Several candidates for Palm Beach County and Lake Worth municipal offices have taken money from a Political Action Committee largely funded by gambling interests. The money went to Melissa McKinlay, candidate for County Commission ($1,000); Lake Worth Mayor Pam Triolo ($500) and City Commissioner Andy Amoroso ($500); and School Board candidate Erica Whitfield ($1,000).
The PAC, Committee for a Prosperous Florida, is the creation of state Sens. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) and Jeremy Ring (D-Margate). It has received tens of thousands of dollars from Florida companies that operate internet gambling cafés and from the Malaysia-based Genting Group, a global giant in the casino industry.
CPF, which has also received major support from agricultural interests, including Big Sugar, has been funded to the tune of $194,000 since January of 2009 and had more than $40,000 on hand as of this week. Genting, which has sought and failed to gain legislative approval for a Las Vegas-style casino in Miami, has given CPF $35,000, $20,000 of that just last month. The company in two years has spent more than $3 million on political activity in Florida. Its latest plan is to be licensed for slots and off-track betting in Miami.
County Commission candidate McKinlay -- the only local candidate to respond to New Times' request for comment (other than Whitfield, who we could not reach) -- said she "was not aware of the PAC's contribution sources... I knew this contribution came from Senator Clemens. I have the utmost respect for him. I am honored to have his support."
In a phone call, Clemens readily acknowledged his leading role in CPF. "Pretty much every Florida senator and many of the representatives have political committees they're affiliated with," he said."Different groups make contributions based on their support of that person and the issues they support."
Clemens, who sits on the Senate Gaming Committee (which has yet to pass any legislation but is gearing up to do so), said he's "been vocal for years, extremely laissez-faire as far as gaming. It's not a moral issue for me. It's just another business... It's not a quid pro quo; I've been clear on the issue long before any contributions."
As far as social ills associated with gambling, Clemens acknowledged their reality. "If you're going to allow expanded gambling," he said, "you have to put money aside for that small section of the population." He said he would support no measure that did not include such steps.
Clemens disavowed the label of "kingmaker," despite CPF's spigot of cash. It "certainly allows me to support the candidates who are good for my area," he said. "I especially like supporting strong female and LGBT candidates."
Do contributors like Genting oversee whose campaigns CPF's funds go to? "I'm sure they're well aware the money goes to local candidates," Clemens said. And are the candidates aware of the money's ultimate source? "They have no idea," he said.
"The whole question of money in politics disturbs me," Clemens said. "But while I'm here, I'm going to try to use my power for good. If I can use these corporations' money to help good people get elected, I'm going to do it."
Clemens suggested his PAC's contributors could grow to include individuals and organizations opposed to the expansion of gambling in Florida. But, he granted, that has not happened yet.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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