Deon v. Barasch


At a Glance

Deon v. Barasch is a challenge to a Pennsylvania law that prohibits campaign contributions by key individuals involved in the state gaming industry. 

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About this Case

Deon v. Barasch is a challenge to a Pennsylvania law that prohibits campaign contributions by key individuals involved in the state gaming industry.  

When the Pennsylvania legislature legalized certain forms of gambling, it understood that the industry would require careful oversight to prevent corruption, or the appearance of corruption, from taking root in the Commonwealth. The General Assembly looked at the experience of other states and determined that its corruption concerns could be assuaged by prohibiting state gaming licensees and prospective licensees – including casino owners and highly placed employees – from making campaign contributions.

Two Pennsylvania casino owners covered by the contribution ban are now challenging the law as a violation of their federal constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. CLC, joined by Common Cause, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Pennsylvania’s efforts to prevent the corruption that would inevitably arise if gaming licensees could freely deploy campaign contributions to “stack the deck” in their favor.

As CLC’s brief points out, courts have long allowed laws that limit or ban campaign contributions from those who do business with the government, based on the clear risk that someone seeking a lucrative state contract or license might pay for that privilege, i.e., might “pay to play.” Laws like Pennsylvania’s are widely recognized as a constitutional means of preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption in highly regulated industries, and thus to preserve the public’s faith in their government.

What’s at stake

If plaintiffs prevail, gaming licensees – who hold what are effectively state-sponsored monopoly licenses in a multibillion-dollar industry with a notoriously checkered past and obvious vulnerabilities – would be able to buy into electoral campaigns in a way that poses too high a risk of corruption. Enforcing strict barriers between campaign contributions and gaming interests prevents industry participants from being forced to ante up for the privilege of obtaining or keeping a license, which preserves the integrity of the state gaming system overall, as well as the taxpayers’ investment in it.

As CLC’s brief notes, many other states and localities have similar anticorruption laws that could go bust if the plaintiffs’ challenge succeeds. These laws, like Pennsylvania’s, are vitally needed to prevent corruption and maintain public faith in government. Striking them down would be a bad bet.

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