Jack Abramoff

Sound Familiar? Once Again, Anti-Gambling Republicans Secretly Work With Indian Casinos

A New York Times report this weekend on national groups coordinating to win state-level elections noted the revelation, which first surfaced last fall, that Alabama Republicans worked to funnel money from Indian casinos to support candidates running on anti-gambling platforms in 2010.

The casinos opposed the expansion of gambling as part of plan to quash competition; meanwhile, state Republicans needed an influx of money to help them win control of the state legislature.

Alabama GOP chairman Mike Hubbard and state senator Del Marsh, who also serves as the state party’s finance chairman, worked with an Indian tribe to direct money to the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee. The RSLC, run by former RNC chairman and likely Virginia senate candidate Ed Gillespie, then passed the funds on to Alabama Republicans, thus shielding anti-gambling candidates from a public association with tribal casinos.

The arrangement also offered donors a way to help Mr. Hubbard without their checks showing up on the Alabama party’s public filings. One such supporter was the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates several large casinos on tribal land in Alabama.

The tribe was wary of the rapid expansion of non-Indian gambling in the state, particularly the proliferation of small bingo parlors competing with their resort casinos, and stood to benefit if antigambling Republicans took control of the Legislature. But precisely because they opposed gambling, few Republican state lawmakers or candidates would accept the tribe’s contributions.

After meeting with Mr. Marsh and other Republicans, said Robert R. McGhee, director of government affairs for the tribe, the tribe chose a different approach: It donated $350,000 to the leadership committee. When the contributions were later disclosed, critics accused Mr. Hubbard of using the Washington group to launder the money by exchanging it with other contributions.

If this story sounds familiar to you, that might be because disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed — who once led the Christian Coalition and now runs the Faith & Freedom Coalition — hatched a similar plan in the late 1990s to raise money from Indian casinos to back the “anti-gambling” Christian Coalition in order to stifle their gambling industry competitors.

In 1999, Abramoff subcontracted Reed’s firm to generate opposition to attempts to legalize a state-sponsored lottery and video poker in Alabama, an effort that was bankrolled by the Choctaw Tribe in order to eliminate competition to its own casino in neighboring Mississippi.[67] Reed promised that Century Strategies was “opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back” and his firm ultimately received $1.3 million from the Choctaws for this effort, which included engaging the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition, as well as influential right-wing figures such as James Dobson, to work to defeat the proposals. [68]

The strategy had one small problem: the Alabama Christian Coalition had an explicit policy that it “will not be the recipient of any funds direct or in-direct or any in-kind direct or indirect from gambling interests.” (Emphasis in original.)[69] Knowing this, Reed and Abramoff worked to hide the source of the $850,000 paid to the Christian Coalition for its anti-gambling efforts by funneling money from the Choctaws through Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, DC anti-tax organization headed by their old College Republican friend Grover Norquist.[70] When asked why the tribe’s money had to be funneled through conduits such as ATR, a Choctaw representative stated it was because Reed did not want it known that casino money was funding his operation: “It was our understanding that the structure was recommended by Jack Abramoff to accommodate Mr. Reed’s political concerns.”[71]

Nonetheless, Reed repeatedly assured the Christian Coalition that the funding for its work was not coming from gambling interests. This was technically true as the Choctaws were paying for it out of their non-gambling revenue, though their objective was obviously to protect their own gambling interests and revenue.[72] According to emails obtained during a Senate investigation into Abramoff’s activities and reported in the media, Reed was well aware of who was paying for this anti-gambling effort. When the information began to surface in the press and the Christian Coalition learned of the source of the $850,000 it had received, it demanded an explanation from Reed who apologized in a letter saying he should have “explained that the contributions came from the Choctaws,”[73] this admitting that he had been fully aware of the source of the funding. But by the time Reed offered his “after-the-fact apology,” the gambling initiative had been defeated and the Christian Coalition had been duped.[74]

When word of Reed’s work for Abramoff first broke, Reed claimed that he had “no direct knowledge of [Abramoff’s lobbying firm’s] clients or their interests.”[75] But according to the report recently released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Abramoff’s bilking of the tribes, Reed was informed by Abramoff as early as 1999 that the money that was funding his anti-gambling operations was coming from the casino-owning Choctaw tribe.

The report published an email Abramoff sent to Reed instructing him to “page me with a page of no more than 90 words ... informing me of your completion of the budget and giving me a total budget figure with category breakdowns. Once I get this, I will call Nell [Rodgers] at Choctaw and get it approved.” A subsequent email to Reed asked him to send “invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks asap.”[76]

Thus, Reed was clearly aware that the funding for his anti-gambling work was coming from the Choctaw and that he was indirectly working to protect the tribe’s multi-million dollar gambling interests. Despite the repeated references to the Choctaw in Abramoff’s emails, Reed continued to publicly insist that he did not know the source of the funding.[77]

Remembering The Religious Right's Attacks On Nelson Mandela

The news today of Nelson Mandela’s passing is also time to reflect on the complicated relationship between Mandela and his anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) with the US, which did not always support the anti-apartheid struggle. In fact, American conservatives lobbied the federal government in the 1980s to withhold support from the anti-apartheid movement.

