September 26, 2004
Weekend scandal roundup

The WaPo updates us on the Scanlon/Abramoff/Ralph Reed casino-swindling scandal.

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon quietly worked with conservative religious activist Ralph Reed to help the state of Texas shut down an Indian tribe's casino in 2002, then the two quickly persuaded the tribe to pay $4.2 million to try to get Congress to reopen it.

Dozens of e-mails written by the three men and obtained by The Washington Post show how they built public support for then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's effort get the courts to close the Tigua tribe's Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso in late 2001 and early 2002. The e-mails also reveal what appears to be an effort on the part of Abramoff and Scanlon to then exploit the financial crisis they were helping to create for the tribe by securing both the multimillion-dollar fee and $300,000 in federal political contributions, which the tribe paid.

Ten days after the Tigua Indians' $60 million-a-year casino was shuttered in February 2002, Abramoff wrote a tribal representative that he would get Republicans in Congress to rectify the "gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state authorities," assuring him that he had already lined up "a couple of Senators willing to ram this through," according to the e-mails.

What he did not reveal was that he and Scanlon had been paying Reed, an avowed foe of gambling, to encourage public support for Cornyn's effort to close two Indian casinos in Texas. Abramoff, one of Washington's powerhouse Republican lobbyists until his work came under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies this year, has long been close to Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now southern regional chairman of President Bush's reelection campaign. Both have political ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), as does Scanlon, who had served as his spokesman.

In the end, Abramoff and Scanlon failed to get the casino reopened.

Isn't that sweet? And isn't it funny how so many of Tom DeLays' buddies are under indictment or investigation lately? It's almost as if the guy were the center of a vast web of corruption or something.

In an e-mail to Reed on Feb. 11, 2002, Abramoff did not mention he had been in contact with the Tiguas. He wrote: "I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get wiped out."

The e-mails show the three men hustled to provide a show of public support for Cornyn's efforts to shut down the casino, which he contended had operated illegally under Texas law for eight years. The coalition made phone calls, rallied pastors and religious activists, and conducted a media campaign in support of closing the casino.

A spokesman for Cornyn, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, said that Cornyn does not recall any contact with Reed, Abramoff or Scanlon on the Tigua issue.

In November 2001, the Tiguas took out full-page newspaper ads in Washington and across Texas, saying Cornyn was using a "legal technicality" to kill jobs and decent housing for tribe members and return them to poverty.

"Wow. These guys are really playing hard ball," Reed e-mailed Abramoff on Nov. 12. "Do you know who their consultant(s) are?"

Abramoff responded: "Some stupid lobbyists up here who do Indian issues. We'll find out and make sure all our friends crush them like bugs."

At Reed's suggestion, Abramoff urged Scanlon to mobilize calls from the public to Cornyn's office supporting his efforts. A couple of months later, Reed reported to Abramoff that "we did get our pastors riled up last week, calling his office. Maybe that helped but who knows."

Abramoff replied: "Great. thanks Ralph. we should continue to pile on until the place is shuttered." He suggested getting "one of our guys in the legislature" to introduce a bill that would bar vendors who do business with casinos from state contracts so that "Cornyn can sit back and not be scared. Let one of our tigers go get em. Do we have someone like this and can we get it introduced as soon as possible?"

"We have tigers," Reed assured him.

I wonder how John Cornyn feels about being played like this. Seems to me he owes us a little outrage at the con game, and a vow to see any wrongdoing punished. You know, being a former Attorney General and all.

Meanwhile, back on the DeLay front, the current PAC to elect Republicans to the State House has decided to return donations given to them by corporations indicted or implicated in the TRMPAC case.

State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, who serves as treasurer of the Stars Over Texas PAC, decided to return the money Wednesday, the day after eight out-of-state corporations and three people were indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money to help Republican Texas House candidates in 2002.

The donations returned by Stars Over Texas include $100,000 to AT&T Corp., $2,200 to ACE Cash Express Inc. and $1,200 to Cash America. Several other check-cashing businesses that made contributions of $1,000 or less also were sent back.

In a letter to contributors dated Sept. 22, Keel said he "made a policy decision to return all corporate contributions and accept none at all until state courts have ruled so as to identify with precision and authority what activities are protected from criminal allegation."

Keel said in the letter that the contributions were legal and that Stars Over Texas PAC segregated the corporate money for administrative costs as allowed under Texas law. But he said that the indictments returned by the Travis County grand jury did not specify what acts constituted the alleged illegal contributions.

Good for you, Terry Keel. Now let's see if any of the TRMPAC beneficiaries of 2002 will follow suit.

Elsewhere, the Statesman gives the history behind the 1905 law that bans corporate and union campaign contributions in Texas state elections, Clay Robison sums things up for the Chron's op-ed page, and Morris Meyer writes a guest post for Atrios which connects the dots between Westar and Smokey Joe Barton.

UPDATE: Julia found this article on Rep. Joel Hefley, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which gives one the impression that a deadlock-induced punt of the issue is not yet a sure thing. I'll take back every nasty thing I've said about the Ethics Committee if Hefley or any other Republican votes to allow an investigation to go forward.

UPDATE: The broken link to Atrios is now fixed. Thanks for the catch, Kevin.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 26, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

I would like to point out that there are thousands and thousands of people who have political ties to Tom DeLay who are not under investigation or indictment.

Myself included. =)

Posted by: Chris Elam on September 26, 2004 7:44 PM

And there are thousands and thousands of folks who are investigated for all sorts of thigns and are completely innocent. I mean, isn't that what so many of the readers here accuse John Ashcroft of doing. :)

Snark aside, your "guest post for atrios" link isn't working for me.

Posted by: kevin whited on September 27, 2004 8:38 AM

I am concerned with the republican party's effort to achieve absolute power. Tom delay is an example of the Bush republicans ambition. Read the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

Posted by: Frank Gardin on November 19, 2004 9:41 PM

Ralph Reed now running for Lt. Governor in Georgia is an example of the way the republican party mis-uses religion for political purposes. There is no limit as to how far they will go to achieve their goal of mney and power. In Oct 2004 a scare was iniated by the mayor of New York, to help with Bush's rating in the 30's. There was no bomb in the subway and one was not threatend, except by Bloomberg to push Bush up.

Posted by: Frank Gardin on October 9, 2005 10:42 AM

Have you wonderd why there have been no more color coded scares since the election? Bush and Rove have fooled the people of the U.S. so much we cannot believe anything they say.
Bush lied about WMD's, his National Guard service, scrubbed his criminal records, lied on meet the press about not being wired in the 1st debate and now is lying about wire taping. I will assure you that he is capable and most likely has spied on democrats, misusing the NSA. There is no limit to what he will do.

Posted by: Frank Gardin on December 26, 2005 4:48 PM