GOP leaders to question Sutton about ties to gambling group that gets tribal funds

Tony Sutton
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
Tony Sutton

In an unusual move, the Minnesota Republican Party’s executive committee is preparing to question GOP Chair Tony Sutton about whether he used party resources and exploited his position to lobby on behalf of a tribal gambling organization.

The committee meets May 19 and is expected to ask Sutton about the use of the party’s list of email addresses.

The move was prompted by complaints raised last week by party members after delegates to the GOP’s state convention began receiving emails from Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE), an advocacy group headed by former national Republican committeeman Jack Meeks. Sutton and his wife, Bridget, serve as unpaid members of the group’s board of directors.

The emails sounded an alarm within the party’s executive committee because delegate email lists are carefully guarded and limited to party use only.

In an interview this morning, Sutton strongly denied that he had any role in CAGE acquiring the email list.

“Not from us, not from the Republican Party.  Period,” he said. “They did not get lists from the Republican Party of Minnesota.”  

CAGE gets financial support from the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), which advocates on behalf of Indian tribes, who vigorously oppose any expansion of gambling that would result in competition with Indian-owned casinos.

Sutton also denied he has an association with the MIGA. “I have never lobbied and have never taken money from the MIGA,” he said.

John McCarthy, executive director of the MIGA, also denied that the group has an association with Sutton or Sutton’s consulting firm, Winning Strategies.

But he acknowledged that the MIGA is a contributor to CAGE and has a contract for public relations and grass-roots work with a firm with which Sutton’s group has a business alliance, Public Affairs Company, owned by GOP operative Steve Knuth.

Of that relationship Sutton said: “I’m not going to discuss anything [to do] with Steve Knuth except that I would never work against the Republican platform.”

Intense lobbying
The use of the delegate e-mail list comes at a critical period. Many Republican legislators are supporting proposals to expand gambling beyond Indian-run casinos this session and there has been intense lobbying on the issue. In that political climate, an unauthorized use of the delegate email list could raise ethical questions.
In the email signed by Meeks dated May 3 — just a day before legislative committee hearings on a racino plan to expand gambling — delegates and precinct chairs were asked to pressure their legislators to oppose the idea.

“We need your help to make sure our elected officials know that our future fiscal stability should not include Racinos, or any other form of expanded gambling,” Meeks wrote.  The email included links to members of the legislative committees.

John Gilmore, a St. Paul attorney who is a Basic Political Organizing Unit chair for the GOP, received two emails, one generated from the delegate list, the other from a list of unit chairs.

“My concern is that the access to that information is used in a politicized way within the party,” he said.

As to the Indian gaming association support of CAGE and any other client relationship linked to the party’s executive structure, Gilmore repeated what he has said in his blog, Conservative Minnesotans: that the party’s philosophical opposition to gambling expansion is tainted by the financial support that the MIGA gives to CAGE.

“It’s a scam,” he said.  “I don’t like to use that word but I don’t know what else you call it. You’re speaking virtuously on one level and you’re profiting on another. You’re being paid by the Indian Gaming Association to be a front group.”

In an interview, McCarthy from the MIGA responded: “The rules seem to apply differently when it comes to Indians. There’s a ton of different relationships when it comes to lobbying.”

Conflicting positions
The issue of expanding gambling in Minnesota has evolved from an intra-party disagreement on the state GOP platform to a new front in the culture wars. The platform contains a plank added in 2006 opposing the expansion of gambling. It contradicts an earlier platform plank — still in effect — that opposes the Indian monopoly on gambling.

As party chair, Sutton has sent out increasingly passionate pleas to the party faithful. “The current gambling expansion schemes are cozy deals between private companies and the government where, essentially, state government is demanding a piece of the action in return for protection from competition and state interference” he wrote in a recent newsletter. “That is not free market.”

Sutton did not disclose in the newsletter missive his relationship to CAGE but Sutton’s involvement with the organization is widely known among party leaders and insiders, although likely less so among the rank and file.