President Reagan added the ANC to the US terrorism watch list, a designation not removed until 2008, and unsuccessfully vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime. Many Republican lawmakers did break with the Reagan administration’s stance, but “all 21 [Senate] votes to sustain the veto were cast by Republicans.”

Mandela faced criticism from Republican leaders including Dick Cheney, who described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organization,” and Jesse Helms, who “turned his back during Mandela’s visit to the U.S. Capitol.” Even in 1998, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly lumped Mandela together with notorious dictators.

The late Jerry Falwell urged [PDF] his supporters to write their congressmen and senators to tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime. “The liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa,” he said. “It is very important that we stay close enough to South Africa so that it does not fall prey to the clutches of Communism.”

“South Africa is torn by civil unrest, instigated primarily by Communist-sponsored people who are capitalizing on the many legitimate grievances created by apartheid, unemployment and policy confrontations,” Falwell continued.

Finally, we should, if possible, invest in South Africa, because this inevitably improves the standard of living for nonwhites there.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on South Africa. The world has witnessed the Soviets capture nation after nation. They have been particularly aggressive in Africa. South Africa must not be the next victim!

David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”

The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.

In 1986 The 700 Club did a series of reports on South Africa and the white government’s struggle against the African National Congress. While many socially liberal religious leaders decried the apartheid regime, Robertson openly supported it because he felt that it was a bastion against communism. For Robertson, everything else was secondary to defeating what he saw as the enemies of God. Robertson sent a copy of The 700 Club program to Freedom Council’s Dick Thompson to have it forwarded to Pat Buchanan, who in turn promised to show it to the president. Reagan’s attitude toward South Africa was one of his most controversial foreign policy stands, and Robertson was one of Reagan’s few allies on the policy.

Sam Kleiner mentions that now-Sen. Jeff Flake, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were also active in lobbying against the anti-apartheid movement:

Jack Abramoff, now a disgraced former lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, got much of his start from his work with South Africa. Abramoff visited the country following his term as National Chair of the College Republicans in 1983 and met with pro-apartheid student groups linked to the South Africa’s Bureau of Security Services. In 1986, he opened the International Freedom Foundation. Ostensibly a think tank, it was later revealed as a front group for the South African Army as part of “Operation Babushka” meant to undermine Nelson Mandela’s international approval. The group had over “30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels” working on propaganda in support of the South African government.



Like Abramoff, GOP tax guru Grover Norquist became enamored with the conflict in South Africa and went there to extend his support. Norquist ran College Republicans from 1981 to 1983 and went to South Africa in 1985 for a “Youth for Freedom Conference” sponsored by South African businesses. While other college students, such as Barack Obama, had been active in anti-apartheid work, this conference was seeking to bring American and South African conservatives together to end that movement. In his speech there, Norquist said, “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore.” A few months after the conference, Norquist went to Angola to work with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader that Abramoff valorized in his film. Norquist became a ghost-writer for Savimbi’s essay in Policy Review. When he returned to Washington, he was greeted in conservative circles as a “freedom fighter,” and he proudly placed an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker on his brief case.

A few years later and much further along in the anti-apartheid movement, a young Jeff Flake (now a senator from Arizona) became active in lobbying for South African mining interests in the late 1980s and early ’90s, after returning from his Mormon mission to South Africa. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah State Senate and then became a lobbyist in Washington for Smoak, Shipley and Henry, a lobbying firm specializing in representing the South African mining industry. Flake went on to personally represent the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia, which had been a major target of anti-apartheid activists for its discriminatory and unsafe practices.

Decades later, these Republican leaders would prefer not to have their adventures in South Africa mentioned. While Abramoff went down in a corruption scandal, Norquist went on to remake himself into a libertarian anti-tax activist, and Flake moved back to Arizona. The anti-communism that motivated the Republican allegiance to South Africa fizzled with the end of the Cold War, but the history of the Republican entanglement with South Africa remains one of the party’s darker episodes.

President Obama can proudly talk about how his first political act was in response to apartheid. While a few Republicans stood against apartheid, much of the Republican Party has nothing to offer about its position at the time but silence. I wouldn’t expect any reflections on apartheid from Abramoff, Flake or Norquist anytime soon.

