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Analysis: Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and The Republican Moral High Ground

Analysis: Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and The Republican Moral High Ground

As everyone viewing this site must know by now, Republicans are the party of God; they are the moral guides of the government, just as their supporters among evangelical fundamentalists are the guides of the population, shunning evil and promoting the finest in family values. Whether it's same-sex marriage, porn or teaching "intelligent design" in public schools, the Republicans are on the right side – that is to say, God's side – of every issue.

Right!

There's a documentary everyone should see, that's been running on PBS since last fall. It's part of the "Moyers on America" series; this episode titled "Capitol Crime," about how a small group of right-wing lobbyists, including Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff, pretty much took control of the Republican Party, and by extension, the government of the United States, starting in about 1994.

Fortunately, Abramoff's plans weren't as grandiose as they could have been. All he wanted to do was make a lot of Very Important Friends, who would allow him to take in a shitload of cash, and to service his clients, consisting mostly of Native American casino owners (and would-be owners) and sweatshop owners in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory near Guam.

Abramoff knew that the best way to service his clients (and make a shitload of money) was to get those clients to contribute to his Very Important Friends – Congresscritters like Tom DeLay and Bob Ney – who in turn would either push legislation favorable to the clients – for instance, tax relief for Indian casinos – or bury legislation that wasn't – for instance, bills to improve working conditions in the Mariana sweatshops, prohibit female workers from being forced to get abortions ... and also to outlaw or severely restrict adult bookstores in those Islands.

Why all that is (or should be) interesting to members of the adult entertainment community is that one of the front organizations that Abramoff set up through which to launder cash and to do a few odd jobs was the U.S. Family Network.

According to the Moyers documentary, U.S. Family Network (USFN), founded in '96, was "one of the most powerful and influential pro-family groups in Washington," even though it had just a single staffer. It operated out of a townhouse, bought with Abramoff's clients' money, just three blocks from Tom DeLay's office, and also housed DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARM). Both organizations were run by DeLay's chief of staff Ed Buckham, who also ran his wife's lobbying organization, the Alexander Strategy Group, out of the same address, 132 D Street SE.

The U.S. Family Network made headlines in 1999 for being the recipient of the largest single (and, incidentally, unauthorized) donation ever made by the National Republican Congressional Caucus (NRCC): $500,000. The money was to be used, according to Roll Call magazine, to "turn out conservative Christian voters on election day" in 2000.

Industry members may recall (or at least are currently suffering from) what the results of that turn-out have been.

But as Roll Call observed, the U.S. Family Network existed essentially to support candidates and causes that the NRCC felt it couldn't touch, and to oppose candidates and causes the NRCC didn't want to have anything to do with. No cause exemplified that more than legalized gambling.

The dilemma was simple: Abramoff and DeLay wanted money and power. The religious right opposed legalized gambling; Abramoff's clients (and DeLay's chief donors), the various Indian tribes that owned casinos, supported it for themselves but opposed it anywhere off the reservation. Abramoff and DeLay wanted to curry favor with the religious fundamentalists, but they also wanted accept contributions from the tribes in exchange for promoting legalized gambling – at least in tribal casinos – and what better place through which to funnel those contributions than in the U.S. Family Network?

"Everybody on this board was opposed to gambling," said U.S. Family Network board member Rev. Chris Geeslin. "Nobody on the board, none of the people on this pro bono board believe in gambling."

But as Moyers notes in "Capitol Crime," USFN's very first contribution came from Jack Abramoff's client, the casino-rich Choctaws, and while Buckham kept the USFN board in the dark, He funneled $345,000 in Choctaw money through USFN to ARM and DeLay.

"I never asked questions of Ed, you know," Geeslin told Moyers. "Ed's finding this money, he's bringing it in, and you know, we're doing our part to bring America back to God, you know, basically through political means."

"Bring[ing] America back to God ... through political means" meant, of course, electing Republicans like DeLay, all of whom would support the sectarianization of America and tax breaks for the wealthy, as well as the right-wing's war on porn.

