March 19, 2006

Democracy is Alive and Well in Iowa

Last week the Iowa House of Representatives voted to ban the state's new "Touchplay" video gambling machines, which had been introduced less than a year earlier. This has been a big issue this spring for Iowa lawmakers, with a lot of heated debate on both sides. Businesses that are making money from Touchplay machines wanted to keep it; the handful of big casinos scattered around the state were dead set against it, since a dollar spent on Touchplay in a tavern is a dollar gamblers won't spend in the casinos.

Turns out that just days before this vote, the speaker of the Iowa House, Christopher Rants, went on a weekend golf trip with a casino industry lobbyist in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

This isn't as bad as it sounds. Rants had made his anti-Touchplay position quite clear for some time. The casino folks weren't gonna change his mind on this trip-- he was already on their side. There were other folks on the trip too, and thanks to Iowa lobbying rules limiting gifts to lawmakers to $3, everyone paid their own way. And apparently no one even discussed the Touchplay issue during the trip.

But it's still unseemly. And that's presumably why Rants felt compelled to offer this defense of the trip:
Rants said, 'I look at most of those folks... who are lobbying on behalf of the TouchPlay folks, and I've played golf with them at some point in time, too.'
As if he had completely covered the spectrum of opinions on legalized gambling in Iowa by hitting the links with two different kinds of gambling interests.

But of course, there's nothing to be done about this. As long as lobbying is legal (and it should be), better-funded and better-organized groups will be the ones who get to ride in the golf cart with state lawmakers. Maybe a publicly-funded effort to train low-income advocates in the fine points of putting would help, but at the end of the day lawmakers will hang out with whoever they want to hang out with. Nothing you can do.

Which maybe explains this:
Larry Noble, executive director and general counsel of the Center for Responsive Politics, is leaving the campaign finance and lobbying watchdog group for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he'll advise clients how to stay out of the sights of such groups as CRP in matters of campaign finance, lobbying rules and other laws and regulations that govern political activities.


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