Gambling opponents in Iowa are criticizing Governor Culver for accepting more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from individuals and organizations tied to gambling. Mitch Henry of the group “No Casino Iowa” says he sees a clear correlation between the campaign contributions and Culver’s letter to the Racing and Gaming commission urging it to approve four new casinos.
“I think it’s highly inappropriate for the governor to get involved during the middle of the process,” Henry says. “It’s up to the Racing and Gaming Commissioners to make that decision, not Governor Chet Culver.”
Henry describes himself as a recovering gambling addict and he’s culled through Culver’s campaign contribution list. Henry says Culver’s received nearly $50,000 from people who’re lobbying for a new casino in Fort Dodge. “I see there’s a direct correlation between the campaign contributions and the casino proposals, him encouraging that,” Henry says.
Culver dismisses the allegation there’s a tie between the campaign cash and his public support for granting casino licenses to Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, Tama and Larchwood. “It’s ludicrous. I mean, I have raised millions of dollars. I’ve run for statewide office — this will be my fourth time,” Culver says. “Last year we raised I believe more than $2 million. You’re talking about a very small percentage of that that was related to gaming interests at all.”
Some of the contributions cited by Culver’s critics are from individuals tied to existing casinos and those casinos actually oppose the bid by the four cities to land new casinos. Culver says he’s not the only 2010 candidate for governor who has accepted campaign cash from casino-connected contributors. “In fact one of Terry Branstad’s biggest contributors owns two casinos,” Culver says. “So I don’t think it’s accurate to suggest that has any impact whatsoever on anything but the fact that these groups are supportive of the Culver/Judge Administration and what we’ve done to move Iowa forward.”
Gary Kirke, a Des Moines businessman, owns Wild Rose Entertainment which operates casinos in Emmetsburg and Clinton. Kirke has given more than 25-thousand dollars to former Governor Branstad who is seeking a fifth term as governor. Culver is running for reelection to a second term this November.