116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
- Backers of a proposed Cedar Rapids casino have launched a political action committee.
- The casino proposal stalled this year when the Iowa legislature imposed a two-year moratorium on new gaming licenses.
- As of October, the Cedar Rapids Development PAC had given more than $47,000 to Iowa politicians.
- Another casino interest PAC - launched by an opponent of the Cedar Rapids casino proposal - has given more than $450,000 to Iowa politicians since 2016.
CEDAR RAPIDS — In a bid to rally support for Cedar Rapids’ third try at a casino once the state’s moratorium on new gaming licenses expires in 2024, Linn County gaming interests have begun to bankroll the political campaigns of key state leaders and perhaps boost their influence in the Statehouse.
The Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC — the political action committee formed by backers of a potential Cedar Rapids casino — contributed $47,750 to Republican and Democratic candidates in the filing period that ended Oct. 14, just weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
“We made the decision to establish the Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC to encourage dialogue on policy issues related to the economic development in Linn County,” Jonathan Swain, president of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the city’s preferred casino operator, said in a statement.
The Cedar Rapids Development Group is a subsidiary of Peninsula Pacific made up of mostly local investors. The group has an agreement with the city of Cedar Rapids guaranteeing the city’s exclusive support through the gaming license application process until 2029.
“We have been part of the community for more than 10 years and remain committed to bringing a gaming facility to Linn County,” Swain said. “That dedication is for the long term, and participating in the political process is part of that commitment.”
The PAC formed after Iowa lawmakers earlier this year put the brakes on Cedar Rapids’ third try at securing a gaming license from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican from Davenport who was just elected state treasurer, ran the amendment on a larger gaming regulations bill to halt the gaming panel from awarding new licenses until July 2024.
Rhythm City Casino Resort, one of the Elite Casino Resorts properties operated by Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl, is located in Davenport. Kehl, whose company also operates the casino in Riverside, is a staunch opponent of a Cedar Rapids casino and has argued a gaming facility here would “cannibalize” revenue from existing properties.
Kehl, who has a history of making campaign contributions to political leaders, was able to best Cedar Rapids in the city’s attempt to receive a license after failed tries in 2014 and 2017.
Elite PAC donated $83,800 to the campaigns of key political figures, including Smith and Gov. Kim Reynolds, within the time period that Linn County casino talks started around winter 2021 until the license moratorium’s passage. Reynolds signed the bill despite Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell’s direct pleas for a veto.
Asked if the moratorium was the impetus for launching a PAC, Swain said a number of factors contributed to its creation.
“ … We remain committed to delivering a state-of-the-art project to Linn County,” Swain said.
Campaign finance records show the Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC gave $37,250 to Iowa Republicans including Reynolds, House Speaker Pat Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, outgoing Senate President Jake Chapman and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton.
The PAC also contributed to the campaigns of 19 other GOP figures, including Linn County legislative candidates Kris Gulick, Susie Weinacht and Rep. Charlie McClintock.
Additionally, the PAC divvied up $10,500 among eight Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. The other candidates were mostly local lawmakers including Reps. Molly Donahue, Eric Gjerde, Dave Jacoby, Art Staed and Sen. Todd Taylor.
The PAC still had $12,250 in cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.
The next report covering complete data on campaign contributions from the 2022 midterms cycle will not be released until January. The October report is the most recent one available.
In the same reporting period, Elite PAC, the committee registered under Kehl, reported contributions to 31 candidates and the Iowa Democratic Party totaling $94,000.
Most of that sum went to Republicans including Reynolds, Grassley, Whitver, Chapman and Kaufmann. Just $21,000 was funneled to Iowa Democrats who are mainly in party leadership roles or local candidates, including Konfrst, Wahls, Jacoby and outgoing Sen. Kevin Kinney.
This period is just a snippet of the more than $450,000 that Elite PAC has doled out to Iowa candidates since its creation in 2016.
Asked if the casino backers with the Cedar Rapids Development Group are confident their contributions will make an impression on Iowa political leaders against Kehl’s longer history of campaign contributions, Swain responded “we are confident policymakers will choose the right options for the state once they fully study and understand all considerations.”
The Cedar Rapids Development Group previously shared plans for the Cedar Crossing Casino, a $250 million, 160,000-square-foot entertainment and cultural arts complex at the site of now-demolished Cooper’s Mill along the west side of the Cedar River, between Kingston Village and Time Check Park.
The proposal calls for bars, restaurants, a 1,500-capacity entertainment center and other venues. It also would incorporate flood control to protect the structure from rising waters.
But until the moratorium sunsets in 2024 — and provided lawmakers don’t further extend the ban on new gaming licenses — Cedar Rapids gaming interests will have to wait to bring their long-held casino dreams to fruition.
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