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A Campaign Finance Proposal for Suffolk Downs Caesars

By Ernani Jose DeAraujo, Esq.

An important piece of the casino discussion that hasn’t gotten much attention, but will impact each of us, is how much money Suffolk Downs Caesars will spend to convince East Boston residents to vote for a casino in the upcoming referendum. Under existing law, Suffolk Downs can spend as much as it wants on its campaign: political advertising; campaign mail; professional phone bankers and door knockers; etc.

Regardless of how one feels about a casino in our neighborhood—and the recent independent Northeastern University survey shows a diversity of views—we should be concerned that Suffolk Downs can spend whatever it wants to get our approval for their casino.

When the referendum period opens soon, will we be blanketed by hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of political advertising from the casino? How much is the casino currently spending on focus groups, polling, political consultants, etc. to craft a strategy to get us to say “yes”?

The casino has every right to make its case and has the freedom to spend whatever it wants to do so. But just because it’s legal, does not make it right for our neighborhood.

Dumping hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars into our neighborhood for what could be a challenging political battle will only serve to obscure the significant issues that residents must weigh before voting on a casino. Suffolk and its allies will trumpet the positives of a casino in East Boston, as they should. But residents must hear all sides before making a decision and not have the voices of caution and even opposition drowned out by corporate money. It’s no secret that the casino industry in particular is a cesspool for public and private corruption. Suffolk can do a lot to mitigate the risk of corruption.

Suffolk has aspired to be “first in class” in every aspect of their casino venture—that is admirable. I hope that Suffolk can be “first in class” when it comes to their political campaign by adopting some common sense approaches to make the referendum a fair process for all residents.

1. Transparency & Disclosure: Suffolk should immediately commit to real time disclosure of how much it spends on trying to influence us. Let us know who they’ve hired in our neighborhood to champion their cause and how much they’re paying them. Suffolk has a great website and could easily put all of that information on it for everyone to see. Campaign finance law sets the minimum standard for disclosure, but the casino wants to be our neighbor and should go beyond the minimum. Transparency and full disclosure should be the goal.

2. Spending cap: Suffolk should agree to a voluntary cap on campaign spending. A cap could be set at $500,000 for both the Revere and East Boston referenda. That amount is about what a very competitive local election would cost and will be more than enough for the casino to get out its message. A reasonable cap will allow residents to express themselves and deliberate concerning this complicated issue without being overwhelmed by the pro-casino campaign.

The next several months will be an extraordinary time in our neighborhood where East Boston residents will decide whether a casino makes sense for East Boston. I hope we all do our homework before we vote and keep a close eye on everything that’s happening—East Boston is the place we call home and we’re responsible for taking care of our neighborhood.

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