Scanlon, Abramoff, Rove and The Republican Strategy

by on November 9th, 2005

“The whacko’s get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees. … Simply put, we want to bring out the whacko’s to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them.”

Those are the words of Michael Scanlon, former press secretary to the pious but indicted Congressman Tom Delay and top executive at Capitol Campaign Strategies, a public relations firm in Washington D.C.

Scanlon’s words describe his strategy for protecting and promoting the gambling interests of the Coushatta Indian Tribe of Louisiana. It seems that Scanlon and his lobbyist pal Jack Abramoff cooked up a scheme to siphon millions from the Coushetta and got Ralph Reed of Christian Coalition fame and now head of Century Strategies, a political consulting firm with strong ties to the Bush White House, to help them out. Together they worked to mobilize anti-gambling Christian evangelical voters against the potential expansion of gambling by other Indian tribes and gaming interests in Louisiana and Texas. Enlisting a virtual who’s who of so called Christian leaders including James Dobson and Pat Robertson, they mounted a grassroots effort to drum up Christian political opposition to gambling and had Christian leaders and voters weigh in with Interior Secretary Gayle Norton to express their opposition to land acquisition deals that would have been favorable to rival tribes. Roll Call, a daily publication covering Congress, reports that Scanlon paid Reed more than $3.8 million during a yearlong period in 2001 and 2002 for his work. Scanlon and Abramoff are reported to have billed the Indian tribes for tens of millions. The sordid little deal is now the subject of an investigative hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, not to mention a matter of interest for the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. (Reed has denied knowledge of the fact that the funds were coming from gambling interests, but email correspondence gathered in the Indian affairs investigation shows Abramoff telling Reed the Coushetta were the client.)

The bottom line is that Christian voters got rolled in what amounted to little more than a sophisticated shell game. They ought to be angry. But then we all ought to be angry. Reading through the documents related to the Indian Affairs investigation is enough to make one want to take a shower. As American Enterprise Institute Scholar Norman Ornstein wrote “I don’t think we have had something of this scope, arrogance and sheer venality in our lifetimes. It is building to an explosion, one that could create immense collateral damage within Congress and in coming elections.” Ornstein is right, the duplicity and hypocrisy of the scheme is a stunning example of the cynical manipulation of Democracy for money.

But where Ornstein is wrong is that it is not unusual. In fact, such cynical manipulation of the political process has become the standard operating procedure of the Republican Party. There is little difference between Michael Scanlon’s strategy of “getting the whacko’s out,” and Karl Roves placement of anti-gay marriage initiatives on ballots in battleground states during the 2004 Presidential election. The principle is the same, get Christian voters lathered up about some red flag issue, and hope they don’t pay any attention to everything else that is going on –such as the war in Iraq, rising poverty and the fact that Ohio was hemorrhaging jobs. It worked.

The latest example of the Republican’s “bring the whacko’s out” strategy has recently been on display in California’s special election. There, Gary Marx, a former colleague of Ralph Reed at Century Strategies and Karl Rove’s chief henchman charged with getting out the evangelical vote in Ohio and other key battleground states, could be found organizing Christian Evangelical voters. The idea was to rally Christian voters in support of Proposition 73, an initiative requiring parental notification of the parents of minors considering an abortion and changing the definition of abortion in the California Constitution. And while they were there, Marx and others were hoping those voters would support a set of other initiatives being pushed by Arnold Schwarzengger, California’s Republican Governor. It didn’t work, but hey, maybe next time they can get a gay marriage initiative on the ballot.

Meanwhile, beyond making a nice chunk of change, Marx probably picked up a couple of hundred thousand names, addresses and emails of Christian voters that he can add to his database. Those will come in handy for Republican efforts to generate phone calls, emails, letters and money for conservative causes. My guess is that Marx will almost immediately put those names to good use in his role as executive director of the Judicial Confirmation Network, which is little more than a front for Campaign Solutions, the public relations firm for Bush-Cheney 04, where he is working to organize grassroots support of the President’s Supreme Court nominees. And hey, there are always the 06 Congressional elections.

John McDonald