Who Beat Jim Leach?


As I was catching up on my post-election reading this morning, I took a second look at last week’s wrapup analysis of the money in the elections by the Center for Responsive Politics. One list in particular caught my eye – the one that showed the 38 races where the losing candidate spent more money than the winner.

On that list, with the lowest spending of any incumbent who lost, was Jim Leach (R-Iowa), a moderate Republican with 30 years in the House of Representatives. It was the first time I’d actually realized that Leach lost on November 7 – there were so many others, his face got lost in the crowd.

Indeed, the loss was a big surprise. His reelection race was on none of the lists of endangered seats. Indeed Congressional Quarterly’s recap said he was “shockingly defeated by Democratic college professor David Loebsack in a Democratic-leaning district in southeastern Iowa that nonetheless had re-elected Leach by handsome margins in most of his previous 15 elections.”

So what happened this time? When I pursued the question in the normal way – typing “Jim Leach defeated” into my Google toolbar – I got another big surprise.

The number one link came not from any news organization, but from BookmakersReview.com. The headline on their website: “Online gambling ban sponsor Jim Leach defeated in US elections.”

In fact, of the 10 hits that came up on that first page of the Google search, six of them referred to the online gambling issue. (Three were actually on gambling websites.)

The most complete article was on the website of InformationWeek, a publication that tracks the computer industry. As reporter W. David Gardner explained it:

Leach was the sponsor of HR 4411, the bill that stops U.S. banks and credit card companies from accepting payments for online gambling.

"A lot of poker fans were lobbying against Leach," said former New Jersey gaming regulator Frank Catania. "Poker players have been organizing. They could eventually be a (lobbying) group like the Sierra Club."

I already knew that the gambling industry was a source of serious campaign money. The Open Secrets industry profile shows they’ve given $66 million in federal elections since 1990, split nearly evenly between the two parties.

Yet there’s no obvious clue of any gambling money in the campaign, at least in the reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. The list of top industries donating to both candidates gives no hint of gambling industry money. No hints either in the page that lists their top contributors.

I also struck out when checking independent expenditures at the FEC, and I couldn’t find any 527 committees with gambling interests involved in the race either.

When I called the Leach campaign headquarters, the lone staffer there – whose job had included monitoring the internet – said he was aware that there was a buzz about the Leach race on pro-gambling blogs. But the only direct gambling money he knew of was a late contribution to the Loebsack campaign from someone who listed their occupation as professional gambler.

Nick Bergen at the Loebsack campaign confirmed the one donation (for just over $2,000), which he said arrived in October. But both campaigns said internet gambling was not one of the visible issues in the campaign, nor were they aware of any organized effort on the subject by local Iowans.

Indeed, according to Bergen, the new Democratic congressman supports Leach’s anti-internet gambling bill.

Maybe that’s the end of the story. Last Tuesday’s election was certainly loaded with issues of much greater import than online gambling and the Democratic tide washed through Iowa just as strongly as it did everywhere else. And, of course, in a close election plenty of people line up to take credit.

We’ll leave it there for now, but I’d be quite interested to hear from anyone in Iowa, or elsewhere, who knows anything more about the efforts of online gambling activists in last Tuesday’s elections – and whether there was any organized money behind it.