A group that supports the Mashpee Wampanoag’s proposal to build a casino in Taunton has spent more than $130,000 on a political campaign to win favor for the project, outspending opponents more than 175 to 1 ahead of Saturday’s nonbinding referendum, according to documents on file with the city clerk.
The Mashpee tribe has committed $300,000 toward the public campaign that is being waged on behalf of the tribe by the group Together for Taunton, which includes local residents, business owners, and tribal members. The group had about $170,000 in cash on hand on May 22, the most recent date covered by the group’s filing. The group expects to spend all the money on the campaign before Saturday’s vote. Opponents, on the other hand, had spent just $730 to defeat the proposal by May 31. The opposition group, Preserve Taunton’s Future, had $793 on hand at the end of last month.
“The spending is astronomical, and that is a difficult factor to go up against,” said Michelle Littlefield, a member of the opposition group.
Though Saturday’s ballot is nonbinding in law, a failed vote for the casino project would be a setback that could disrupt or delay the tribe’s ongoing negotiations with Governor Deval Patrick over a tribal casino. Tribal casinos are developed under a federal law that applies only to federally recognized Native American tribes. It is a separate process from the state’s plans to license commercial casinos through competitive bids.
The procasino effort received three contributions from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe: $10,000 and $190,000 contributions in March and another $100,000 in May, according to campaign finance documents.
The campaign spent more than $55,000 on consultants through May 22. It spent $22,000 on printing and postage expenses; $11,000 on Web design; and $17,000 on film production. The group spent more than twice as much on software, $2,000, than opponents have spent on their entire campaign.
“There are 33,000 voters in Taunton, and we’ve tried to reach all of them,” said Terry Quinn, chairman of Together for Taunton.
Local voters in Massachusetts have yet to endorse a casino proposal at the ballot box since the state’s expanded casino law was approved last November.
Foxborough voters in May elected casino opponents to the Board of Selectmen in a town election dominated by a single issue, a proposal by Wynn Resorts to build a casino near Gillette Stadium. Wynn canceled the plans shortly after the vote.
On May 29, Freetown residents voted heavily against a casino proposal by the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, in a nonbinding referendum. On Saturday, Lakeville voters also rejected casino plans by the Aquinnah tribe, by a 10-1 ratio, in another nonbinding vote.
Mark Arsenault can be reached
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