STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 13, 2012….Casino backers and opponents would be required to electronically disclose ballot campaign spending to the state under a bill supported by Secretary of State William Galvin and filed by Rep. Angelo Scaccia that both said would make the information more readily available to voters.
“The issue of who’s influencing these elections is extremely important and needs to be disclosed,” Galvin told members of the Joint Committee on Election Laws Wednesday morning.
Critiquing the expanded gaming law that requires only a ward vote in Boston rather than a citywide referendum on an East Boston casino at Suffolk Downs, Scaccia prodded committee co-chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat who lives just a few miles from the site.
“We’re going to be deprived on being able to vote on that issue, but at least if we pass legislation like this we would know who the source is behind the big money,” Scaccia, a Readville Democrat, said.
Non-binding votes have already taken place in Lakeville, Freetown and Taunton on casino proposals put forth by the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes. Supporters of the bill said experience has already shown the importance of giving voters easy access to campaign spending data.
Casino developers pursuing licenses under the state’s new expanded gaming law are required to receive local approval as a condition of obtaining a license. According to Galvin and Office of Campaign and Political Finance Director Michael Sullivan, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe spent $300,000 in its campaign that led to a vote last week in favor of the tribe’s casino proposal in Taunton.
Sullivan said his office has tried to request the filings from local clerks and post them online as they become available, but is still running behind. Both Galvin and Sullivan also argued that local casino votes generate interest well beyond the borders of the local community, and OCPF is better equipped to process the information.
“Because it has such a statewide interest, it certainly bodes well to do it with us,” Sullivan said. “Most ballot question are 2 ½ overrides and are germane to just that community. That isn’t the case here.”
Currently, interested parties spending money to influence a local casino ballot question are required to file expenditure reports with the local city or town clerk eight days prior to the election and 30 days after the vote. The reports are filed on paper locally and the bill’s supporters said online state filings would be more easily accessible.
The bill (H 4049) filed by Scaccia would put those parties on a schedule identical to statewide ballot committees, and require them to file electronically with OCPF, ensuring that the disclosures get posted immediately online and are available to the public.
Reports would be due to OCPF 60 days prior to the local vote and on the fifth and 20th day of the month leading up to the election, as well as 30 days after the election.
“I would have loved to have found out how much the individuals pursuing that objective in Foxborough spent,” Scaccia said. “That did not come to a vote, but sooner or later it would have if there was not an intervening election when the voters spoke loudly.”
Casino developer Steve Wynn, with the support of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, backed off his push to build a resort casino near Gillette Stadium after voters overwhelming supported candidates for the board of selectmen opposed to casinos.
Scaccia asked the committee to quickly give the bill a favorable recommendation, but said he’d be happy just to see it released from committee, even with an unfavorable report: “At least I get a shot at the floor again to debate this before my colleagues.”
Rep. Keiko Orrall, a Lakeville Republican who has seen casino votes take place in three communities she represents, said tracking the flow of money is important and helps voters make informed decisions.
“We need to know who is influencing the voters and we need to know the source of where the money is coming from…,” Orrall said. “Opponents were outspent by entities outside of Taunton and it’s hard to know where that money was going and who was receiving that money within Taunton.”
Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and Michlewitz, the co-chairs of the Election Laws Committee, both attended the hearing along with committee members Rep. Denise Andrews (D-Orange) and Rep. Dennis Rosa (D-Leominster).
There was no one at the hearing to testify against the bill.