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CALIFORNIAN POKER CONCERNS OVER CHOICE OF LOBBY FIRM
Friday August 12,2011 : State Assembly's new lobby firm may have a conflict of interest, say opponents.
The business relationship of Washington lobbyist firm Pace LLP with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians has raised questions on a possible conflict of interest regarding the California House of Assembly's decision in May this year to also employ the firm.
The concern is rooted in the Morongo's position as a major interested party in Bill SB40, a proposal that seeks to legalise intrastate online poker in California which has been introduced by Senator Lou Correa.
The bill, which would give exclusivity to a coalition of card rooms and tribes that include the Morongo, is opposed by other groupings alarmed at the exclusive provisions of the measure.
The publication Capitol Alert, reporting on the Pace LLB debate, says that many other tribes oppose the Correa bill, saying it doesn't give them a chance to get into the Internet poker business.
"They support online gambling but want a bill that gives more tribes the opportunity for a piece of the pie," the publication comments. "And they're the ones concerned about the Assembly hiring Morongo's federal lobbyist."
In May, the Assembly signed a $15,000-a-month contract with Pace to represent it before the federal government. Last month, Pace's managing partner Jim Wise testified at a hearing on Internet gambling.
Records show that the Morongo has employed Wise's company for over a decade, at a current cost of $280,000 a year.
David Quintana, a lobbyist for the California Tribal Business Alliance, which opposes SB 40, said it will be difficult for the tribes to get a fair hearing before the Assembly now that the lower house is employing Morongo's federal lobbyist.
"It really concerns me that the state Assembly decides to hire a firm at which the partner testified on behalf of the Morongo card room deal," Quintana said.
The view from the Pace camp differs, with Wise claiming that the terms of the company's contract with the Morongo preclude any question of a conflict.
"Under our contract, we don't do anything in the state. We only handle federal affairs," Wise said, adding that his testimony before state politicians last month was informational, not lobbying. He told the committee he thought the federal government is likely to approve legislation on Internet gambling.
"That was not an advocacy position whatsoever," Wise said. "It was a status update as to the likelihood of the feds doing something."
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said the Assembly's contract with Wise’s company wouldn't prevent it from fairly evaluating intrastate bills on Internet gambling.
"Lobbyists always have multiple clients, and if there's ever a conflict of interest, they can remove themselves from the situation," she pointed out.
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