It was the central theme of the attempt to keep minicasinos open in Tacoma – the campaign wasn’t run and funded by the owners of the casinos but was a grass-roots effort by the employees to save their jobs.
Called Associated Casino Employees for Survival, or ACES, the group’s message often was delivered by single moms who supported families with casino wages.
But a lawsuit filed by the man who was the head of the campaign while managing a Silver Dollar Casino on Sixth Avenue suggests that it was mostly a ruse.
“Everyone knew that the corporation was running the campaign,” said Mike Purdy.
In his claim for wrongful termination, Purdy alleges that the campaign was funded by the company that owned the casinos and directed by company founder Tim Iszley. A lobbyist employed by the corporate parent of the Silver Dollar casinos crafted campaign strategy, created campaign materials and advised Purdy and other staffers, Purdy says.
Purdy said he believes he was laid off and then placed on a do-not-rehire list in retaliation for complaining to company officers about improper and perhaps illegal actions in the campaign.
His lawsuit names the corporate owners of the casinos, including a Canadian corporation that bought out Iszley, who remains a minority stockholder in that corporation.
Initiative 1 sought to repeal Tacoma’s ban on minicasinos. It failed in September 2006, forcing the city’s private casinos to close. Despite losing two Tacoma casinos, the company still owns 11 casinos in Washington. It claims to be the largest non-native gambling operator in the state.
Any portrayal of the campaign as a grass-roots effort would have been deceptive but not improper had the campaign accurately reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission the financial involvement of the casinos’ corporate owners.
But filings were incomplete during the campaign. And corrected reports filed after the measure was defeated still appear deficient. They were filed by an Olympia lobbyist contracted with the casino company, a lobbyist Purdy said he worked with throughout the campaign.
Purdy said he thinks the filings were purposefully incomplete in order to maintain the illusion that the campaign was grass-roots – run by and funded by the employees, not the company. A woman who helped run the signature-gathering phase agrees.
An attorney defending the lawsuit said she was not authorized to comment on the case. Phone messages and e-mails to Evergreen Gaming Corp. in Vancouver, B.C., were not returned. Phone messages to Washington Gaming Inc. in Renton were not returned, nor were messages left on a cell phone belonging to Iszley.
LATE CAMPAIGN FILING
In an interview last week, lobbyist Tom Dooley said he reported to the PDC the corporation’s payment for the printing of brochures, the purchase of mailing lists, the payment to a Portland company that produces recorded campaign calls and a contract for mailing services.
Those filings came after the campaign ended, he said, because he was waiting for invoices from venders. He said he prepared and filed the reports because there was no one left from the campaign to do the work.
Late campaign filing, however, thwarts one of the primary reasons for campaign finance disclosure – to let voters know who’s supporting which candidates and issues and how the money is being spent. This was especially important information in a campaign that was trying to appear as a grass-roots effort when it was not.
That strategy was spelled out in the campaign plan: “In all facets of the campaign, the minicasino employees must be at the forefront. The messages are best delivered by those whose jobs are at stake.”
Even the reports that came in after the election do not include purchases and contributions that Purdy and former ACES campaign manager Cody Benson say were made. For example, no one associated with the campaign has as yet reported the contract it had with Labor Ready to provide workers to collect signatures.
Benson, who does some lobbying in Olympia, said she was directed by Iszley to contract with the temporary work agency and that he said he would cover any costs.
She said the workers provided were difficult to deal with and sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some, however, worked well and eventually were paid directly by the campaign, not through Labor Ready.
To further the illusion of a grass-roots campaign, photographs of these paid workers were posted on the ACES Web site and identified as casino employees, Benson said. She estimates that a majority of the signatures were collected by these workers.
Some direct payments to these workers were reported to the PDC. But there is no reference to Labor Ready. The Tacoma company was not paid and continues to try to collect a $23,000 bill – first from Purdy and now from Benson. Under state law, even if the debt was never paid, the obligation should be reported to the PDC.
Also not reported were payments to casino employees to doorbell houses in Tacoma before the election. Purdy said those workers were paid in cash after the campaign ended and the Tacoma casinos closed.
RECORDS TIE LOBBYIST TO EFFORT
There is no accounting for Purdy’s time while he was paid by the company while working on campaign activities. Nor is there an accounting for Iszley’s work on the campaign. And the only notation of the value of Dooley’s work – the lobbyist said he advised the company but not the campaign throughout the signature-gathering and election – was a $424 charge in a post-election filing from Principled Solutions, Dooley’s firm.
Purdy, however, said Dooley was closely involved in advising the campaign directly and crafting strategies and materials. Purdy said Dooley gave him a written campaign plan that included details from a $3,300 opinion poll paid for by the company as well as a step-by-step plan for running the campaign.
The plan envisioned a large role for Dooley. The plan repeatedly stated “Dooley to provide” when assigning duties for direct mail design, newspaper insert design, yard sign design, doorbelling design and automated phone call scripts.
Dooley’s time should have been reported by the company as an in-kind contribution to the campaign. And once the poll results were shared with the campaign, as Purdy says they were, the cost of the poll should have been reported as an in-kind contribution.
Dooley said last week that he might have produced a campaign plan for the company and advised the company on the campaign. But if what he provided was shared with the campaign, it was up to the campaign to report it as an in-kind contribution, he said.
But Purdy says Dooley gave him the plan at a meeting at the Silver Dollar Casino on Hosmer Street in April 2006.
Purdy has an e-mail that appears to come from Dooley inviting him to that meeting with Cory Coyle, the president of casino owner Washington Gaming, Inc. to “sit down and do some strategery (sic) on the upcoming election.”
STATE IS LOOKING INTO IT
Purdy said that at one point during the signature-gathering phase of the campaign, Iszley ordered him to collect $5 checks from each employee of the Tacoma casinos. When he refused to force such donations, Purdy said Iszley said he would reassess his management of the casinos, something Purdy took as a threat to his job.
State law prohibits employers from pressuring employees to contribute to a campaign.
When Benson wasn’t paid for all of her work, and while Labor Ready was trying to collect for the signature gatherers, she wrote a frantic letter to Purdy just before Christmas 2005.
In it, she said the casino company continued to deny that it was involved in the campaign and told her to try to get her compensation from Purdy.
Purdy had been laid off by then and was unemployed.
“Because I was the one instructed to make it appear as though corporate wasn’t involved and to make it look like the employees were the ones fighting for their jobs (not a bunch of homeless crack heads we brought in off the streets and paid) I know full well that you are in no way personally responsible for paying me,” Benson wrote to Purdy.
Purdy has started a gambling consulting business while pursuing his lawsuit. Benson said she is contacting the PDC in hopes of explaining her situation and minimizing any trouble she might be in as a registered lobbyist.
“I can’t afford to be associated in all of this,” Benson said. “It’s unprofessional.”
Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC, said the agency has begun “asking some questions” of those involved with the ACES campaign.