INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
An Indiana casino magnate treated Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to two
private jet flights last year and made big contributions to Holcomb’s
largest 2016 campaign donor, all while he was pushing for changes to state
law that would benefit his business, according to a newspaper report.
Entertainment CEO and Chairman Rod Ratcliff flew Holcomb to meetings in
Aspen, Colorado, and Scottsdale, Arizona, in July and November,
respectively. Both events were hosted by the Republican Governors
Association, which funded the vast majority of Holcomb’s 2016 gubernatorial
campaign, contributing $7.6 million, The Indianapolis Star reported.
flights, one of which tax records show cost about $20,000, gave Ratcliff and
his business partners hours of exclusive access to the governor, who will
have final say over pending legislation that includes their plans to move
two Gary casinos to more lucrative locations.
One of those
flights happened only one day before Ratcliff announced his plans to acquire
those two casinos.
The flights were
among $500,000 Ratcliff and his companies contributed last year to the
Republican Governors Association. That sum was more than any other casino
operator or Indiana company contributed to the RGA, which supports the
election of GOP governors across the U.S.
casino interests to organizations like the RGA have long drawn fire from
government accountability groups, which see them as a way to skirt Indiana’s
prohibition on campaign donations from casino interests. Indiana law bans
casino license holders from donating directly to Indiana candidates, but
does not forbid contributions to national organizations.
told The Star that the flights were particularly concerning because one was
never disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service, as required by law, and
both appear to be earmarked for Holcomb.
“What they’re doing
is basically hiding the real purpose of the expenditure, which is to fly
Holcomb out there on a corporate jet,” said Larry Noble, a former Federal
Election Commission attorney. “And so the public really has no way of
knowing ... that he is receiving free air travel from somebody.”
office referred questions about the flights to Holcomb’s campaign. His
campaign treasurer and Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer
defended the flights as “perfectly legal and customary” in a two-page
written response to The Star.
Hupfer said the
flights were arranged by the RGA, which often flies governors to its
conferences, and should have been reported by that organization.
The RGA did report
the July flight to Aspen to the IRS, listing a $21,486 in-kind travel
contribution from one of Ratcliff’s companies, but it did not report the
November flight to Scottsdale.
RGA spokesman John
Burke told The Star that the organization did not receive notice of the
flight until after the filing deadline at the end of January. He said it
plans to file an amended report with the IRS.
The Star’s request for an interview through Spectacle’s attorney, John
Keeler, who said the company had violated no rules.
“It is what it is,”
Keeler said. “We belong to the RGA. We had an extra seat or two on the
plane, the governor flew along with us. Not a big deal.”
November flight to Scottsdale came one day before Ratcliff and his business
partner, Greg Gibson of Terre Haute, announced plans to acquire the two
lakefront Majestic Star casinos in Gary.
In addition to
Holcomb and Ratcliff, that flight included Spectacle’s lobbyist, Brian
Burdick, and Keeler. The only other passengers were Hupfer, Holcomb’s wife,
Janet, and an Indiana State Police officer assigned to the governor,
according to Holcomb’s campaign.
At the time,
Ratcliff’s plans still needed regulatory approval from the Indiana Gaming
Commission, whose members are appointed by Holcomb, and legislative changes
to Indiana’s gambling laws that Holcomb could approve or veto.
signed off in March, but lawmakers are still considering whether to allow
the Gary licenses to be moved in pending legislation.
Holcomb said at a
February news conference that he hadn’t decided whether he would sign a bill
allowing Spectacle to move the licenses, but that he was “not opposed to
looking at new ways” to use existing licenses.