Romney and Santorum Rally with Corrupt Lobbyist Ralph Reed in Wisconsin

Tomorrow morning in Waukesha, WI, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, among others (Gov. Scott Walker is listed as an invited speaker), will rally with corrupt former lobbyist Ralph Reed and the state chapter of his Faith & Freedom Coalition, which Reed created to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his deep involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Here are the event details:
It is our distinct pleasure to invite you to the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Presidential Kick-Off, sponsored by the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition, to be held at the Country Springs Hotel on Saturday, March 31st in Waukesha, WI.  Come hear from CONFIRMED speakers Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Rick Santorum, and Speaker Newt Gingrich.
 
When Romney and Santorum – the standard–bearers of the GOP – appear on stage tomorrow with Reed, they’ll be embracing a corrupt hustler who has survived scandal after scandal by delivering cash and foot soldiers to Republican leaders (and not for the first time).
 
It wasn’t long ago that Ralph Reed was damaged goods in Republican circles, and for good reason. Reed came to national prominence as the first executive director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, beginning in 1989. However, by 1997 the groups finances were collapsing, the FEC had found that the group violated federal campaign finance laws in 1990, 1992, and 1994, and federal prosecutors were investigating allegations of financial misconduct made by the organization’s CFO. So Reed resigned and moved to Georgia to become a lobbyist.
 
In 1999, Abramoff hired Reed and ultimately paid him $1.3 million to generate opposition to legalizing video poker and a state-sponsored lottery in Alabama. The money came from the Choctaw Tribe, which runs a casino in nearby Mississippi. Reed used his extensive Religious Right contacts and engaged James Dobson and the Alabama Christian Coalition, which had a policy against being the “recipient of any funds direct or in-direct or any in-kind direct or indirect from gambling interests.” He funneled $850,000 to the group, but made sure to launder it through his longtime friend Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform.
 
Before the wheels came off Jack Abramoff’s criminal lobbying enterprise, he described Reed to his business partner as “a bad version of us.” Abramoff, explaining the comment after being released from prison, said that Reed was “a tap dancer and constantly just asking for money.” And Abramoff knows more than a thing or two about Reed. He gave Reed his first job after college and, along with Norquist, formed what some called the “triumvirate” at the College Republican National Committee.
 
After the Abramoff scandal broke, Reed claimed that he had “no direct knowledge of [Abramoff’s lobbying firm’s] clients or their interests,” but the Senate Indian Affairs Committee determined that Abramoff told Reed as early as 1999 that he was taking casino money. In an interview last year with Alan Colmes, Abramoff called Reed’s denial ridiculous:
Abramoff: It's ridiculous. I mean, even the tribes that had other business, 99% of their revenue came from gaming. But a lot of those tribes had nothing but gaming.
Colmes: So, in other words, Ralph Reed was saying "hey, I'll work with you but I don't want to be paid with gambling money, I'm too clean for that." But are you saying that conversation never happened?
Abramoff: No. Never happened. Ralph didn't want it out that he was getting gambling money and, frankly, that was his choice and I think it was a big mistake.
Reed went on to become the chair of the Georgia Republican Party in 2001 and ran for lieutenant governor in 2006. However, the Abramoff scandal had broken by then, and Reed “suffered an embarrassing defeat” in the primary. The New York Times described Reed as a “close associate of Jack Abramoff” whose “candidacy was viewed as a test of the effects of the Washington lobbying scandal on core Republican voters.”
 
In 2009, Reed founded the Faith & Freedom Coalition to help resurrect his image and stature in the movement. Faith & Freedom, which Reed described as a “21st Century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids,” is really just a Tea Party-stained version of the original, and much smaller despite the steroids.
 
However, Reed is an operator in the truest sense, and knows how to “tap dance” and “constantly ask for money” with the best of them. He has apparently earned, and I do mean earned, his way back into the good graces of Republican leaders. It’s unclear, however, how long Reed can go without another scandal.

Tom DeLay, Out on Bail, Reunites with Abramoff buddy Ralph Reed at Faith and Freedom Rally

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) is out on bail after he was found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. DeLay was also subject to an investigation over his links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In fact, DeLay played a central role in the Abramoff scandal on the illegal use of Indian gambling money.

Another member of the Abramoff’s crooked scheme was Religious Right activist Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. Abramoff stealthily financed Reed’s anti-gambling organization in Alabama with money from casinos in Mississippi that were afraid of increased competition. Reed claimed he didn’t know it was gambling money, claims Abramoff laughed off as “ridiculous.” In a humiliating defeat, Reed lost his 2006 race to be the Republican nominee of Lt. Governor of Georgia, and in 2009 founded the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Does it come as a surprise to anyone that DeLay, while out on bail, will be speaking at a Faith Freedom Coalition rally in Texas?

Surely, DeLay and Reed are the best people to talk about the importance of America’s “time-honored values” and “sound public policy at every level of government.”

The only thing that could make DeLay and Reed’s Texas rally more perfect would be if Jack Abramoff himself made an appearance. Too bad he now works for the ethics watchdog United Republic.

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious