COLLEGE PARK – As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah Cummings commands a good deal of respect and quite a few perks — at least one of which comes from an unexpected source.
The Baltimore Democrat learned this year that the chairmanship brings with it donations from the political action committees of the American Gaming Association and Caesars Entertainment Inc.
The $3,000 from the gambling industry is dwarfed by the almost $125,000 in contributions the Cummings campaign collected between April and July of this year, but it stands out among the more traditional donations from labor committees and local individuals.
Cummings was one of only a handful of federal candidates to receive money from the two gambling organizations, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings. The American Gaming Association only donated to 10 other candidates and Caesars donated to nearly 20 candidates.
Karlos LaSane, assistant vice president of Caesars government affairs, said his company has a history of supporting the Congressional Black Caucus and its leaders, such as Cummings, whom he called “an excellent legislator.”
Caesars, which gave Cummings $2,000 this year, supports candidates who “look at the gaming industry with a fair and even eye,” LaSane said. The gaming association gave Cummings its maximum donation of $1,000.
LaSane also said the Caesars PAC considers the jurisdictions of candidates when distributing funds, but Cummings campaign spokesman Mike Christianson said gambling was not a consideration for the congressman.
“Of all the problems in the world that we work on, gambling isn’t one of them,” Christianson said.
Maryland state lawmakers are debating whether to allow slot machines, but Christianson noted that Cummings is not a state legislator. Christianson said the only gambling issues that come within range of Cummings vote are those dealing with Native American gaming.
Cummings does not have a stand on gaming “as of now,” said his Capitol Hill spokeswoman Devika Koppikar.
But Cummings’ opponent in this fall’s election said the gaming industry is donating to the longtime lawmaker congressman for a reason.
“My take would be that he’s obviously been active in Maryland politics for a while and I would assume that they’re giving to Maryland politicians to have a voice in here,” said Antonio Salazar, the Republican nominee in the 7th District.
James Browning of Common Cause also questioned the reasons for the donations.
“The amounts . . . would indicate that they’re going to his fund raisers or talking to his staff,” he said. “They’re trying to start a conversation.
“If slot machines are legalized, then full-blown casinos are the next step,” Browning said, voicing concerns for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
But Christianson said that, if anything, giving Cummings money “makes him less likely to be an advocate” for gambling.
“I don’t know that Elijah Cummings even knows that he got money from Caesars,” he said.
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