least $45,000 came from gambling groups, the Associated Press reported.

Del. Sheila Hixson, who chaired a committee assigned to study slots last summer, received more than one-fourth of her contributions from gambling interests.

But two local lawmakers on the same committee did not receive any gambling money.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said if any money had been offered, he would have turned it down.

"To me, it kind of puts you in an awkward position when it comes to voting on their legislation," he said.

By refusing to take money from special interests, "it gives you the opportunity to be a free agent," McKee said.

That said, McKee said he will accept money from political action committees such as the Maryland Bank PAC, which represent general pro-business interests.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, said Rickman and other advocates of expanded gambling are aware of his strong anti-slots position.

Myers said he doesn't have a problem accepting PAC money when it's from an interest group that he agrees with.

"If it's something I believe in, I would hope they would support me," he said.

Generally, gambling interests did not target lawmakers who have come out with a strong opinion about slots, either for or against, said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

"If you're already on one side of the fence, they're going to leave you alone," he said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, received at least $1,600 last year from individuals and groups backing medical malpractice insurance reform. His campaign raised a total of $16,930.

A member of the House Judiciary Committee that will be reviewing the legislation, Shank has been a supporter of reform.

"I've never felt pressure to vote a certain way because of a political contribution," he said.

Shank said disclosure of campaign contributions is the best way to protect the integrity of the political process.

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