Of course, USFN wasn't the only "non-profit" accepting big bucks from Abramoff's tribal clients. Others included Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative pro-business "think tank" run by one of Abramoff's old college pals, which paid for, among other things, a lavish "educational" golfing trip to Scotland for DeLay and others.

The Native Americans' contributions bought them access to the highest levels of the Republican administration, including face-to-face meetings with President Bush at $25K a pop. It also brought them ridicule from Abramoff, who referred to the tribes as "morons," "stupid idiots," "monkeys," "troglodytes," and "losers."

Still ... once George W. Bush was elected president, DeLay, Abramoff and company were in like Flynn.

"We have the House. We have the Senate. We have the White House," DeLay declared. "Which means we have the agenda." And according to Moyers, "number one on his agenda was a project to keep Republicans in power - permanently."

Abramoff and associates devised many ways to soak the tribes. One had Abramoff directing clients to a new public relations firm run by former DeLay press secretary Mike Scanlon, as part of a "secret kickback scheme."

"Abramoff would have his clients hire Scanlon's new public relations firm," reported Moyers. "Scanlon would charge them far beyond what it would really cost to do the work he promised. And the two would then split the windfall... They nicknamed their scheme 'Give Me Five'" after the old familiar hand-slap of success.

In just one series of emails that came out during Abramoff's 2005 plea to various charges, Scanlon raked in $1.5 million for work that it actually cost him $100,000 to do, with the other $1.4 million split between him and Abramoff. "Gimme five," indeed!

This from the party of "family values" and "Christian morality"!

One Abramoff client was the Coushatta tribe, which had a casino in Louisiana just an hour from the Texas border. Thanks to "advice" from Abramoff, the Coushattas were worried that Texas might allow a casino to be opened in Houston, roughly 100 miles from the Coushatta casino.

"Abramoff and Scanlon promised the tribe they could get gambling outlawed in Texas," Moyers explained. "They didn't mention that the Texas Attorney General had already filed suit to do just that."

But Abramoff had to show that he was doing something for the (eventual total of) $32 million he would be getting from the Coushattas ... so he turned to his old pal, Ralph Reed, for help.

Years ago, Reed had interned for Abramoff and Norquist on various committees to get Ronald Reagan elected president, and later became the first executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. During a 2004 hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. Byron Dorgan questioned Abramoff about how $10,000 of Indian money was sent to Reed's campaign to get elected chairman of the Georgia Republican party. (Abramoff pled the Fifth in answer to Dorgan's query.)

Abramoff hired Reed to stir up Texas Christians, whom Scanlon termed "wackos," against gambling, in part using a bogus Christian front group.

"Simply put we want to bring out the wackos," Scanlon wrote in a memo. "The wackos get their information from the Christian right, Christian radio, the internet, and telephone trees."

Reed claimed he had over 50 pastors mobilized, who headed churches with over 40,000 members – and the tab for Reed's services was nearly half a million dollars for two weeks of TV coverage of the "debate."

What's unclear is where the tribe's money was actually spent.

"Did Ralph spend all the money he was given to fight this - or does he have some left?" asked Scanlon in an email.

"That's a silly question!" Abramoff responded. "He would NEVER admit he has money left over. Would we?" [Emphasis added.]

Reed's campaign succeeded – no doubt with a lot of help from Texas' attorney general, who also pushed hard to ban the vice. One result of the ban was the forced closure of casinos owned by the Tigua tribe – and sure enough, there was Abramoff, having already taken millions from the Coushattas to push for the ban, offering to get the ban lifted for the Tiguas – if the price was right. For the Tiguas, that price was $300,000 donated to various political action committees (PACs) including the "Rely On Your Beliefs" PAC, "Friends of the Big Sky" PAC, the Missouri Millennium Fund, the Restore America PAC ... and Tom DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority PAC.

