Senator from Westmoreland County: Son did not lobby for casino |
Politics Election

Senator from Westmoreland County: Son did not lobby for casino

HARRISBURG — The head of a lobbying firm representing Meadows Racetrack & Casino said his firm hired a state senator’s son to help with “community relations” as the General Assembly prepared to consider legislation to expand gambling.

Alan Novak, president of Novak Strategic Advisors, the Meadows’ Harrisburg lobbyist, said Mike Ward, son of Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who chairs the Senate’s gaming oversight committee, “has not lobbied on behalf of the Meadows.”

“I don’t deal with Michael Ward when it comes to gaming legislation,” his mother said. “In the case of the Meadows, I only work with Alan Novak or the General Manager Sean Sullivan.”

Mike Ward works to set up lobbying events with Meadows officials, including meetings, tours and dinners with lawmakers, legislators said. Mike Ward, who did not respond to calls and emails, isn’t registered as a lobbyist for the Meadows, state records show. The Meadows declined to comment.

“It’s sort of a gray area,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a watchdog group. “This person has to tread very carefully so it’s not over the line.” It’s probably not necessary to register as a lobbyist if one doesn’t actually lobby, Kauffman said. But Kauffman advises people to register anyway to play it safe.

Novak said he and another registered lobbyist from the firm “have done the lobbying” most recently “fighting VGTs (Video Gaming Terminals).” A measure to permit the terminals failed in the House; an effort to get video terminal legislation moving stalled in the Senate.

The Senate Community Economic and Recreational Development Committee that Sen. Ward chairs has oversight of regulatory issues for casinos and matters ranging from taxation to slots at airports, slots at off-track betting parlors and online gaming that would be controlled by casinos.

Meadows officials were against terminals in bars and clubs but support slots at off-track betting parlors. The battleground thus far has been almost exclusively in the House.

Kauffman defined a lobbyist as someone who is paid to make attempts “to influence the outcome of public policy,” including administrative actions and legislation.

Several lawmakers said Mike Ward contacted them about attending events such as meetings and dinners with Meadows officials. Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland County, who shepherded the iGaming bill on the House floor, said Mike Ward set up a meeting with a Meadows executive in Dunbar’s district office a few months ago. Dunbar said he thought Ward had a contract with the Meadows, but the Meadows official did the talking.

Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, said Mike Ward invited him to tour the Meadows. Saccone and Mike Ward were there for the tour about a month ago.

“I kind of assumed he was a lobbyist,” Saccone said. “If he needed to register as a lobbyist then he should. But I would classify him as setting it up.”

Another lawmaker said he received Facebook invitations from Ward to meet with Meadows officials.

In defining Mike Ward’s role, Novak said, “It’s not substance. Think logistics.”

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.