(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Charges were quietly dropped a couple of weeks ago against two Missouri legislators and a casino lobbyist who were accused of breaking gambling laws.
Associated Press and a few state newspapers ran brief articles, but as they did during the 19 months since the charges were initially filed, the media missed the point of the story.
To refresh your memory (and that’s if you ever saw the story since it has never received major play), Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, at the behest of Isle of Capri lobbyist Lynne Schlosser, used the identification of Rep. Joseph Aull, D-Marshall, to gamble during a lobbyist-financed junket to the Isle of Capri casino in Boonville on July 31, 2007.
Those charges, which were filed on Sept. 25, 2007, were reported, but the full story of what happened that night was meticulously avoided by every newspaper in the state.
Smith, Aull, Aull's wife Candee, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, were having a night out on the town at the expense of a lobbyist representing a special interest with a stake in numerous bills that were scheduled to come before the legislature during the 2008 session.
Chris Liese, a former state representative from St. Louis, and now a lobbyist for Isle of Capri spent $910 wining and dining the legislators and Mrs. Aull, according to Missouri Ethics Commission documents. A total of $130 was spent on "meals, food, and beverage" for each person, the documents indicate.
Shortly after Smith's arrest, I noted on the Turner Report blog that Smith had been a big-time recipient of casino industry contributions, many carefully laundered through other committees. I wrote:
“An examination of Missouri Ethics Commission records shows Smith received $2,600 which can be directly traced to casinos during 2006, as well as $5,400 from casino lobbyists or their clients.
“Another $4,800 appears to have come from Ameristar Casinos after being legally laundered through a Democratic Party committee. On Aug. 12, 2006, the 94th House District Democratic Committee received a $5,000 contribution from Ameristar Casinos. Three days later, the committee gave $4,800 to Smith. Oddly, Smith's own committee disclosure form says the 94th Committee contribution came Aug. 11...the day before the committee received the Ameristar Casinos contribution.
“Other casino or casino-related contributions for Smith include:
-30 days after general election 2006- Harrah's Operating $650, Isle of Capri Casinos $650
-Eight days before the election 2006- $500 contributions from Missouri Dental PAC, Missouri Pharmacy PAC, and Missouri Association of Nurse Anesthetists, all clients of Ameristar Casinos' lobbying firm Gamble & Schlemeier
-October 2006- John Bardgett and Associates, lobbying firm for Pinnacle Entertainment and numerous other clients, $650; Penn National Gaming $650
-30 days after primary- Two $650 contributions from Missouri Pharmacy PAC and $650 from MORESPAC, clients of Gamble and Schlemeier, $650 from Bardgett, $650 from Bardgett's lobbying firm
-94th House District, $4,800
All of the contributions to Smith, as well as the lobbyist-financed partying at the Isle of Capri in Boonville (with the possible exception of the actions taken by Smith, Aull and Ms. Schlosser concerning the identification card), were legal, but were they ethical.
In 2008, using virtually the same language that had been provided to legislators in 2007, the casino industry opted for placing a proposal on the November ballot which would eliminate loss limits for casinos, limit new competition for existing casinos, and…not so coincidentally, to remove the requirement for identification cards for gamblers, all on the pretext, of course, that money would go to education.
Minor charges against two legislators and a lobbyist were never the story, though they were obviously a part of it. This is just another example of the atmosphere of corruption that has enveloped Jefferson City.