Religious Right Leaders Implicated in Widening DC Corruption Probe
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 10:10:03 PM EST
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Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the California-based Traditional Values Coalition has long been among the most stridently anti-gay crusaders on the Christian Right. The Washington Post reveals that he and two other top Religious Right leaders are  implicated in the widening Washington, DC corruption scandal centered around conservative Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff who has cut a deal with federal prosecutors in return for his testimony against Members of Congress.

Abramoff called him "Lucky Louie" Sheldon.

Previously, Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, and now a political consultant, had been shown to have received money from gambling interests tied to Abramoff -- even as he was publicly working on anti-gambling issues for another client.

And now the anti-gambling Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition has been shown to have recieved money from gambling interests, along with Rabbi Daniel Lapin's, Seattle based Orthodox Jewish foundation, Toward Tradition.  Lapin is frequently aligned with the Christian Right.

The Washington Post reported this past weekend, in summarizing the roles of the main players in the scandal:

E-mails released by federal investigators in June 2005 suggest that Reed secretly accepted payments from Abramoff to lobby against Indian casino gambling and oppose an Alabama education lottery at the same time that Abramoff was being paid to promote Indian casino gambling. Additional e-mails released in November 2005 show that Reed also worked for another Abramoff client seeking to block a congressional ban on Internet gambling. Reed has said he did not know the funds came from pro-gambling sources.

Reed is currently running for Lt. Governor of Georgia.

While Sheldon does not seem to be central to the corruption scandal so far, his collection of covert cash from gambling interests, when he too was publicly opposing gambling, will no doubt tarnish his credibility with his Christian Right constituents -- and anyone else who might be paying attention. The Post reports:

Sheldon's organization, which has protested loudly against gambling, allegedly accepted money from an online lottery firm, eLottery, to help in its $2 million pro-gambling campaign. Checks and e-mails obtained by The Post show that Abramoff recruited Ralph Reed to join Sheldon in the effort to pressure members of Congress.

Sheldon told The Post that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat an anti-gambling bill. Sheldon received at least $25,000 from eLottery; Abramoff is known to have referred to him as "Lucky Louie."

The original Washington Post report last October detailed  Abramoff's relationship with Sheldon, as well as Reed and  Lapin.  Lapin's organization Toward Tradition where Abramoff chaired the board of directors, also got $25,000 from eLottery.

The Post investigation shows that the way eLottery, a Connecticut-based company, sent money to Reed "had the effect of obscuring the source."  Reed claims he did not know that Abramoff was working for eLottery.

"To reach the House conservatives, Abramoff turned to Sheldon, leader of the Orange County, Calif. - based Traditional Values Coalition, a politically potent group that publicly opposed gambling and said it represented 43,000 churches. Abramoff had teamed up with Sheldon before on issues affecting his clients. Because of their previous success, Abramoff called Sheldon "Lucky Louie," former associates said.

Checks and e-mails obtained by The Post show that Abramoff recruited Reed to join Sheldon in the effort to pressure members of Congress....

Abramoff asked eLottery to write a check in June 2000 to Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). He also routed eLottery money to a Reed company, using two intermediaries, which had the effect of obscuring the source.

The eLottery money went first to [Washington lobbyist Grover] Norquist's foundation, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and then through a second group in Virginia Beach called the Faith and Family Alliance, before it reached Reed's company, Century Strategies. Norquist's group retained a share of the money as it passed through.

"I have 3 checks from elot: (1) 2 checks for $80K payable to ATR and (2) 1 check to TVC for $25K," Abramoff's assistant Susan Ralston e-mailed him on June 22, 2000. "Let me know exactly what to do next. Send to Grover? Send to Rev. Lou?"

Minutes later Abramoff responded, saying that the check for Sheldon's group should be sent directly to Sheldon, but that the checks for Norquist required special instructions: "Call Grover, tell him I am in Michigan and that I have two checks for him totaling 160 and need a check back for Faith and Family for $150K."

According to the e-mails, Reed provided the name and address where Norquist was supposed to send the money: to Robin Vanderwall at a location in Virginia Beach.

Vanderwall was director of the Faith and Family Alliance, a political advocacy group that was founded by two of Reed's colleagues and then turned over to Vanderwall, Vanderwall said and records show...

In a telephone interview, Vanderwall said that in July 2000 he was called by Reed's firm, Century Strategies, alerting him that he would be receiving a package. When it came, it contained a check payable to Vanderwall's group for $150,000 from Americans for Tax Reform, signed by Norquist. Vanderwall said he followed the instructions from Reed's firm -- depositing the money and then writing a check to Reed's firm for an identical amount.

"I was operating as a shell," Vanderwall said, adding that he was never told how the money was spent. He said: "I regret having had anything to do with it."

Abramoff had previously paid Reed's consulting firms to whip up Christian opposition to Indian casinos and a proposed Alabama state lottery that would compete with the gambling business of Abramoff's tribal clients, sometimes using Norquist's foundation as a pass-through, a Senate investigation has found.

A spokeswoman for Reed said Century Strategies had no business relationship with eLottery. She said Reed did anti-gambling work for Abramoff but was assured by Abramoff's firm "that our activities would not be funded by revenues derived from gambling activities."

While it is not clear that Reed, Sheldon and Lapin did anything illegal, it is certainly clear that their organizations all received funds from eLottery and that they worked with Abramoff to defeat the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act  -- a bill that was supported by the Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.  

The corruption probe may prove that a number of Members of Congress were for sale. It may have already proved that some leaders of the Religious Right are for sale as well -- although that may not be illegal.

These are details that could easily get lost amidst the focus on former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and other members of Congress.  

Those who are affected by the activities of Reed, Sheldon and Lapin, might not want to forget.

are coming right up.

Sems to me that there are some good issues in here somewhere.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 10:53:14 PM EST

The Abramoff affair could have much wider insinuations. Many episodes in Abramoff's associations with various congressmen have already been given sizeable exposure in newspaper accounts and court filings.

When Abramoff was president of the National College Republicans in the mid-1980s, his two top deputies were Norquist and Reed. All three went on to prominent positions in far-right politics. Abramoff turned to lobbying for the Nicaraguan contras and anti-communist terrorist groups in southern Africa, and then, especially after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, to lobbying for commercial and business interests.

From 2001 to 2004, according to documents filed in federal court in Washington DC, Abramoff and Scanlon together raked in some $82 million in payments from the Indian tribes. Scanlon himself billed four Indian tribes $53 million during this period, while kicking back $19 million under the table to Abramoff.

In the most notorious case, Abramoff mobilized the Christian fundamentalists to spike the bid of a smaller Indian tribe to establish a casino that would have undercut the profits of his clients, the Louisiana band of Coushatta Indians.

The scandal--the word is unavoidable but inadequate, since it is here describing the rule, not the exception, in today's Washington--reaches into the highest rungs of the Republican Party leadership and the Bush administration. DeLay, forced to step down as House Majority Leader after his indictment on an unrelated political corruption case in Texas, is the first top-level casualty. He once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends."

Ultimately, the combined efforts of DeLay inside the House of Representatives and Sheldon's lobbying outside tipped enough Republican votes. The ban on Internet gambling failed to get the two-thirds majority required to clear a procedural hurdle, and the effort was abandoned.

by dogbert on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 08:25:42 AM EST

I don't want to be right.

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