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].