Only days after state investigators accused a controversial Southern California gambling figure of a string of civil violations, state Senate Leader Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) accepted a $10,000 political contribution from him, state records show.
Lockyer, who is heavily involved in state gaming legislation, maintains that there was nothing inappropriate about receiving the contribution from George Hardie, founder and part owner of the Bicycle Club.
A veteran gambling operator who has done verbal battle with his own partners in the large Bell Gardens gaming emporium and with state regulators, Hardie was accused in June of engaging in an intricate kickback scheme by which he and an associate had, in prior years, bilked the club out of $11 million. Hardie denies the accusation and vows to fight it in court.
Within a week after investigators for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren went public with their report, recommending that Hardie be stripped of his state gambling operator's license, Lockyer accepted the $10,000 contribution. He was the only politician Hardie contributed to this year, according to reports filed with the secretary of state.
Hardie made the contribution in the name of Park Place Associates of Culver City, a company representing Hardie's only remaining interest in the club. By mutual agreement, he severed relations with the other partners--which include the federal government--in August of last year.
Lockyer said Friday he saw nothing wrong with accepting the contribution.
"Can you receive a contribution from someone who's involved in a legal dispute of a civil nature?" Lockyer said. "I think the answer is yes, by and large."
If the charges against Hardie were criminal, Lockyer said, "that would be a different matter. And that's an appropriate place to draw the line [at turning down a contributor]."
Lungren declined to comment about the contribution. An official for the group Common Cause, Elizabeth Lambe, said she was unaware of the details, but even "the appearance of a contribution linked to a result is obviously troubling to us, as it would be to ordinary citizens who can't afford to make a contribution that large."
Lockyer has regularly been in the forefront of steering gambling legislation, and this year pursued aims similar to Hardie, who has been a familiar figure before legislative hearings in Sacramento.
Hardie said in an interview that he takes pride in being among the first early this year to testify against a bill sponsored by Lungren that would have set up a powerful gaming control commission to oversee card club operations in California. He said beefing up the attorney general's gaming investigation unit would provide enough oversight.
Lockyer, in the course of the legislative year, took a similar position and almost single-handedly delivered the knockout blow to Lungren's gambling commission bill in the closing days of the session last month.
"His position may be somewhat similar to mine," Lockyer said, but declared the contribution had nothing to do with influencing his position. He said he has not spoken with Hardie "for months and months."
Whether they agree with him or not, Lockyer said, gaming interests contribute to him.
Records show that card club interests--including Hardie--contributed just under $50,000 to Lockyer in the first half of this year. His total from all sources in the same period was more than $755,000. Lockyer said gambling interests, including racetrack interests, make up 2% to 3% of his total contributions.
He said, however, that "most of the gaming interests in California are on the Lungren side of the debate."
Among Lockyer's other card club contributors was the faction of the Bicycle Club ownership that is not part of Hardie's operations. So far, $2,500 is listed as coming from the Bicycle Club Casino.
Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this story.