One aspect of the corruption and bribery mega-scandal shaking Washington that is swirling around conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and which hasn’t gotten much mass media attention: how a lot of dough from Abramoff-controlled slush funds went to leading homophobes from the religious right.
Abramoff did more than hire anti-gay luminaries as Rev. Lou Sheldon (head of the Traditional Values Coalition) and Ralph Reed (former head of the Christian Coalition) with money from Abramoff’s clients and front groups to lobby for special interests. Abramoff also funded an anti-gay group close to the lobbyist’s best buddy and biggest water-carrier, Rep. Tom Delay — the U.S. Family Network — with laundered money that has been traced to Russian oil interests.
Let’s start with Rev. Sheldon. He’s such a professional anti-gay wacko that even conservative pundit Tucker Carlson has denounced him for it. In a Jan. 4 column Carlson wrote for MSNBC’s website, 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 lottery company — 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 fibre,” 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 his column that Sheldon was a “weirdo and charlatan” for preaching gay-hating morality while pocketing Abramoff’s corrupt cash.
Ralph Reed, as head of the Christian Coalition from 1989-1997, 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 wanting gays in the military — a hot issue that year. Christian Coalition Congressional “scorecards” for voters massively distributed in every election cycle regularly targeted votes by Democrats for gay civil rights legislation to defeat them — another Reed invention.
E-mails released by federal investigators in June of last year show that Reed “secretly accepted payments,” as the Washington Post put it, to lobby against approval of some Indian casino gambling competitive with the casinos owned by Abramoff’s now-famous Indian gambling clients. Abramoff also recruited Reed to join Sheldon in lobbying for eLottery — on whose behalf Reed also lobbied against an Alabama education lottery. Reed, who became 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 — where the newspapers and Reed’s opponents are having a field day exposing the sordid hypocrisy of “family values” crusader Reed’s secret links with Abramoff.
Grover Norquist has been dubbed “The Lenin of the Right.” As head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) — a hard-right lobbying group — Norquist convenes and presides over weekly meeting of the leaders of more than a hundred conservative organizations. It was at these meetings that the successful anti-gay strategy targeting gay marriage as the Republicans 2004 key to election victory was hatched and refined. Norquist allowed Abramoff to launder money through ATR to help an Abramoff client — which wanted to sell state lottery tickets online — whip up opposition to an anti-gambling bill that would have put Abramoff’s 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 2004, the Network was found by the Federal Elections Commission to have illegally accepted $500,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee (the House GOP’s campaign arm, controlled by DeLay).
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. Buckman, the U.S. Family Network’s guru, put DeLay’s wife on the payroll of his consulting firm — for what the Post paints as a no-show job.
Other corporate interests with little stake in the “family values” agenda also lavished money on the U.S. Family Network — like 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 $250,00 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, an close friend of Ralph Reed, Karl Rove — and Jack Abramoff. Rabbi 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. And Lapin, an Orthodox Jew who moved here 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).
Lapin’s TT received $25,000 from Abramoff and $50,000 from two Abramoff clients, including eLottery. TT then hired the wife of then-DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy — a major Abramoff scandal figure named in Abramoff’s guilty plea — after receiving written instructions from Abramoff (along with e-Lottery’s check) to put Mrs. Rudy on the payroll at $5,000 a month.
The great 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 biggest 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, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared Jan. 11, 2006.