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Republican scandal exposes scallywags

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Scallywag is the word for lobbyist this week. Of course, one would not want
to generalize it to all lobbyists everywhere, but scallywag is the word for
one particular bunch and so the definition is in order.

We use the word to define Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public
relations consultant Michael Scanlon, whom by all accounts have deceived,
manipulated and wreaked havoc on half a dozen - sometimes willing - tribes.
The brazen duo paid millions to Ralph Reed, boy-blue of the right wing
Christian set, to help them shut down the Tigua Tribe of Texas' Speaking
Rock casino; they then turned around to suction off millions of dollars
from the same Tigua Indian tribe, presuming to help them reopen their
casino - all the while disdaining and insulting their duped clients.

When then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now U.S. senator from Texas)
was vigorously campaigning to destroy the Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso
in late 2001 and early 2002, these two characters did everything possible
to assist the effort. The Washington Post last week revealed dozens of
damaging e-mails among the three men. These show how Abramoff and Scanlon
heightened public furor to shut down the casino by paying Ralph Reed to
organize a coalition against the casinos among fundamentalist Christians.
Reed is southern regional chairman of President Bush's reelection campaign.
He is a former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Reed mobilized calls from the public to the District Attorney's office to
agitate for shutting down the Indian casino. Reported Reed to Abramoff: "We
did get our pastors riled up last week, calling his office. Maybe that
helped but who knows." Abramoff's response makes his attitude clear:
"Great. Thanks Ralph. We should continue to pile on until the place is
shuttered."

The campaign against the Tigua casino succeeded and the long-impoverished
Tigua's main source of income, a $60 million-a-year enterprise, was shut
down in February 2002. The shutdown put some 450 people out of work.
Amazingly, only 10 days later, Abramoff wrote to the tribe offering his
services to correct the "gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state
authorities." His Republican connections in the U.S. Senate could rectify
the problem, he assured a Tigua representative. This from the same man who
had just worked to destroy their livelihoods.

From The Washington Post's account:

"On Feb. 6, 2002, with the casino's shutdown just two days away, the tribe
was desperate. Abramoff made his move. 'I'm on the phone with Tigua!' he
wrote in a 9:54 a.m. e-mail to Scanlon. 'Fire up the jet baby, we're going
to El Paso!!'

"Days later, on Feb. 19, Scanlon sent Abramoff an El Paso Times news story
headlined '450 casino employees officially terminated' with the message:
'This is on the front page of today's paper while they will be voting on
our plan!'

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"'Is life great or what!!!' responded Abramoff."

The "plan," devised by a company owned by Scanlon was called "Operation
Open Doors." The Tigua tribe's governing council approved it on Feb. 19.
Adding insult to injury, Abramoff, in a Feb. 11, 2002 e-mail, writes to
Reed: "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-mail messages among Abramoff and Scanlon and Reed made public last
week seem to detail collusion to use the financial crisis they helped cause
at the tribe to suction $4.2 million in fees plus $300,000 in federal
political contributions from the Tigua. Ironically, Abramoff and Scanlon
paid Ralph Reed a similar amount of $4.2 million between 2001 and 2003, for
opposing tribal casinos in several southern states, according to government
sources in The Washington Post. The men's political ties include House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Scanlon served as DeLay's spokesman and
Abramoff was touted for a decade as the Republican lobbyist who could get
something done in Washington Republican circles.

Predictably, Abramoff and Scanlon failed to get the casino reopened and the
Tigua's considerable investment in the two men was a complete loss. Now
come the e-mail revelations, and the suspicions of many people that the two
lobbyists were seriously fork-tongued are more than apparently verified.

That all of these men, Abramoff, Scanlon, Reed, Cornyn, DeLay, are all
stalwart Republicans with ties to President Bush or his campaign, is
sending shock waves through the American Indian electorate. But it should
also offend every decent and honorable American. This is after all, 2004,
not 1865, and the degree of duplicity and contempt on display is
unconscionable.

Among other clients Abramoff and Scanlon worked with tribes in Mississippi
and Louisiana wanting to block other Native nations from operating
competing casinos in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. The breaking scandal
affects several tribes, including the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla
Indians from California, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, the
Mississippi Band of Choctaws, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Tigua
Tribe of Texas and Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico. The six tribes gave at
least $66 million to Abramoff and Scanlon, according to Sen. Ben Nighthorse
Campbell, R-Colo., who told a crowded oversight hearing to expect ongoing
revelations. "The truth is worse - much worse."

Abramoff's troubles are rolling now. Scanlon's are sure to follow. Abramoff
was asked to resign last March from the law office of Greenberg Traurig,
after revelations of shady practices were published by The Washington Post.
According to the law office, "Mr. Abramoff disclosed to the firm for the
first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable
to the firm."

An investigation by the FBI and a task force of five federal agencies are
looking into campaign contributions the two men instructed tribes to make
to congressional members. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee also
continues to investigate Abramoff and Scanlon's relationship with the
tribes. Misuse of tribal funds in contract fees is on everyone's agenda. So
is the manipulation of tribal elections in order to secure contracts. The
FBI and the committee have issued numerous subpoenas for documents. At the
Senate hearings, Senator Byron Dorgan accused Abramoff and Scanlon of
lurking in a "cesspool of greed." Abramoff invoked the Fifth Amendment many
times in front of the same Senate committee.

For the two greedy and underhanded lobbyists, the loop of influence, at
least in Indian country, is shrinking. For the tribes so wantonly taken to
the flim-flam cleaners, a review of motivations and strategic thinking is
intensely recommended. Too many Indian tribes continue to play pin-ball
with their public image while spending millions on treasonous consultants;
there are better and more useful ways to gain influence and prevail
politically.