AP: Riley PAC got $10K from Indian casino lobbyist

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2010

MONTGOMERY. (AP) — Gov. Bob Riley’s political action committee that is fighting private bingo casinos in Alabama has received $10,000 from a lobbyist for Indians operating federally protected bingo casinos in the state.

Steve Windom told The Associated Press on Thursday that the governor asked him to contribute to the political action committee, called GOV PAC, and that he gave $10,000. But he said the governor did not say what the PAC would do with the money.

“I was asked to make a contribution to a PAC for no particular purpose,” Windom said.

A spokesman for the governor denied any improper influence as a result of the contribution.

The Huntsville Times reported earlier that the entire $138,000 raised by Riley’s PAC this year went to Citizens for a Better Alabama, an organization fighting private electronic bingo casinos in the state. The Indian casinos operate under federal law and have not been targeted by Riley’s task force on illegal gambling.

Ethics Commission filings reviewed by AP show Windom represents Azalea City Racing Club, in which the Poarch Indians hold a majority interest. The Poarch Indians operate electronic bingo casinos at Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.

Supporters of private casinos have questioned why Riley has tried to shut down private casinos and allowed Indian casinos in the state to thrive. Riley has repeatedly said his job is to enforce Alabama law against illegal gambling and that electronic bingo machines are illegal.

Jay Walker, a spokesman for Country Crossing, a bingo casino at Dothan that closed due to the threat of a task force raid, said the governor and administration officials “have clearly crossed the line of public trust and at the very least blurred the line of legal limits of his office.”

Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, said the governor has known Windom, a former lieutenant governor, for a long time.

“He represents several organizations. If anyone has the idea the governor is doing anything to help any gambling interests, well that’s just ridiculous. He’s always opposed gambling,” Emerson said.

The Times said the biggest donors to the governor’s PAC are the Drummond Company of Birmingham and Dothan businessman John Watson, each giving $20,000. Other large donors, along with Windom, are Scott Bridge Co. of Opelika, $12,500; Scott Investments of Opelika, $12,500; Wellborn Cabinet of Ashland, $10,000; and Opelika businessman Charles Lawler, $7,100.

Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson said earlier that the funds are not sent to the governor but to the PAC’s treasurer, Kay Craig Nimm of Chelsea, and the PAC’s official address is a post office box in Birmingham.

Emerson said the PAC is to help candidates and causes that Riley supports.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it,” he said.

Jim Sumner, executive director of the state ethics commission, said he doesn’t seen any conflict with ethics laws in the PAC’s funding of the anti-bingo group.

But Jess Brown, professor of political science at Athens State University, said Riley should not have allowed himself to be named the chair of a PAC.

“When you start converting the resources of your office, even in a symbolic way, toward fundraising, you should avoid that and get that done through a third party,” he said.