Last month, GOP National Committeewoman Pat Anderson was asked to resign her party post by Deputy Party Chair Michael Brodkorb because, as a lobbyist, she had taken on Canterbury Downs as a client to advocate for casino-style slot machines at the track. Brodkorb said this represented a conflict of interest because the party platform opposes expanding gambling. Anderson fired back that it was the party platform itself that had the conflict and suggested calls for her to step down were hypocritical.

Executive committee member Bill Jungbauer of Mendota Heights has advised his colleagues to do the in-fighting in private but acknowledges that there are nagging questions over access to the delegate email list and the role of the Indian gaming group in party communications.

“I’ve been in communications with our executive members,” he said. “We have things to discuss.”

Sutton already has part of his response on the record. “Unlike others, my position has been very clear both prior and after my election” as party chair,” he said. “As a practical matter, I have spent very little time on outside activities. My dander gets up when I’m bustin’ my hump for our endorsed candidates, for our party platform and there are other people who for financial reasons have another agenda.”  

The controversy surrounding Sutton comes less than a month after he was elected party chair without opposition.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by craig furguson on 05/11/2011 - 11:22 am.

    Tony Sutton, glass house, rocks, etc. He can’t be tefflon man forever.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/11/2011 - 11:35 am.

    Tangled web eh.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 05/11/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    And so again the wheel turns. Minnesota poltical party leadership at one time (1960’s thru approx 1990) was a credit to the process and to the people of Mn who focused first on Good government and left other actions for a different set of people. Today there seems to be a attitude of its OK to do any lobbying as a party leader just keep it somewhat separate. It is time for Mn citizens to restate the Mn rule and that is “we do not tolerate anything where position is used to leverage or take advantage of a position to sell another view. I was a MN GOP leader in the years 1960-1995 or so and still consider myself a very aware civic minded and involved person. The MN
    GOP leadership based on the multiple connections to gambling have one role of the dice with a fixed answer to the public and the traditional GOP of Mn–that dice roll will come to say clear it is time to resign-_New Responsible leaders are Required for all of Mn.

    Dave Broden

  4. Submitted by David Broden on 05/11/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    This is clear conflict of interest and has no space for margin of error. Single Option is for resignation and new leaders with quality and integrity.

    Dave Broden

  5. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/11/2011 - 01:00 pm.

    “As a practical matter, I have spent very little time on outside activities.” And he has his record with Baja Sol to prove it.

  6. Submitted by Fran Johnson on 05/11/2011 - 02:42 pm.

    Looks to me like the failed burrito baron is now selling the Republican Party to tribal casino interests which have spent tens of millions of dollars against Republican candidates for the last decade and a half.

  7. Submitted by Cecil North on 05/11/2011 - 02:57 pm.

    Thank you Mr. Broden. “Traditional” GOP leaders are sorely missed in today’s politics. Unfortunately, the new GOP has no place for people like you.

  8. Submitted by Jerry Joubert on 05/11/2011 - 03:06 pm.

    Tony Sutton already got Mark Dayton elected by giving the votes from Emmer on this very issue to Horner. One might wonder if the Indian casinos did not get Horner to run knowing he would take votes away from Emmer with his support of a Racino. Follow the money. If the likes of Sutton were truely against gambling we would see all kinds of bills trying to elliminate it or restrich the real Indian gaming. The exposed conflict is no supprise. Get rid of Sutton and get rid Emmer for being such a fool listening to Sutton.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/11/2011 - 03:35 pm.

    I agree with Pat Anderson that the party platform has the conflict.

    Principled republicans in this state don’t and wouldn’t oppose expanded gambling, and here’s why:

    Republicans oppose monopolies, especially those endorsed by government. Expanding gambling would remove the monopoly that currently allows only Indian tribes to operate gaming facilities, something that polls show is favored by a large percentage of MN voters. If benefiting from gambling is going to be considered OK for SOME people to do it, it should be alright for ANYBODY to do it, and not just those, by the way, who agree to give a cut to government.

    Gambling is consistent with republican principles as a means to raise tax revenue because like a fee, it’s a voluntary tax. (Republican orthodoxy says that the best tax philosophy in a free society is a fee-based or voluntary tax structure). This gives republicans the opportunity to compromise with democrats on tax increases by adding a new voluntary tax to the mix.

