Six days after winning a state contract, the company Pennsylvania chose to run its computer system for slot machines gave $50,000 to a national nonprofit that raises money for Democratic governors — including Gov. Ed Rendell, the group's finance chair.
GTECH, a Rhode Island lottery company, has given $481,267 to the Democratic Governors' Association since 2000, according to a political watchdog group. But the payment March 8 had nothing to do with the $6.3 million a year contract announced by the state Department of Revenue, officials said Wednesday.
Rendell spokeswoman Kate Philips said the state's decision to award GTECH the gambling contract was unrelated to the company's contribution to the governors' association.
"I don't think the timing is curious at all," she said.
The timing was a coincidence, said Bob Vincent, GTECH's spokesman. The contribution followed an annual invoice for membership dues, Vincent said. GTECH has made similar donations each of the past five years, according to invoices GTECH received from the association and federal tax records compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.
Dependent on state contracts for its business, GTECH is a "very politically active company," said center spokesman Bill Allison. The company ranks 13th among contributors to the Democratic Governors' Association — behind several unions and large corporations, according to the nonprofit's analysis.
"It's not so much the timing (of the contribution)," Allison said. "It's hard to say any individual contribution led to contracting action, but it's easier to show (GTECH) is a politically savvy company that has spent a lot of money over the years."
GTECH, with annual revenues of $1.25 billion, also has given $169,050 to a comparable group for Republican governors.
The Revenue Department picked GTECH for the state's first major slots contract from among 10 competitors in a secretive process that did not follow normal bid procedures. The goal was to move quickly, Philips said. The department won't name the other bidders or say how it selected a winner.
Penny Lee — Rendell's communications director until she was named executive director of the Democratic Governors' Association in April — also discounted a connection between GTECH's contributions to the association and the state contract.
"There is no connection," Lee said. "They're two separate things, the DGA and the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue."
As the group's finance chair, Rendell raises money for the organization, Philips said. Because of the state's ban on corporate giving to political candidates, the governor makes sure he doesn't directly benefit from the money he raises, she said.
That's not to say Rendell doesn't receive money from the association. The group has given $462,000 to Rendell's gubernatorial campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The Rendell for Governor campaign in 2002 received five donations from the Democratic Governor's Association, beginning Sept. 17 and ending Nov. 4.
A world leader in lottery systems, GTECH gets high praise from industry analysts even though it lost executives in the past to allegations of bribery, kickbacks and a coverup. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation last year after Brazilian prosecutors recommended bribery charges for two GTECH employees and filed a $650 million lawsuit against the company's Brazilian subsidiary. The criminal charges never were filed.