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MONDAY, MAY 16, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Today is one last chance to pass funds disclosure bill

Spokesmen for two Alabama anti-gambling groups say they did not know that more than $1 million in donations came indirectly from an Indian tribe that runs a casino in Mississippi. There's a solution for their ignorance.

Americans for Tax Reform was the direct donor of $850,000 to the Alabama Christian Coalition in 2000 and $300,000 to Citizens Against Legalized Lottery in 1999. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Boston Globe recently that the money was from the Indian tribe.

Mr. Norquist gave the obvious reason for the tribe's generosity: It wanted to prevent gambling competition. His own organization opposes government-run lotteries. He said he and his staff never informed the Alabama Christian Coalition about the original source of the money.

John Giles, president of the Alabama Christian Coalition, said he would ask the coalition's lawyer to look into the ATR donation. "We had no reason to believe it came from Indian gambling," he said. "Our board policy and position to oppose all gambling expansion and not solicit or receive gambling funds has been strictly enforced."

Similarly, Jim Cooper, ex-chairman of Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, said he had no reason to believe ATR's donation was connected to Indian gambling. The donation occurred during a successful campaign against then-Gov. Don Siegelman's proposal for an Alabama lottery.

As bad as it was if these gambling opponents did not know they were allied financially with cynical gambling promoters, it's worse for the public not to know. The use of Mississippi gambling money to influence Alabama politics lends credibility to the argument that significant numbers of Alabamians are already gambling. It suggests that they might as well spend their money in Alabama, where it could benefit education and other services.

But the main point is not which side would benefit from disclosure. Far more important is the need to be above board about who is buying influence. This helps keep everybody honest.

Today is the last day of the Alabama Legislature's regular session, and it is not too late to pass a bill requiring nonprofit groups to disclose where they get the money that buys advertising to influence referendums. The Christian Coalition opposes this bill. Passing it would enlighten not only the voters, but also the coalition itself.

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