Abramoff strung the Tiguas along for months, wringing millions of dollars from them – not to mention another golf outing in Scotland – but when push came to shove, Abramoff's point man on the project, Rep. Bob Ney, couldn't get favorable language into a bill. However, that didn't stop Abramoff from arranging a meeting between the Tiguas and Ney ... after Ney – and Abramoff – already knew the bill was dead.

But contributions continued to be funneled through USFN, including $1 million from Russian oil moguls who wanted Congress to provide funding to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help bail out the then-failing Russian economy, particularly its oil companies. Rev. Chris Geeslin questioned Ed Buckham about the contribution, who was upfront about the money's source.

"You wonder, 'Well, why in the world did they give that money?'" Geeslin told Moyers. "I mean, obviously, they did not believe in the pro-family values that we're talking about. And what did they want from that money? Okay. Was it this IMF vote? You know, obviously, they didn't just give it. They gave it for some reason."

The "reason," of course, was to spread joy among Abramoff's congressional friends – even Tom DeLay, who had been critical of the IMF Russian bailout ... but who, oddly enough, eventually voted for the bill he had previously disparaged on the House floor.

But perhaps one of the most egregious Abramoff/DeLay projects was the protection of sweatshop operations in the Northern Mariana Islands.

"The factories, many owned by the Chinese Communist government, manufactured clothing for some of the biggest retailers in America - from the Gap to Jones New York - and legally labeled them 'Made in the USA'," Moyers explained. "But workers were paid a pittance. It was a very sweet deal made possible because Congress had exempted the territory from U.S. minimum wage and immigration laws... [The workers] soon discovered they were essentially indentured servants, thousands of dollars in debt to the company men who had recruited them and often forced them to sign secret 'shadow contracts.' ... Forced to work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, their pay was barely half the U.S. minimum wage."

"They agreed they wouldn't date, they wouldn't go to churches," added Marianas Attorney General Pam Brown. "If they got pregnant, they'd have an abortion."

"They had a tremendous amount of control over these workers, something I think it's pretty hard for an American to understand," said Allen Stayman, deputy assistant secretary for the Department of the Interior in the Marianas. "Americans can always just say, 'I've had enough,' and walk out. These people did not have that opportunity."

Enter Jack Abramoff, now in the employ of the Marianas government, who began promoting the Marianas to conservatives as a free-market paradise, and began running all-expense paid "fact-finding" junkets for lawmakers, their staff, and conservative activists and journalists. One such junketer was Tom DeLay.

"You represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America, and in leading the world in the free market system," DeLay later said, denying to reporters that the workers he had seen were being sexually exploited.

DeLay also had a few choice words for the Chinese industrialists who owned the Marianas sweatshops:

"You are up against the forces of big labor and the radical left. Stand firm. Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator."

Apparently, according to DeLay, God approves of sweatshops – especially if they're 14 time zones away from D.C.

Sure enough, DeLay managed to get minimum wage and other labor laws for the Marianas squelched in the House – after the Senate passed such bills not once but twice – and in the process, Abramoff made $8 million in fees after reporting to the Marianas government that he had made over 200 contacts with DeLay and staff regarding the Marianas legislation.

See? Doing God's work can be immensely profitable, even if you aren't a Falwell, Robertson or Dobson.

Geeslin summed up his work with the U.S. Family Network, which over the course of its existence continued to receive huge donations from Abramoff clients, thusly: "We were supposed to be presenting, you know, this moral value to the country, and bringing the country back to God in supporting these programs. And we did some of that. But you know, really I feel now that was kind of a charade, and the real purpose of this USFN was a shell organization. Whether it was Jack Abramoff's shell organization out of his concepts, or whether it was Ed Buckham's, you know, doesn't really matter. We were just used."

And so ends one small tale of the "on the ground" workings of the party that claims to be the moral guidepost of the United States.

Just something to remember the next time you hear one of these self-appointed guardians of morality tell you (or a city council) how depraved your adult business is.

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Mark Kernes

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