Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Gambling on the Gambling Issue

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 16, 2009

As the state Republican Party continues to accumulate more and more candidates and possible candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the only announced Democrat running for governor, continues to accumulate more and more money.

According to a campaign finance report released Wednesday, in the past three months, Denish raised more than $512,000 for the 2010 race. That means she’s raised more than $2.2 million since the beginning of 2007. And, as of the end of June, more than $1.8 million of that still was in the bank.

Her biggest contributors were unions: $25,000 from The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and $11,500 from the New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council.

Denish’s campaign released the report voluntarily. Under current law, candidates are required to file just one report, in May, with the Secretary of State’s Office. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a new law requiring more frequent reports, but that doesn’t go into effect until after the next election.

Therefore, there are no new reports for comparison from the Republican candidates. So far, former GOP state chairman Allen Weh and former Bernalillo County Republican chairman Greg Zanetti are campaigning actively for the position, while U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones and public-relations company owner Doug Turner have said they are thinking about it. Blogger Heath Haussamen reported Wednesday that longtime Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez will announce her GOP gubernatorial primary bid this week.

The Gamble: While Republicans can’t be happy with Denish’s fundraising successes, there were some contributions listed that are bound to lift their spirits. She received $10,000 from Sun Ray Gaming of New Mexico, which runs a racetrack in Farmington, plus $1,966 from Zia Park Racetrack in Hobbs and $1,500 from Sunland Park Racetrack.

This money fits in well with the theme in a cable television ad from the state GOP last week lambasting Denish for casting tie-breaking votes on a bill to expand the hours of operations for nontribal casinos in the state while taking tens of thousands of dollars from gambling interests. The ads refer to statements Denish made prior to being elected that gambling was bad for the economy. The ad calls Denish’s votes “a pay-to-play jackpot.”

The state Democrats tried to dismiss the ad, pointing out that it only ran on cable stations, not broadcast TV. But there's lots of folks these days-- like me -- who watch almost exclusively the cable news networks (and Comedy Central), so I'm not sure that distinction is vital.

One thing the ad doesn’t mention is that out of the 19 senators who voted for the racetrack bill, nine were Republicans. In fact, a lopsided majority of Senate Republicans voted for the bill.

And some of the same gambling figures who have contributed to Denish also have given to the GOP. Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino owner Stan Fulton of Las Vegas, Nev. — who has given Denish $25,000 so far in her gubernatorial run as well as $10,000 for her last lieutenant governor run — gave the state Republican Party $10,000 in 2002 and $25,000 in 2000. (This information is from the National Institute of Money in State Government and Denish’s own reports.)

And in material sent to reporters to back up the ads, the Republicans guild the lily somewhat by referring to gambling contributions to “the Richardson/Denish ticket.” While candidates for governor and lieutenant governor do run together as a ticket, the candidates maintain separate campaign treasuries.

Still, there are plenty of gambling contributions to Denish herself to give her opponents ammo: $22,500 from Zia Park CEO Bruce Rimbo since 2006, $17,000 from Ruidoso Downs in 2006 and so forth.

But her political director, Steve Fitzer, said Wednesday that the campaign won’t shy away from taking more gambling money. “We’ll accept contributions from any legitimate business in New Mexico,” he said. He also defended Denish’s tie-breakers. The track in Denish’s hometown of Hobbs employs 650 people during racing season, he said. “Her vote helped create jobs,” he said.

But somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the “pay-to-play jackpot” talk from the Republicans.

Below is the ad: