No Conflict of Interest Claims Michigan i-Gaming Senator

MichiganMike Kowall – sponsor of Michigan´s Internet Gaming Bill – claims his wife´s employment by Amaya´s lobbying firm does not represent a conflict of interest.

The future of Mike Kowall´s “Lawful Internet Gaming Act” looks to be on shaky ground following the revelation that the Senator´s wife, Eileen, is employed by Lansing-based MGS Consultants – the company lobbying for online gambling in Michigan on behalf of Amaya Gaming.

Kowall [geolink href=””]introduced his bill in April[/geolink], and very quickly organized a hearing of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee to discuss his proposals. The feeling after the hearing was that the bill had [geolink href=””]lost its momentum[/geolink]; but, at the end of last week, Kowall´s Legislative Director – Dave Biswas – said there was no reason why legislation could not [geolink href=””]pass this year[/geolink].

Despite there being a series of issues to resolve before the Lawful Internet Gaming Act became a justifiable piece of legislation, Biswas´ comments raised optimism for a swift and successful outcome. However, the perceived conflict of interest between Mike Kowall´s proposals and Eileen Kowall´s role with Amaya´s lobbying company could now delay regulated Internet gambling in Michigan for years.

A Little Background for Perspective

In November 2015, a joint study by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity – two non-profit organizations that promote government ethics – rated Michigan lowest of the fifty states for transparency in its public records legislation and for the absence of laws requiring public officials to make personal financial disclosures.

Although falling short of naming Michigan the most corrupt state in the nation, the study revealed that – of the thirteen categories of corruption risk indicators – the Great Lakes state ranked last for laws and systems related to executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability and management of pension funds.

Consequently it is hardly surprising when any potential conflict of interest is suspected within state or local government, the good citizens of Michigan get a little nervous that their best interests are not being served.

“They´re Doing the Bidding of Special Interests”

The news of the potential conflict of interest relating to Senator Kowall´s Lawful Internet Gaming Act was picked up by Michigan´s Common Cause and Campaign Finance Network – two organizations campaigning for transparency in politics and dedicated to making the state government accountable for its actions.

Representatives from both organizations have respectively described the relationship as a troubling set of circumstances and an issue that [Sen. Kowall] should have kept his hands off; while Melanie McElroy – Common Cause´s Executive Director – told the Detroit Free Press:

This reinforces in the public’s mind the idea that lawmakers aren’t there to represent the people, but they’re doing the bidding of special interests.

Craig Mauger – the Executive Director at the Campaign Finance Network – picked up on the fact that Eileen Kowall was formerly a state Senator before leaving due to term limits at the end of 2014 and registering as a lobbyist three months later. According to Mauger, there was no cooling off period between the end of her term as a Senator and lobbying her former colleagues.

(Mr.) Kowall Denies the Allegations

Mike Kowall was quick to deny that there was a conflict of interest. He told the Detroit Free press that he has been working on his proposals for regulated online gambling for three years – before his wife had joined MGS Consulting as a lobbyist – and that although the company would benefit financially if regulated online gambling were to be introduced in the state, his wife wouldn´t as Amaya is not one of her clients.

Kowall´s claims that no conflict of interest exist were supported by Jeremiah Mankopf – the managing partner of MGS Consulting. Although Mankopf was not able to answer whether Eileen Kowall had contributed to the content of the Lawful Internet Gambling Act or lobbied on its behalf, he issued a statement in which he said he was the lead lobbyist on the Bill and that everybody in his firm had their own clients.

So there you have it. The words of a politician and a lobbyist with a vested interest in passing legislation denying that there has been any wrong-doing. Not at all shaky ground then.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett