A critical aspect of the corruption and bribery mega-scandal swirling around conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff and shaking Capitol Hill—which hasn’t gotten much mass media attention—is how so much dough from slush funds that he controlled went to leading homophobes from the religious right.
Abramoff did more than simply hire anti-gay luminaries—the Reverend Lou Sheldon, who heads up the Traditional Values Coalition, and Ralph Reed, former chief of the Christian Coalition, key among them—with money from his clients and front groups to lobby on behalf of special interests. Abramoff also funded an anti-gay group with close ties to his best buddy and biggest water-carrier, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay—the U.S. Family Network—with laundered money that has been traced to Russian oil interests.
Let’s start with Sheldon. He’s such a professional anti-gay wacko that even stridently conservative pundit Tucker Carlson has denounced him for it. In a January 4 column he wrote for MSNBC’s Web site on the Abramoff scandal’s fallout, Carlson recounted an interview he had with Sheldon, who told him, “You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is? Homosexuality.”
Carlson‘s reaction: “Homosexuality was the biggest problem in the inner cities? Bigger than crime? And unemployment? And poverty? And broken families? And AIDS?… Nope, there was no way around it. What the Reverend Lou had said was bizarre. And creepy too.”
Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition received at least $25,000 from an Abramoff client, eLottery—an online gambling outfit—as part of the $2 million the company spent to defeat an anti-gambling bill. The Washington Post reported that Abramoff referred to Sheldon as “Lucky Louie.”
What makes this all the juicier is that the Traditional Values Coalition has long proclaimed its hostility to gambling and crusaded against it. Thus, while Sheldon was proclaiming that it was the “homosexual agenda [which] is destroying America’s moral fiber,” he was secretly on the take from gambling interests whose usurious gouging he opposed in public. This sort of blatant hypocrisy scandalized even a bona fide right-wing frother like Carlson, who wrote in the January 4 column that Sheldon was a “weirdo and charlatan” for preaching gay-hating morality while pocketing Abramoff’s corrupt cash. Carlson added that he’d be “happy when [Sheldon’s] gone.”
Ralph Reed, as head of the Christian Coalition from 1989 until 1997, has been widely credited for the “Republican Revolution”—the 1994 election victory that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time in five decades. How did Reed do it? He mobilized Christian-right voters with an anti-gay sleaze campaign linking Democratic members of Congress to the push for openly gay service in the military—a hot-button issue that year. Christian Coalition congressional “scorecards” distributed in massive numbers of voters in every election cycle regularly have targeted votes by Democrats for gay civil rights legislation with the aim of defeating them—another Reed innovation.
E-mails released by federal investigators in June of last year show that Reed secretly accepted payments to lobby against approval of some Indian casino gambling interests competitive with the casinos owned by Abramoff’s now-famous Native American gambling clients. Abramoff also recruited Reed to join Sheldon in lobbying for eLottery—on whose behalf the ex-Christian Coalition leader worked against an Alabama education lottery. Reed, who got elected chairman of the Georgia Republican Party four years ago by making himself the spokesman of those who wanted to keep the Confederate flag flying on state buildings, is now running for lieutenant governor of the Peach State. Newspapers there and his opponents are having a field day exposing Janus-like “family values” crusader Reed’s secret links with Abramoff.
Grover Norquist, dubbed “The Lenin of the Right,” as head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)—a hard-right lobbying group—convenes and presides over a weekly meeting of the leaders of more than 100 conservative organizations. It was at these meetings that the successful anti-gay strategy targeting same-sex marriage was hatched and refined as critical to Republican victory in 2004. Norquist allowed Abramoff to launder money through ATR to help an Abramoff client—who wanted to sell state lottery tickets online—whip up opposition to an anti-gambling bill that would have put that client out of business.
But the most bizarre and Byzantine Abramoff scam was the laundromat called the U.S. Family Network, established in 1996 by DeLay’s former chief of staff, Edwin Buckham. The group, which promoted DeLay’s economic and family values agenda, spent money on radio ads that targeted Democratic members of Congress for their alleged fealty to “the homosexual agenda.”
In a lengthy piece of Pulitzer-quality investigative reporting on December 31—little-noticed because it ran on a Saturday, which was New Year’s Eve day to boot—the Washington Post’s Jeff Smith exposed how Abramoff arranged funding for the U.S. Family Network, routed through London lawyers, from Russian energy executives who got DeLay to support Congressional funding for an International Monetary Fund bailout of the Russian economy. These Russian oiligarchs forked over a cool $1 million for the Network. Buckham, the U.S. Family Network’s guru, put DeLay’s wife on his payroll—for what the Post painted as a no-show job, and had the Network buy a townhouse DeLay used for fundraising phone calls. DeLay’s staff called it “the Safe House.”
Other corporate interests with little stake in the “family values” agenda also lavished money on the U.S. Family Network—including the $500,000 from textile companies headquartered in the Mariana Islands, who wanted, and got, DeLay’s public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs. Or the $250,000 from Abramoff’s biggest client, the Choctaw Indians, who got Delay’s help in blocking legislation that would have taxed their casino profits.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the Christian right’s favorite rabbi, a frequent speaker at its gatherings, and a close friend of Ralph Reed, Karl Rove—and Jack Abramoff. Lapin’s 1999 book, “America’s Real War,” is a Pat-Buchanan-like diatribe about the “culture wars” in America that is dripping with homophobia and targets gays. Lapin, an Orthodox Jew who moved to the U.S. from South Africa in the ‘80s, has been a key figure in mobilizing opposition to gay marriage within the Jewish religious community through his organization, Toward Tradition (TT), of which Abramoff was a board member.
Lapin’s TT received $25,000 from Abramoff and $50,000 from two Abramoff clients, including eLottery. TT subsequently hired the wife of then-DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy—a major Abramoff scandal figure named in the lobbyist’s guilty plea—after receiving written instructions from Abramoff, along with eLottery’s check, to put her on the payroll at $5,000 a month.
The great American literary humorist Ambrose Bierce once defined hypocrisy as “prejudice with a halo.” And the decline and fall of these homophobes—who are all at the center of the deepest sewer of corruption in Washington since the S&L scandal in the ‘80s—gives a new meaning to their favorite phrase, “family values.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/
Lobbyist Jack Ambramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay are key players in the anti-gay movement; when one cut a deal with prosecutors last week, the other finally surrendered his leadership post.