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Darren Soto, 14 others, hit with quid pro quo allegation in ethics complaint

Their letter urged a casino company exec to allow labor union activity

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is among 15 members of Congress hit Thursday with a formal ethics complaint charging they engaged in a quid-pro-quo offer to a Nevada casino company executive, charging the group dangled legislative support in exchange for labor union organizing.

Soto and others charged in the complaint strongly denied the allegations brought forward by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, though conservatively funded watchdog group.

The complaint was lodged with the Congressional Ethics Office against 14 Democrats, including Soto, and one Republican.

In the complaint, the foundation alleges that the 15 members of Congress co-signed a letter to the chairman and chief executive officer of Red Rock Resorts, both discussing support for a tax cut provision he had requested and urging him to allow union organizing activity at his casinos.

“We believe that all the parties adversely affected by the bill deserve a chance to make their voices heard. We also believe that employees at your facilities deserve a chance to make their voices heard,” the members of Congress wrote to Frank Fertitta III, according to the foundation’s complaint.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin was the lead signatory on the letter. He responded Thursday for the group:

“The May 16th letter that you referenced simply asked Mr. Fertitta and Red Rock Resorts to comply with the law and respect the applicable labor protections.

“The OCE complaint is a baseless allegation there was no quid pro quo,” Pocan’s statement added.

Soto issued his own statement later Thursday:

“The letter at issue complied with ethics rules as stated in Rep. Pocan’s response. We will continue to stand up for American workers and encourage all stakeholders to come to the table to negotiate.”

In addition to Pocan and Soto, Democrats Alan Lowenthal, Lisa Sanchez, and Barbara Lee of California; Steven Horsford, Dina Titus, and Susie Lee of Nevada; Eleanor Holmes Norton; Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania; Jan Schakowsky of Illinois; Bonnie Watson Coleman, Donald Norcross, and Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey; and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania signed the letter to Fertitta and were named in the foundation’s ethic complaint.

The foundation’s complaint quotes the letter as stating, “[Y]our company is currently completing a $690 million renovation of the Palms Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. In December, Red Rock signed a letter to Congress asking to change a provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that relates to how the tax law treats building improvements for qualified investment properties.”

“The letter finally requested information on the company’s current employment practices,” the foundation’s complaint states.

“In the present case, the House Members seemingly sought to coerce a private citizen’s behavior by linking their request with pending legislation before the House. The Members identified and requested specific action from Fertitta, as well as referenced pending legislation that would financially benefit Fertitta’s private company. The only reason for this connection was to use the legislation to coerce a citizen to act as the Members requested,” the foundation’s complaint argues.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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