How the system works is that individuals and political committees donate to candidates.
When those candidates win and take office and head to Helena for the legislature, those individuals and committees become lobbyists.
Oh, they don’t do it themselves – don’t be silly!
No, they pay other people to lobby for them. You can spot these lobbyists a mile away – shiny shoes and fancy suits and smelling like they spilled the bottle of cologne all over themselves. And God…those smiles.
So we have rather nefarious people buying-off candidates with political contributions (legalized bribes) before they get elected, and then buying them off with lobbyists after they take office.
This is how our system works.
My goal today was to dig into the finance reports of the 20 members of the 150-member 2019 Legislature to see which individuals and committees bought them off before they were elected, with the goal of ascertaining whose interests those ‘leaders’ will be working toward over the next four months of chaos in Helena.
I have to admit, I went in with an agenda.
I wanted to see how many candidates took money from healthcare-related groups…candidates who – once elected – would be voting to either continue or end Medicaid expansion in Montana, something we typically refer to as Obamacare.
My agenda was dashed quickly, as it became quite apparent that healthcare wasn’t the industry most interested in swaying the legislature.
So let’s get into the candidates so you can see for yourself, and then I’ll give you a short conclusion based on history.
Here we go.
Let’s start with the leadership of the Montana Senate.
Scott Sales is the GOP president of the Montana Senate, and in a way, one of the top dogs of the whole 2019 Legislature.
He has finance reports going back to 2010, but his latest is from 2016. In it (there are actually five reports from that year) we see that…
- He took money from Charter, Northwestern Energy, BP North America, the Association of Montana Troopers, the Montana Land Surveyor’s PAC, Montana Wood Products Association, Motorola, MDU Resources (an infrastructure group), and BackPAC (a group that mostly gives to congressional democrats).
- Other groups include Health Care Services Corporation Employees’ PAC, Montana Independent Bankers, and Weyerhaeuser…which bought Plum Creek Timber in 2016 for $8.4 billion. That means the company took control of the 6 million acres Plum Creek had, including the 770,000 acres here in Montana. Weyerhaeuser now owns over 12 million acres of timberland in the US, making it a huge business, and political lobby.
- When it comes to individuals that are donating to him, we’re really interested in what business they’re in. For instance, we see that the president of Century Gaming based out of Billings is donating to him.
As a quick aside…Elsie Arntzen’s husband, Steve Arntzen, is the president and CEO of Century Gaming. Elsie ran for and won the OPI spot in 2016, and I find the fact that Elsie’s husband donated $230 to the now-president of the Montana Senate – and the fact that he in turn donated $790 to Elsie in August 2016 – to be quite questionable ethically.
Other gaming interests that gave Sales money include route operators for Golden Gaming as well as Rocky Mountain Gaming. Besides that we see lots of attorney’s giving to this man, as well as an executive from Chevron and the vice president of Plum Creek. Clearly, he’s in the gaming lobby’s pocket most of all, though, though timber is coming very close.
Here are some other members of the legislative leadership team.
- Mark Blasdel: This guy has finance reports dating back to 2008, but for the 2018 report what stood out to me where the number of individuals associated/employed by the gaming industry. We have Century Gaming & Technology, Diamond Jim’s owners, Dotty’s Casino owners, Nickel’s Casino route operators, Town Pump route operators and many more. Clearly, Blasdel is in the gambling lobby’s pocket.
- Fred Thomas: The architect of Montana deregulation has reports going back to the year 2000. We’ll focus on his 2016 reports. Mostly, Thomas is getting his money from ranchers and retired people. He also gets a lot from the gaming industry, including the Gaming Industry Association. Another is from Montanans for Affordable Housing. Thomas will likely vote against Medicaid expansion, but he has taken a lot from nursing industry workers, doctors, medical consultants as well as Consumer Direct Care Network…a group that represents over 27,000 care workers. This guy’s in both the gaming industry’s pocket, as well as the medical lobby’s pocket.
