1/04/2006

The Stakeholder:: "Deeper Kind of Corruption"

Gop's Deeper Kind of Corruption - DCCC Stakeholder

They're the crooked televangelists that took Grandma's Social Security check and used it to build a castle for themselves. But they don't need Grandma to send it in any more -- they can take her Social Security money before it even goes out, along with all of our tax dollars. Our children can pick up the interest payments.


Posted by jesselee
Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 11:32 AM

Tucker Carlson's take on the plight on American Indian tribes is obtuse and distasteful, but the rest of this hits the right angle I think...

What really smells about Abramoff scandal

Lou Sheldon was the first person I ever officially interviewed. I was 22 and working at a quarterly magazine in Washington. My editor had just assigned me a story about religious revival in the inner city. The idea was, black churches might be better equipped to help the urban poor than government aid agencies. Someone suggested I talk to the Reverend Lou Sheldon, the head of a group called the Traditional Values Coalition. Apparently he was an expert on the subject. So I called him.

Sheldon came to my office for the interview. We sat across from each other in my cubicle and I threw a series of questions at him. He answered each one impatiently, then stopped me. "You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is?" Yes, I nodded, readying my pen and pad. Sheldon paused. "Homosexuality," he said.

As a general matter, I try to give people like Lou Sheldon the benefit of the doubt. Just because you oppose the practice of homosexuality (and most of the world's six billion people still do oppose to it) doesn't mean you're a bigot. Some people have principled religious objections. I wanted to keep an open mind.

But I couldn't. Homosexuality was the biggest problem in the inner cities? Bigger than crime? And unemployment? And poverty? And broken families? And AIDS? And for that matter, graffiti? Nope, there was no way around it. What the Reverend Lou had said was bizarre. And creepy too.

So it was with not all that much surprise that I read Lou Sheldon's name again recently, in a story about disgraced lobbyist and admitted felon Jack Abramoff. According to the Washington Post, Sheldon allegedly took money from an Abramoff client called eLottery and in return pressured members of Congress to defeat an anti-gambling bill. Sheldon was joined in this by former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, another longtime Abramoff friend.

The usual good government types will point to the Abramoff scandal as yet another reason we need tougher campaign finance laws and more stringent ethics rules in Washington. Maybe they're right. But there's a deeper kind of corruption here.

Why were supposedly honest ideological conservatives like Sheldon and Reed and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist involved with Jack Abramoff in the first place? Keep in mind that Abramoff's business wasn't just gambling, which by itself should have been enough to scare off professional moralizers like Sheldon. Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist for Indian gambling. Over the years Abramoff and his now-indicted partner took more than $80 million from a half a dozen tribes in return for their efforts to keep Indian gambling revenues tax free.

Step back and think about this for a second. Indian tribes get a special pass from the federal government to run a high-margin monopoly simply because they are Indian tribes, which is to say, simply because of their ethnicity. This is the worst, least fair form of affirmative action, and it should be anathema to conservatives. Conservatives are supposed to support the idea of a meritocracy, a country where hard work not heredity is the key to success and everyone is equal before the law. Conservatives should despise Indian gambling on principal.

And some still do. But others got rich from it, and now they're likely headed to jail. I'll be cheering as they're sentenced. Weirdos and charlatans and self-interested hacks like Lou Sheldon and Grover Norquist have long discredited the conservative ideas they purport to represent. Their political allies in Washington and Congress may be tempted to defend them. I hope they don't. We'll all be better off when they're gone.

[UPDATE: A friend just emailed to ask if I was endorsing Tucker's disgusting stance on American Indian tribes in the second-to-last paragraph. Absolutely NOT, and that is what I referred to in the opening sentence of the post as "obtuse and distasteful." But let me take a moment to clarify and agree with my friend who says, "No, they get a pass due to treaties made, treaties broken, tribal status as sovereign jurisdictions, and compromises struck in lieu of legally enforceable alternatives much more inconvenient to the states." In fact my posting of Tucker's piece is not an "endorsement" of any of it, so much as a glimpse into how certain normally reliable Republicans might be disturbed by this mess.]

This was well put by Dotty Lynch months ago actually:

But a larger question is now looming for Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and others on the right who are cloaking their politics with religion and morality.

Reed's former boss, Pat Robertson, has cited the Biblical warning that you can't serve both God and Mammon as part of Reed's dilemma. The problem, as one Republican consultant put it to me, is that a lot of these stories are causing people to question just how much of the outcry for morality in government is real and how much is just a smoke-screen for raking in big bucks.