    Which leads one to believe that any republican so-called leader who opposes expanded gambling must be bought and paid for by the tribes, a charge which I used to reserve exclusively for democrat legislators.

  10. Submitted by scott cantor on 05/11/2011 - 04:34 pm.


    On this point, I take Tony at his word. He’s in just the right position to make sure that the Republican platform doesn’t conflict with his for-profit side enterprises.

  11. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 05/11/2011 - 05:29 pm.

    Tony Sutton needs to go, he is an embarrassment.

  12. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 05/11/2011 - 05:36 pm.

    If one looks at the true history of conservatism, nowhere does it talk about no new revenue. It talks about not raising taxes, smaller government, and cutting costs. But raising new revenue, such as casino’s is something that only the new RINO’s run off at the mouth about without knowing the history of the Republican party. I have been a Republican for over 50 years, in fact was a body guard to President Eisenhower and this sudden talk in MN about no new revenue, is just that new. Nothing wrong in the basics of conservatism about new revenue. Ike is rolling over in his grave.

  13. Submitted by Mike Naas on 05/11/2011 - 06:57 pm.

    Dear Republican Party Leaders. Conservatives should have won the last election with the huge sweep towards a conservative view. The weak candidate with too much baggage and an “attitude” was the reason that close election was lost to a socialist like Dayton. Please please please pursue the issue of any impropriety or hint of it to the nth degree. Replace Sutton if there is even the slightest hint of bad judgement that could hurt the party in the next election. Conservatives in MN will face, arguably, one of the most difficult election cycles in the next election due to the challenges of both State and Federal spending extreme views. If fiscal sanity is to prevail in MN, conservatives cannot take any risks with impropriety. Hopefully, there will be a stronger candidate for Governor than the last Republican endorsement.

  14. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 05/11/2011 - 09:37 pm.

    Jerry Joubert: Right on! The Republicans lost the votes of the equine industry and its supporters when, like a slap in the face, Emmer selected Annette Meeks as his running mate. He had to have had his head in the sand! I voted for Horner as did most of my friends. And it was definitely a vote against the Republican party! I hope the leadership is on its way out. It can’t happen soon enough! And I’ve been a Republican for all of my 65 years!

  15. Submitted by Gibson Carothers on 05/12/2011 - 07:37 am.

    Time to reminisce about Jack Abramoff. Paid by tribal casinos to run anti-gambling campaigns often aimed at conservative Christians. Got Ralph Reed on board. Obviously, it’s time to end this ridiculous, tax-free monopoly in Minnesota and the questionable style of politics it breeds.

  16. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 05/12/2011 - 09:32 am.

    Finally! A news article that has investigated and exposed the not so secret alliances of Tony Sutton and the Meeks duo. If not for their manipulations, the Racino issue would have been settled according to the wishes of the majority of voters in Minnesota long ago. And it could have been done without embarrassing the political process that we all used to believe in. Is this the way the Minnesota tribes and their supporters answer the call for good old fashioned business competition? Maybe they aren’t up to a showdown in the real world? It’s time for Mr Sutton to step down. That’s the only way to help his party. For certain, his antics will be a serious detriment to the GOP if there is more fundraising to be done. Maybe all the Republican Legislators who want to really represent their constituents should switch over to the Independent Party. After this session, I doubt there will be many party loyalists left. Maybe that’s the way we get rid of partisanship in the two party system!

  17. Submitted by Bill Ulwelling on 05/12/2011 - 03:25 pm.

    The time has come for tony sutton to step down. He knew all along that the tribes were fighting Canterbury Park on the Racino. 80% of Minnesota tax payers support the Racino. Look at the states around us they have Racino’s at there tracks. Many of the tracks have closed and the tribes buy them for ten cents on a dollar fill them with slots and open back up with no tax for the states. So I tell you Sutton stop working for the tribes and work for the Great state of Minnesota. As a horse owner I will vote against anyone not supporting the Racino.

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