- Cary Smith: This guy has reports going back to 2008, but we’ll focus on 2018’s. Lots of gaming business owners gave him money. Big committees giving him money include Charter, Ash Grove Cement, Montana Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Conoco Philips, CVS Health, and a property insurance group. The CEO of the Montana Medical Association gave him money. This man is in the rural infrastructure lobby’s pocket.
- Steve Fitzpatrick: We have to go back to 2016 to get reports for this guy, and we see that lots of gaming industry folks gave him money, as well as the vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield and the CEO of Benefis, as well as that company’s vice president and COO. Both an attorney and the chief of staff of the Montana Department of Justice gave him money. Leaning toward the medical lobby’s pocket.
- Jon Sesso: Now we’ll get to the democrats, and this man has reports going back to 2006. His latest is from 2016. He took from GlaxoSmith Kline, Weyerhaeuser, BNSF, Charter, Motorola, Phillips 66, route operators for Golden Gaming and Rocky Mountain Gaming, as well as the CEO of Golden Gaming and that company’s manager. Mostly, this dem is in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Jennifer Pomnichowski: This woman has reports going back to 2010, but we’ll focus on 2018. She took from Charter, Trout Unlimited, the VP of Distributed Gaming for Golden Entertainment, and that company’s CEO. This woman is in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Margie MacDonald: This woman has reports going back to 2012, but we’ll focus on 2016. She took from Carol’s List, Charter, attorneys, and lots of people that don’t have job. Employees for Zinc Air, Inc. were big contributors. The governor even contributed. Honestly, the amount of “not employed” I see listed in her reports is alarming, and I’m not able to pinhole which industry bought her off.
Let’s switch gears and look at the leadership of the Montana House.
- Greg Hertz: This guy has reports going back to 2012, but we’ll focus on 2018. The owners of Town Pump gave him a lot across multiple finance reports. He took from the executive director of the Gaming Industries Association of Montana and the CEO of Century Gaming, as well as that company’s CFO. Optometrists gave him a lot. Golden Gaming is another big contributor. Clearly, this man’s in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Wylie Galt: This Republican took from the BCBS Health Care Service Corp. Employees PAC, the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, the Wood Products Association, and Weyerhaeuser. I’d put him in the timber lobby’s pocket.
- Brad Tschida: This Republican took from Northwestern Energy, bankers, insurance folks, and storage business owners. Doctors gave him a lot, as did retired folks and business owners. Greg Gianforte kicked some money his way, as did a Las Vegas gaming business person. I’m not able to pigeonhole which industry pocket he’s in.
- Becky Beard: This Republican took from Northwestern Energy and Weyerhaeuser. She got cash from the director of the Montana Tavern Association twice and the directors of Town Pump several times. The executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana donated. Conoco Philips, CVS Health, and Montanans for Affordable Housing PAC all gave her money. The CEO of Century Gaming donated, as did the managing director of Grand Vision Gaming. This woman is clearly in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Dennis Lenz: This guy has reports going back to 2010, but we’ll focus on 2018. Northwestern Energy gave him money, as did Greg Gianforte and a couple of optometrists. Besides that, workers from Rocky Mountain Gaming, Golden Entertainment and Golden Gaming all gave him money. He’s in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Derek Skees: This guy took money from Century Link, consultants, retired people, Greg Gianforte, and the owner of Golden Entertainment in Las Vegas. To me, he’s rather clean…but he is still taking gaming money so I’ll also put him in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Seth Berglee: He takes money from the Montana Beer & Wine Distributors Association, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana PAC, Charter, Century Link, Weyerhaeuser, lots of retired people, Tim Fox, and fellow legislative leadership team members, Greg Hertz and Brad Tschida, as well as Theresa Manzella. I’d put this guy in the telecom’s pocket.
