Scott Walker’s Spectacular Flip-Flop On Political Contributions From The Gambling Industry

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) speaking in Las Vegas in March 2014 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JULIE JACOBSON
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) speaking in Las Vegas in March 2014 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JULIE JACOBSON

In 1999, Scott Walker (R-WI) was a state legislator outraged by the role the gaming sector had played in the election of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Alabama and South Carolina in 1998. In a press release unearthed by ThinkProgress, he urged a bold solution: a ban on political contributions by gambling interests. But his own campaigns have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and others he sought to remove from the political process.

Walker cited the recommendations of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (a group created by Congress and chaired by Pat Robertson’s university dean Kay Cole James) urging tighter restrictions on the industry’s campaign spending and promised to reintroduce his 1997 bill to prohibit any candidate or political committee accepting “a political contribution made by any person who owns, operates or manages a casino or racetrack in any state, or who is licensed by any state to operate or manage a casino or racetrack.” The press released was obtained as part of a public records request made to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.

“We have witnessed problems with gambling contributions at the federal level and in other states,” Walker told his colleagues at a September committee hearing on the 1999 version of the bill. With gambling interests seeking to expand all across Wisconsin, he urged, “We must act now before problems evolve in this state. Our measure will act as a protection against corruption here in Wisconsin.”

Walker noted that $7.1 billion had been wagered at 17 Wisconsin tribal casinos in the 1995–1996 fiscal year and that “gambling interests distributed $61,900 in 1996 and $25,370 in 1997” in Wisconsin political donations. The committee narrowly recommended the bill, but it died in the rules committee.

A spokeswoman for now-Governor Walker did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about Walker’s current thinking on gaming contributions. But in his 2012 gubernatorial recall campaign, he accepted a $250,000 donation from Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. The Republican megadonor and his wife Miriam would each make $10,000 donations to Walker’s 2014 re-election campaign as well (in addition to a $650,000 gift to the state GOP). According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Adelsons are among Walker’s six top biggest donors since 2009.

As Walker considers a potential 2016 presidential run, he reportedly traveled to Las Vegas and met Adelson for dinner as the magnate considers which hopeful to back. Adelson is pushing for an online gambling ban, fearing Internet gaming could hurt his industry.

A ThinkProgress review of Walker’s other donors found he also received $9,000 from the Forest County Potawatomi Community (a Native American tribe that operates a Milwaukee casino). Walker got $5,000 from Wild Rose Entertainment chairman Gerald M. Kirke and $3,000 from vice chairman Michael J. Richards (their company operates two casinos in Iowa). And Peter M. Carlino, chairman of Penn National Gaming, also contributed $1,000 to Walker in 2012.

In January, Walker rejected a proposed Menominee tribal casino, in a move that reportedly benefited the Potawatomi tribe.