Online poker lobby gives timely donations to pair of congressmen pushing its cause


Congressman Joe Barton, who is now lobbying the special deficit panel to legalize Internet poker, got some not so subtle nudges from the Poker Players Alliance when he introduced his own online poker bill in June.

On June 20, just days before Barton, R-Texas, brought his bill to the floor, the PPA’s PAC gave Barton’s campaign committee $2,500, according to the group’s Federal Election Commission report. Four days later, Barton, the second-ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the measure. The PPA applauded the bill.

On June 28, the PPA’s PAC sent another $2,500 to Barton’s account.

Those contributions pertained to fundraisers held by Barton at the time, according to the PPA’s executive director John Pappas.

Now, Barton and Barney Frank, D-Mass., a co-sponsor of Barton’s bill and the lead sponsor on another one to regulate all forms or Internet gambling, have taken up the virtual poker cause with the unusually powerful deficit panel too, arguing that it would generate revenue. “It would create $40 billion [in revenue] over 10 years,” Frank told Politico.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—known as the super committee—has until Thanksgiving to reach a deal to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit. If it does, the deal would be fast-tracked through Congress.

Both men have been shown plenty of campaign support by Internet poker advocates in recent years. Each has ties to separate lobbyists pushing for a repeal of the online poker ban, one of whom threw a fundraiser for Barton earlier this year. In late 2009, Pappas bundled $51,200 for Frank’s re-election campaign, the same year PPA’s chairman, senator-turned-lobbyist Alfonse D’Amato, gave $1,000 to him, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

For the 2010 election, PPA's PAC gave more to Frank—over $9,000—than any other member of Congress. And in the first half of this year, no campaign has received more from PokerPAC than Barton, according to CRP.

Pappas wrote in an email that the PAC wrote checks to Barton and Frank because they are longtime supporters of legalizing online poker.

“Congressman Frank has supported licensing and regulation of online poker, and in fact most online gaming, since before the PPA existed,” Pappas wrote. “Congressman Barton has been a long time supporter of licensing and regulating online poker,” he added.

Spokespeople for Frank and Barton have not responded to emails or phone calls.

The Poker Players Alliance has not asked the congressmen to lobby the super committee on the issue, according to Pappas.

But the group has been directly lobbying members of the super committee, Politico reported Tuesday. The PPA is not the biggest spender when it comes to lobbying in the gaming and casino industry, but it’s close, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and it’s the biggest one solely dedicated to poker. The interest group has spent just over $800,000 lobbying on legalizing online poker this year.

Poker lobbyist fetes Barton

One of the 20 Poker Player Alliance lobbyists in Washington, Jeff MacKinnon, used to be Barton’s legislative director. Not long after the opening of the 112th Congress, MacKinnon, who has his own firm along with four partners, threw a fundraiser for Barton with two other lobbyists.

Three of PPA’s hired lobbyists appear to have donated to Barton for that Jan. 25 event, which requested $1,000 from individual donors. MacKinnon and his partner Joseph Vasapoli, who also lobbies to repeal the online poker ban, each gave $1,000 to Barton on Jan. 28, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Each had contributed a total of $3,400 and $1,000 in previous years. Another PPA lobbyist, Chris Giblin of Ogilvy Government Relations, also donated $1,000 on Jan. 28.

Last year, MacKinnon also hosted a fundraiser for super committee member Fred Upton, R-Mich., with whom Barton has discussed the online poker issue, Politico reported. Upton is also the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where Barton’s bill would likely end up if the super committee does not address the issue.

MacKinnon did not respond to a request for comment.

Barney Frank’s ties to online poker lobbyist

On June 6, just weeks before Frank co-sponsored Barton’s bill, Robert Raben, an outside lobbyist hired by the Interactive Gaming Council, donated $500 to Congressman Frank, and has given $4,000 to him in his career.

Raben is Frank’s former counsel who went on to launch his own lobbying and strategy firm, which The Hill newspaper called “one of the best Democratic-leaning lobby shops in town." He has been pushing for a repeal of the online poker ban since 2007, according to lobbying reports. He did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

A week after that donation, Raben, who holds fundraisers at his Capitol Hill home, held one for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frank agreed to be one of the event’s main draws, according to an invitation.