Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Capitol Consulants of Hawaii: Double Dipping Gambling Conflicts, Resume Padding Lies or Harboring Secret Partners?

When it comes to public disclosure of political campaign finance and lobbying activities, the State of Hawaii is akin to something you might find in a small unsophisticated backwoods town controlled by “Good Ol’ Boys.” There is no consistency. Record keeping and access to records are spotty. Electronic filing means emailing documents and databases are misunderstood. What is available for examination is either elementary or unnecessarily cumbersome and sheds little light. The most recent campaign finance disclosure available online date back to 2006 elections. Sunlight is something only found at a beach.  It’s clear that in Hawaii they don’t take public disclosure seriously. Nevertheless...

John Radcliffe
Lobbyist John Radcliffe
John Radcliffe is employed by Capitol Consultants of Hawaii (Capitol Consultants) a Honolulu-based lobbying firm.  The firm’s website identifies Radcliffe as Vice President and Lead Lobbyist.  Among others industries and special interests, he is closely identified as a lobbyist for labor.

By his resume, Radcliffe maintains he was first retained in 2001 to lobby for Detroit casino syndicators Michael Malik and Marian Ilitch, through their mouthpiece and politico Tom Shields; Lansing-based PR firm Marketing Resource Group.  It was reported extensively that the Detroiters launched an expensive 2-year unsuccessful push for the legalization of gambling in Hawaii in 2000 but public records for that period are not readily accessible so we were unable to confirm lobbying registrations or expenditures.

Although Radcliffe and his Detroiter clients have admittedly failed to file timely lobbying disclosures in the past --  at onetime even saying a lobbying report hadn’t been filed because it was “lost in a Michigan snow storm” -- can confirm Radcliffe was registered to represent the Detroiters in 2005, 2006 and 2007-2008.

TVT has been unable to find any records indicating Radcliffe registered to represent the Detroiters during 2009 when Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who opposes gambling in Hawaii, was still in office. 

But when the race for Hawaii’s next governor began in 2010, Radcliffe again registered to represent the Detroiters. 

And when Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, was elected Governor, he asked Radcliffe to help him identify key staff members and make key appointments. Radcliffe again registered as lobbyist for the Detroiters in 2011.

G. A. "Red" Morris
Lobbyist George A. Morris
George A. “Red” Morris is President and also a Lead Lobbyist at Capitol Consultants. He and Radcliffe are associates but Morris also maintains separately G. A. Morris, Inc.  As part of a resume that Morris shares via the G.A. Morris website, he claims  Marketing Resource Group (Detroiters) as a client from “2000-present.” 

TVT was able to confirm that Morris had registered as a lobbyist representing the Detroiters in January 2010 but according to the Hawaii State Ethics Committee Website, Morris was terminated as the Detroiters’ lobbyist a couple months later on April 30, 2010. However, TVT has found no other official lobbying disclosures to suggest Morris had ever reported lobbying for the Detroiters prior to 2010 despite the representations on Morris’ resume.

And given that Morris’ resume claims he was a lobbyist for the Detroiters from 2000-present, TVT was surprised to see that Morris’s resume also indicates Boyd Gaming as a Morris client from “1995-present.” Boyd is a publicly traded (NYSE: BYD) Las Vegas gambling conglomerate with casinos throughout the U.S. 

TVT has confirmed that Morris was registered as a lobbyist for Boyd Gaming in 2005 and from 2006-2008; and again following the 2010 termination as lobbyist for Marketing Resource Group.  As with Radcliffe, TVT found no records that he was registered to lobby for the either Detroiters or Boyd Gaming in 2009.  

Conflicts? Padded Resume Lies? Double Dipping? Secret Partners?
That Morris could have represented the Hawaii interests of Boyd Gaming at the same time he was representing the interests of Detroit casino syndicators is curious; although, clearly that’s what Morris’ resume suggests.  And why would Morris make misrepresentations on his resume?  Or did he?

Likewise, that Morris and Radcliffe, both principal lobbyists with the Capitol Consultants lobbying firm, could represent both the Detroiters and Boyd Gaming at the same time without a conflict is curious.

Typically, either circumstance would be recognized as presenting conflicts that clients wouldn’t tolerate; unless of course, Boyd Gaming and the Detroiters had no conflicts but rather, had shared interests in Hawaii.

Are Detroiters Again Fronting for Las Vegas?
If Morris wasn't misrepresenting circumstances on his resume, it is possible that while he only registered as a lobbyist for Boyd that he considered himself a lobbyist for the Detroiters if, in fact, the two entities had been coordinating efforts to legalize gambling in Hawaii and establish casinos on Oahu.

As a publicly traded company, Boyd might have to disclose its efforts to advance gambling in Hawaii and establish a casino.  If another group was fronting for Boyd's interests, Boyd might avoid the need for disclosures.  If the effort was unsuccessful, Boyd's shareholders wouldn't realize it as a failure by Boyd thereby minimizing any negative impacts to stock values.

In the mid 1990s, when the Detroiters were working to get gambling approved in the Motor City, they fronted for Las Vegas’ Circus Circus.  They secretly funded a last minute multi-million dollar advertising push as part of the campaign to win voter approval for gambling halls in Detroit and a partnership agreement that surfaced after the campaign made it clear the Detroiters had been “reimbursed,” by their Las Vegas partners, for the costs of the campaign.

There’s a stigma among voters and elected officials toward big Las Vegas gambling interests so they prefer to remain silent partners until approvals are in-hand.  The Detroiters are comfortable and able to front for their Las Vegas colleagues who have deep pockets and greater tolerance.  A couple of years ago, it was discovered that one of the Detroiters’ original MotorCity Casino partners, Herb Strather, was fronting a proposed Massachusetts casino, as they had in the mid 1990s, for South African gambling magnates Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman.

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