Religious Right Leaders' Ties to Abramoff Keep Coming Up
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Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 12:52:25 PM EST
Jack Abramoff comes up in connection with religious right leaders Ralph Reed, Lou Sheldon, and James Dobson. Illustration by Jonathan Hutson

Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon) launched an ad campaign on March 8, 2006, including a full-page ad in The New York Times that highlights what it calls hypocrisy over gambling by three religious right leaders -- Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition; Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition; and Dr. James Dobson, founder and head of Focus on the Family. DefCon's print and broadcast ads focus on connections between convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and these major figures of the religious right, all of whom have taken high-profile positions against gambling. Reed and Sheldon have received money that originated from Abramoff's gambling industry clients, who have in various ways benefitted from the actions of all three men. Defcon invites you to send a letter to these pious, pandering prophets, telling them to "practice what they preach."

The letter states:
For years, you've attacked the freedom of women to control their own bodies, waged war on gay marriage, and fought to erode one of the most central tenets of our Constitution: the separation between church and state.

You've always claimed the moral high ground, asserting the right to tell people how to live and condemning millions of Americans for actions you deemed immoral. But your high ground is washed away. After years of condemning gambling as a social ill, you're caught knee-deep in pro-gambling campaigns hatched by indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It's time to stop telling others how to act, and start practicing what you preach.

End your hypocrisy.

Even before DefCon held a press conference to release details about the campaign, the ads had an immediate impact in focusing media attention and forcing responses to questions that had previously been batted away with only silence or angry counter-attacks. Dobson and Focus on the Family are now providing detailed responses in stories than ran in the March 8 editions of The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Dobson denies that he knowingly benefitted Abramoff's clients. But his organization worked against a proposed Indian casino in Louisiana that also was opposed by one of Abramoff's Indian casino clients.

Our colleague Max Blumenthal, who is a DefCon Advisory Board Member, noted on Talk to Action that mainstream media has up to now expressed little interest, and little energy, in pursuing developments in this major scandal. As a result, Reed, Sheldon, and Dobson have largely gotten away with stonewalling and generalizations, instead of answering detailed questions completely and forthrightly. Blumenthal writes:

While I wrote about this for The Nation and Media Matters, there has been very little mainstream press interest on Dobson's role in Abramoff's schemes. So far, some of the best -- and most adversarial -- reporting on the Abramoff/Reed/Dobson saga is coming from the Christian media, namely from Marvin Olasky's World Magazine.

Dobson's camp has even attacked a reporter from the conservative evangelical World Magazine for daring to pose tough questions.

While Talk to Action has been highlighting religious leaders' involvement in the Abramoff corruption probe, and pointing out connections between Abramoff and dominionist leaders, the mainstream media has largely been asleep. What do we have to do to rouse the media hounds, draw them a picture?

Thankfully, Talk to Action is not alone in sounding the alarm: several investigative journalists have picked up the scent, and help is on the way from DefCon to get their reporting taken seriously and to frame public debate on the hypocrisy of these three religious right leaders.

Maybe, at last, the mainstream media will be spurred from complacency so that the American people will get more detailed answers from religious right leaders about their ties to Abramoff, instead of stonewalling and attacks against those who dare to question them.

Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's senior vice president of government and public policy, told the Denver Post, "The left is even more desperate than I thought. We're just amazed they keep trying to re-fashion the same stuff."

Two points: (1) World Magazine is a conservative evangelical publication, not a member of "the left" as anyone defines it, and Mr. Minnery has attacked one of its reporters for daring to ask tough questions -- to which Focus on the Family did not fully respond.

(2) This is not all "the same stuff": the slot machine illustration and the nickname "Games Dobson" are all-new.

by jhutson on Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 01:31:58 PM EST

This is not all "the same stuff": the slot machine illustration and the nickname "Games Dobson" are all-new.

All-new instant classics. ;-)

Great post, Jonathan.

by moiv on Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 10:18:53 PM EST

You're developing your own political cartooning language. I like it.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 11:40:07 PM EST

While the involvement of Reed and Sheldon is clear, it seems that the Dobson link is far more tenuous. For example, the CDC backgrounder claims Dobson recorded phone banking messages, but the cited source, the Washington Post, does not say this. Max B.'s article says that "Dobson and friends" took part in activities including phone banking -- is the specific claim original reporting?

Also, in the Rocky Mountain News article linked above, the CDC says that Dobson produced radio spots that were paid for by Abramoff clients, which is partially true in the case of the Miss. Band Choctaw campaign against the lottery in 1999. But the RM News article is talking about the La. Coushatta campaign against the Jena Band Choctaw in 2002 -- and I can't find any reports that Dobson did the same thing.

These kinds of technicalities are like a get out of jail card for Dobson to successfully dodge the attack and to discredit CDC.

by Ezra on Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 01:59:40 PM EST

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