Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lobbyists Spent $40,000 Manufacturing So-Called 'Citizens' Group Support for Oahu Casino Scheme

Citizens for a Better Way | Hawaii
April 30, 2011 Disclosure
In Hawaii, the so-called "Citizens for a Better Way" group (CFBW) was set-up last Spring by pro-gambling lobbyist John Radcliffe and his associates at the Capitol Consultants of Hawaii lobbying firm to create the appearances of a "grassroots" movement supporting their client's pro-casino objectives.  There is no organic grassroots activity; rather it's all been manufactured by Radcliffe.

CFBW filed a lobbying expense disclosure form on May 31, 2011 for the period from March 1 through April 30, 2011 and reported spending $39,093.10 on "Media Advertising" during that two month period.  During that period, Radcliffe and company created a website, Facebook page and YouTube channel for CFBW and produced at least three videos created using a familiar public affairs round-table format (think local version of Meet the Press).  According to CFBW's website, two of those videos will air four times each during November 2011.

That they spent nearly $40,000 is significant given CFBW has not disclosed where that money came from and others have reported CFBW President Liz Watanabe filed personal bankruptcy the month after she filed the lobbying disclosure.  Certainly it didn't come out of her checking account.

Radcliffe and George A. "Red" Morris are lead lobbyists at Capitol Consultants of Hawaii.  While neither were registered as lobbyists for gambling interests in 2009, both Radcliffe and Morris were registered in 2010 as lobbyists for Detroit casino syndicators, via the Detroiters' PR firm Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group.  The Detroiters represent the same Mainlaind casino syndicate that pushed legalization of gambling halls back in 2000.

While Radcliffe continued to be register as a lobbyist for the Detroiters in 2011.  Morris reports his arrangement with the Detroiters was terminated in April 2010.   But in November 2010, Morris was retained by Boyd Gaming Corporation and continued that representation through 2011.

At the time Capitol  Consultants of Hawaii was manufacturing the pro-casino websites, videos, etc. for the CFBW "grassroots" lobbying effort that Liz Watanabe was recruited to manage; Capitol Consultants' two lead lobbyists were registered to lobby on behalf of established gambling interests: (1) the Detroit casino syndicate that includes Marian Ilitch, owner of MotorCity Casino; and (2) Boyd Gaming Corporation which operates casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere throughout the U.S.

Radcliffe was registered as a lobbyist for the Detroiters from 2005-2008. Morris was registered as a lobbyist for Boyd Gaming Corporation from 2005-2008.  While Morris wasn't registered as a lobbyist for the Detroiters from 2005-2008 his resume indicates the Detroiters were his clients from "2000-present."

It's not curious that the Detroiters and/or Boyd would have written a check for $40,000 to launch CFBW but rather that those two sophisticated gambling enterprises, one of which is publicly traded, could be represented by lobbyists under the same roof without concern about potential conflicts makes one wonder.  Especially because the legislation that Radcliffe et. al. have surfaced during the last two legislative sessions allows for just one casino on Oahu and not two.  If the Detroiters and Boyd were planning to partner on a single Oahu casino then any concern about a conflicts at Capitol Consultants would disappear.

Finally, as a reminder, during the two year push for gambling in Hawaii that culminated in 2002, they also manufactured a so-called "grassroots" group to backstop traditional lobbying efforts. The Coalition for Economic Diversity spent more than $200,000.  That campaign was managed by James Boersema who is now Governor Abercrombie's Communications Director.

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