Casino-industry interests contributed more than $4.3 million to candidates seeking election in Pennsylvania - nearly one-quarter of it to Gov. Rendell - and political committees in the last seven years, according to a review of records by a good-government group.
The study by Common Cause of Pennsylvania said donors included those with ownership stakes in one or more of the state's 14 approved casinos, slot-machine manufacturers, and the horse-racing industry.
The report says the absence of contribution limits - despite a state ban on them for a period - has allowed a "massive sustained campaign to expand casino gambling with relatively little scrutiny." Common Cause also faulted what it called a lack of mandated disclosure of contributions between 2002 and 2007, and poor access now to contribution records.
"This study helps explain the gaming industry's winning streak in Pennsylvania," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.
The top recipient was Rendell, who got more than $1 million from casino interests between 2001 and 2008. He was followed by former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo - generally considered the lead architect of the state's 2004 gaming law - with $400,900.
"Given that the governor ran for office advocating slots gaming in the commonwealth, it is not surprising that he got significant contributions from people who shared his point of view," said Rendell's spokesman Chuck Ardo.
The top donor was Ira Lubert and Lubert-Adler Management, which owns interests in casinos yet to be built in Valley Forge and Pittsburgh, with $455,858, followed by Peter DePaul of the planned Foxwoods Casino in Philadelphia with $425,750, and Louis DeNaples of Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos with $403,125.
Rick Kelly, a spokesman for Lubert, said Lubert's contributions were made before he entered the gaming industry in June 2007. "He does not plan to resume contributions to candidates for offices that have any legislative or regulatory role regarding Pennsylvania's gaming industry," Kelly said.
DePaul brought a lawsuit that led to the state Supreme Court's ruling in April striking down a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests. Pennsylvania now is one of the few states without contribution limits.
DeNaples' casino license was temporarily revoked after he was indicted over alleged lies about his ties to organized crime. It was reinstated this month after the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office dropped the charges.
Before 2005, a DeNaples spokesman said, DeNaples had been involved in a variety of business interests in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but when he decided to pursue a gaming license in December 2005, he stopped making political contributions.
"He was for many years a businessman that politicians, particularly Democratic politicians, sought out," said DeNaples spokesman Kevin Feeley. "His view was that he was somebody that was asked to make contributions, and he understood that. He has a set of political beliefs, and he was allowed to contribute, and he did."
Philadelphia lawyer Richard Sprague - who owns an interest in the proposed SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia - was the sixth largest contributor with $178,500. Sprague served as Fumo's lawyer from 2003 to 2007, when Fumo was under an investigation that led to his conviction on corruption charges in 2009.
"Gaming is the closest thing we have in this country to a license to print money, so it's extremely important that this industry be regulated," said Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.), who now holds Fumo's seat.
The study also found $12.3 million in contributions from lawyers and lobbyists licensed to represent the state's 14 gaming facilities. The group said it included those donors because gambling expansion has resulted in a slew of court cases and license applications, creating new business for lawyers and lobbyists.
The study was released the same day that a Senate committee voted to approve legislation to reinstate the ban on gambling contributions.
Rep. Douglas Reichley (R., Lehigh), a critic of the state's gaming law, said an interest in expanding gambling to include table games is reason to enact a law that will pass legal muster.
"With the growing momentum on table games, you'll see a substantial effort to restore the ban," said Reichley. "We have to tailor the language to make sure we don't run afoul of the court, but maintain integrity at table- games casinos."
Standing with Common Cause development director James Browning at a news conference to announce the study yesterday in Philadelphia were members of Asian Americans United, a neighorhood group fighting a proposed casino in Chinatown, and other anti-casino activists. Browning said it was critical to expand disclosure of who's giving to whom as gambling interests push to expand gambling in Pennsylvania.
House Majority Whip Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) ranked 19th among the top 20 recipients of contributions from gaming interests. He is pushing a tables games bill in Harrisburg.