A judge has thrown out a lawsuit that alleged Atlantic City’s casino-funded marketing coalition is actually an arm of government and should be required to disclose its records to the public.
The state Superior Court suit was filed against the Atlantic City Alliance by John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project. Paff, of Franklin Township, Somerset County, has filed similar lawsuits seeking public access to private organizations that have government tie-ins.
Judge James Savio dismissed the Atlantic City Alliance litigation on Friday, ruling that the ACA is a private group not subject to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. Paff claimed the alliance is a “public agency” that should disclose its business dealings under the OPRA law.
“We are pleased with the outcome of the decision,” said Don Marrandino, a Caesars Entertainment executive and chairman of the alliance’s board of trustees. “The decision is consistent with the intent of the legislation that the Atlantic City Alliance is a private, nonprofit organization not subject to OPRA rules.”
Paff, who said he will likely appeal, argued that the alliance reflects a broader trend by government to create so-called private organizations to skirt the OPRA requirements.
“There is a continuing relationship and tethers between government agencies and closely related private entities,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
OPRA opens up the workings of government through the disclosure of public documents. Paff maintained that the courts must clarify which type of ties have to exist to make them subject to public disclosure, otherwise “a lot of agencies could create private partners to shield their business from OPRA.”
The Atlantic City Alliance is the private part of the “public-private” partnership created by Gov. Chris Christie last year to help revitalize the town’s struggling tourism and casino industries. Funded entirely by the casino industry, the alliance will oversee a $150 million marketing and publicity campaign for Atlantic City over the next five years. It has already created the “Do AC” advertising blitz to draw tourists from throughout the Northeast corridor.
The alliance’s board of trustees, comprised entirely of casino executives, meets privately and does not release its minutes to the public. State legislation permitted the alliance to be created, but it was actually the casinos that formed it.
Liza Cartmell, the alliance’s chief executive officer, has repeatedly said that there are no government connections to the ACA’s funding. However, the alliance does have a marketing agreement with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency that oversees the Atlantic City Tourism District.
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