Conflict of interest surrounding Michigan’s gambling bill

Senate Bill 889 is raising concerns in Michigan regarding ethics law.

A state senator sponsors a bill to allow existing casinos to offer online gambling, whilst his wife works at the lobby firm backing the law.

US.- A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township aims to legalise online gambling. However, the legislation is backed by a firm where his wife works as a lobbyist, which is raising concerns among groups pushing for toughening of Michigan’s ethics law. Kowall, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 889, which would allow existing casinos to offer online gambling, affirms there is no conflict of interest because his wife, lobbyist Eileen Kowall, is not working directly on the project.

Amaya, a multinational company which owns online gaming sites PokerStars and Full Tilt, among others, is a major backer of Kowall’s bill and the Canadian firm is a registered lobbyist in Lansing is MGS Consultants, which counts Kowall’s wife, Eileen, among the firm’s five lobbyists.

After learning about the case, groups such as Common Cause in Michigan expressed concern. “It seems like a pretty troubling set of circumstances,” said Melanie McElroy, the group’s executive director. “It’s troubling Sen. Kowall would sponsor legislation that would enrich MGS, a consulting firm that employs his wife.”

Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the case highlights several shortfalls in Michigan law, including clear conflict of interest laws for legislators, the lack of a required “cooling off” period before term-limited lawmakers can lobby their former colleagues and the lack of financial disclosure requirements for elected officials and their spouses.

“We often don’t know when things like this are happening,” Mauger said. “On its face, a lawmaker’s spouse lobbying for an entity that is working with a lawmaker, that does seem to be a conflict,” and “this is probably an issue that he should have kept his hands off.”