In retrospect, the bet that gambling interests would have been barred from making political campaign contributions in the same legislation that proposes to expand gambling in New York was laughable. But that doesn't make the way the restriction disappeared from the bill any less frustrating.
The bill, allowing four upstate casinos and video lottery terminal parlors in Nassau and Suffolk counties, was passed as the legislative session wound down on Friday night. The restriction on contributions from gaming interests was a selling point for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's pitch.
In a year wracked by corruption -- and in a state that already saw how corrosive gambling expansion can be in the debacle to pick a company to run video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack -- this sop seemed to make sense. The influence of gambling money is real: Statewide, the industry, according to a report by Common Cause, contributed $2 million to campaigns and spent $14 million on lobbying in the past two years. But there are problems with such a ban. It's probably unconstitutional to limit political contributions this way, since they have been ruled a form of free speech. It's also naive to believe such contributions can be stopped with a ban, since money always gets where people want to send it.
Yet the stealthy last-minute removal of this provision rankles.
If casino licenses are to be awarded and regulated, how can these be done without breeding more criminal investigations and lawmakers in perp walks? The process will be overseen by a newly created seven-member gaming commission. Cuomo announced appointees for four of the five spots he controls last week. The leader of each legislative chamber gets one as well. Cuomo says the new law requires gambling interests to report all contributions. That, along with transparency by the commission, are the keys. Since you can't stop the effect of money on politics, stopping secrecy is the best available remedy.