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POLITIC E C The House Always Wins GRUSENDORF’S GAMBLE As graphical section on the House website, CONFLICTED AT THE TOP If House members consider how to the chairman listed “investments” as you’re looking to hire a lobbyist at the provide an extra $3 billion for public schools, legal gambling seems to be a that his holdings do not influence his are plentiful: more than 1,500 have strong contender. Seventeen bills have legislation. He wouldn’t say whether he registered for the 2005 session. If you emerged in the House to allow everyplans to vote to legalize casino games want your legislation to actually pass, thing from electronic games on boats or how, as a member of the leadership, however, your choices are rather lim to betting in bars. Of these bills, 11 he thinks the House might deal with ited. Only a handful of firmswell con would let venues operate video lottery gambling. nected to the state’s Republican leader Though he may be the only commitshipare the most likely to shepherd machines. Most of the VLT bills have tee member with VLTs in his portfoyour pet bill through the process. Some been referred to the Ways and Means lio, Grusendorf is not the only one to Capitol watchers say lobby power hasn’t Committee, where one influential memreceive campaign dollars from gambling been this tightly concentrated since the ber appears to have a financial stake in interests. A May 2004 Lobby Watch 1970s, when a few of the most powerful their outcome. report by Austin-based campaign watchbusiness interests in the state crafted dog, Texans for Public Justice, showed public policy in secret. sits on Ways and Means in addithat the racing and casino-machine A good indicator of just how con tion to being chairman of the Public industries donated at least $4.1 million centrated and powerful the lobby has Education Committee. In a legislative to Texas PACs and candidates since become is the prevalence of conflicts of session focused on funding education, 2000. All Ways and Means committee interests at the most sought-after firms. Grusendorf is the House leadership’s members except Reps. John Smithee \(RPotential clients scramble to hire the his education legislation, Grusendorf accepted money from the top donors even if their legislative opponents have also filed six unsuccessful bills during that TPJ identified. Rep. Mike Villarreal tapped the very same firms. Texas law the last special session that would have requires lobbyists who become aware legalized VLTs. While doing so, he held vice chairman, accumulated the most of a conflict of interest to notify their clients within two days and to file a a Las Vegas-based VLT and slot manuRepublicans, Grusendorf led the pack, conflict of interest statement with the facturer that does business in 25 states receiving $4,750, which is $3,150 more Texas Ethics Commission within 10 days. and overseas. According to financial than the chairman, Rep. Jim Keffer \(RThe agency refuses to release these statements filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, Grusendorf has owned tional contributors \(a Multimedia Games the number of conflicts reported by between 1,000 and 4,999 shares of executive, and lobbyists Elton Bomer, each lobbyist. The names at the top Alliance stock since 2003. No other Russell Kelley, Joe Garcia, and Nora won’t surprise close observers of Texas appears to be in a position to gain permake TPJ’s list, Grusendorf received Heading the list in 2004 was the sonally from a VLT company’s profits. at least $13,686.66 from the gambling Texas Lobby Group, a collection of Grusendorf may have more than one industry and its lobbyists. four heavy hitters with strong GOP connection to Alliance Gaming. Last ties: Bill Messer \(who served on House summer, a small scandal ensued when filed some of the legalization bills that Speaker Tom Craddick’s transition team a Texas the company, along with a Vegas law members will examine this time around. Association of Business board memGov. The Houston Chronicle reported that Grusendorf was a friend of the former sion. “We will be somewhere between Williams \(Toomey’s longtime business governor’s chief of staff, Mike Toomey. dicts. “It’s too much money out there flict-of-interest reports, Keel had 41, and “I’ve got stocks in all kinds of things,” to just let it sit there while it’s leaving Williams 32, according to the Ethics Grusendorf told the Observer. \(In a bioyour state.” Commission’s records \(Toomey was still 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 1, 2005