- Casey Schreiner: This democrat took money from Magellan Health Services Employee Committee, Northwestern Energy, Steve Arntzen of Century Gaming, the managing director of Grand Vision Gaming, and the CEO of Century Gaming. He took from lots of retired people, as well as teachers, lots of tavern owners, as well as the owner of Nickel’s Casino and Town Pump and the head of the gaming industry association. He also took money from fellow leadership team members, Kim Abbott and Shane Morigeau. This guy is in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Shane Morigeau: This Democrat took from the Montana Troopers PAC, Northwestern Energy, Weyerhaeuser, Charter, the owner of Town Pump, lots of attorneys, the president of Century Gaming, the manager of Grand Vision Gaming, the general manager of Century Gaming, and fellow leadership team member Casey Schreiner. I’d have to put this guy in the gaming lobby’s pocket.
- Kim Abbott: She took from the Montana Trooper PAC, a couple of Missoula PACs, and the owner of Golden Gaming and Entertainment. She’s pretty clean.
- Denise Hayman: This person didn’t raise or spend any money that I can see.
- Laurie Bishop: This woman took from Carol’s List, some Missoula PACs, MT Med PAC, retired people, and the owner of Golden Gaming Entertainment in Las Vegas. For the most part, this woman is pretty clean.
- Gambling: 11
- Clean/NA: 5
- Infrastructure: 1
- Medical: 1
- Telecom: 1
- Timber: 1
Of the 20 members of the 2019 legislative leadership team, 11 of them are beholden to the gaming lobby.
Is that good, and if so…for whom (and why)?
I have to say…all of this talk of gaming in Montana got me thinking about our representative in Washington from 1961 to 1971, Arnold Olsen.
He was born in Butte during the Great War and worked in the machine shops and compressor plants of the Butte mines while taking breaks from law school in Missoula. He served in the Navy during WWII and got elected as Montana’s attorney general in 1948. At 33, he was the youngest AG in the country.
And boy, did he hate gambling!
He decried it, calling gambling operators “leeches living off the working man.” He didn’t just speak out, he took action. “He outlawed slot machines, accusing owners of escaping responsibilities as taxpayers while raking in $22 million annually.” Olsen argued that by getting rid of the slot machines the money was going to stay in Montana’s economy, not go out of state to wherever the “leeches” were from.
Because of his judiciousness in going after gambling, the 1951 Legislature didn’t appropriate any money to his office to “continue the anti-vice work.” Still, a reelection in 1952 proved he had the support of Montanans.
Olsen ran for governor and lost, but then got himself elected to a decade in Congress before fading from Montanans’ minds entirely. No one today remembers him.
Few know anything about gambling, either, or the money it brings in.
In 2015, the 16,000 video gambling machines in Montana produced $398 million in revenue for their owners, or about $24,000 a machine.
This in turn brought in $60 million to the state’s general fund via taxes (the tax rate is 15%).
Live bingo and keno don’t even come close, generating just $7,000 in taxes per year based on the 1% tax they experience.
So we’re bringing in at least $60 million a year in taxes from this, and legislators want that money, and gaming industry folks don’t want to pay anymore than that.
And it’s a lot more than it used to be. Back in 1994 the state saw $31 million in taxes for it and various counties come from the $505 million that gambling generated in the state ($444 million from video machines alone).
For over two decades now, the gaming industry has managed to lobby the legislature to keep their taxes low.
Is this good for Montanans?
Despite this revenue, many Montanans develop gambling problems, even addictions. It was estimated that “8,000 to 16,000 Montana residents have been problem gamblers at some point in their life,” according to a 1992 report.
What’s more, “another 3,500 to 11,500 Montanans may have been pathological gamblers.” The studies also revealed that the “percentage of female problem and pathological gamblers” was higher than any of the other states in the 8-state study.
No wonder why Olsen called ‘em leeches. They don’t get a lot of attention, either. It’s not like kicking an old person out of their nursing home. No, gambling works a slower kind of rot on individuals and families, a level of decay that can take years or decades to fully manifest itself.
To our legislative ‘leadership’ team, however, gambling and those who push it are a good source of income…both for the state and for their campaigns.
The gaming industry has the legislature in its pocket more than any other industry.
Is this good for Montana?