Last week, a conference committee made a breakthrough on a proposed comprehensive gambling package.

Despite sailing through the House of Representatives, the effort stumbled in an attempt to pass the Senate. Still, the bill remains alive with three days remaining in the 2024 legislative session.

The enabling bill (HB152) includes language prohibiting political contributions from gambling interests.

However, according to former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock, its effectiveness is questionable as there are workarounds.

"There is a provision in the enabling legislation that by its terms, prevents gambling interests from donating directly," he explained. "If you're the entity, if you're the vendor or you are a certain level employee, you cannot donate directly in state political races."

"First off, this has been true in Alabama politics for 40 years—just because person A can't donate doesn't mean their employees cannot. It doesn't mean you cannot go around and collect $200 checks from lower-level employees and bundle those up. It doesn't mean family members or relatives couldn't contribute."

Is such a ban legal under the U.S. Constitution, and can other individuals potentially be used as a passthrough for political donations?

The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC high court decision declared that the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause prohibited government from restricting contributions to political campaigns by certain entities, including corporations.

Could a ban on political contributions by the gambling interests laid out in the legislation be ruled unconstitutional in federal court?

"You also have a basic First Amendment issue that comes into play," Murdock said. "You're going to tell somebody who is not giving to a gaming commissioner. They're just giving to some House race up in Guntersville, or some House race over in Troy, Alabama. Maybe he is a friend from college, or you knew him 30 years ago. 'No, you can't do that.' How does that square with the First Amendment?"

"Even short of a successful challenge under Citizens United, there are, as there have been in Alabama for four decades and longer when you say somebody cannot contribute to certain types of political races, there are always workarounds," he added.

Jeff Poor is the editor in chief of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.

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