As the spotlight now shines on the role of religion in politics, maybe it is the influence of moolah -- not the Messiah -- that should be receiving a little more scrutiny.

Let's take a walk down memory lane. From The New Republic on Jack Abramoff's "spiritual advisor," Daniel Lapin, and an incident in which Abramoff had been nominated for the Cosmos Club.

Abramoff email to Lapin:

I have been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc. Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none. I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?... Indeed, it would be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I think you see what I am trying to finagle here!

Lapin email to Abramoff:

Let's organize your many prestigous awards so they're ready to 'hang on the wall.'... I just need to know what needs to be produced. Letters? Plaques? Neither?

And of course this story comes against the backdrop of Tom DeLay and Ed Buckham, summarized most starkly in this editorial from the Charleston Gazette:

DeLay put his fundamentalist pastor, the Rev. Ed Buckham, on his congressional staff, and the two led daily office prayers, hand-in-hand. Then Buckham left to form a right-wing lobbying outfit, Alexander Strategy Group - yet he still visits DeLay almost daily and put the congressman's wife on his payroll.

Buckham accompanied the DeLays on a junket to the North Mariana Islands, where low-wage garment manufacturers enjoy a tax break arranged by DeLay.

Buckham persuaded the National Republican Congressional Committee to give $500,000 to an outside group (deeply entwined with Buckham) to run radio ads against Democrats. This deal was illegal, and the GOP committee wound up paying a $280,000 fine for it. The deal also caused Democrats to slap DeLay with a racketeering suit that was settled out of court.

DeLay and others took junkets to South Korea funded by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council - which turned out to be a front group entwined with Buckham. House rules forbid members to accept trips from registered foreign agents.

DeLay and other Republicans took a golf outing to Scotland, supposedly funded by a Washington think tank - but The Washington Post revealed that Indian tribes and gambling interests indirectly paid for the junket through a controversial lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, associated with Buckham.

In preparation for possible prosecution, DeLay started a legal defense fund and raised $1 million from conservative sources such as tobacco interests and Domino's Pizza. But he was forced to return donations from lobbyists, which violate House rules.

The Texas congressman has declared that he is impelled by "a biblical worldview that says God is our creator, that man is a sinner." Maybe ongoing Washington investigations will make it clear that the latter phrase applies to DeLay.

And then of course there's the Golden Boy, the crusader against all vice great and small...

E-mails add evidence of Reed link to tribes [Birmingham News]

Anti-gambling activist Ralph Reed of Georgia knew that an Indian tribe in Mississippi was financing his company's work in 1999 when he was trying to defeat gambling initiatives in Alabama, according to e-mail communications released Wednesday by a Senate committee.

[...]

"Ralph, I spoke with our managing partner and he has approved the subcontractor arrangement, but does not want the firm to be out big bucks on this, even as a cash flow, for long," Abramoff wrote to Reed on April 6, 1999. "So it would be really helpful if you could get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks asap."

[...]

While Reed and the Alabama campaigns were not mentioned in the hearing, the timing of some of the e-mails tracks the height of the gambling debate in Alabama and other Southern states in 1999 and 2000.

On April 4, 1999, for example, Abramoff wrote Reed asking for a 90-word explanation of his budget for an unspecified project. "Once I get this, I will call Nell at Choctaw and get it approved," Abramoff wrote. Nell is Nell Rogers, planner for the Mississippi Choctaws.

And let's not let our old pal Sheldon off the hook...

How a Lobbyist Stacked the Deck [WaPo]

Abramoff quietly arranged for eLottery to pay conservative, anti-gambling activists to help in the firm's $2 million pro-gambling campaign, including Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show. Abramoff also turned to prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, arranging to route some of eLottery's money for Reed through Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.

At one point, eLottery's backers even circulated a forged letter of support from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

Rudy declined to comment for this report. A spokesman for Reed -- now a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- said that he and his associates are unaware that any money they received came from gambling activities. Sheldon said that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat the bill. Norquist's group would say only that it had opposed the gambling ban on libertarian grounds.

They're the crooked televangelists that took Grandma's Social Security check and used it to build a castle for themselves. But they don't need Grandma to send it in any more -- they can take her Social Security money before it even goes out, along with all of our tax dollars. Our children can pick up the interest payments.


The Stakeholder:: "Deeper Kind of Corruption"

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