How a Lobbyist Stacked the Deck
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his team were beginning to panic.
An anti-gambling bill had cleared the Senate and appeared on its way to passage by an overwhelming margin in the House of Representatives. If that happened, Abramoff's client, a company that wanted to sell state lottery tickets online, would be out of business.
But on July 17, 2000, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act went down to defeat, to the astonishment of supporters who included many anti-gambling groups and Christian conservatives.
A senior aide to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) helped scuttle the bill in the House. The aide, Tony C. Rudy, 39, e-mailed Abramoff internal congressional communications and advice, according to documents and the lobbyist's former associates.
Rudy received favors from Abramoff. He went on two luxury trips with the lobbyist that summer, including one partly paid for by Abramoff's client, eLottery Inc. Abramoff also arranged for eLottery to pay $25,000 to a Jewish foundation that hired Rudy's wife as a consultant, according to documents and interviews. Months later, Rudy himself was hired as a lobbyist by Abramoff.
The vote that day in July was just one part of an extraordinary yearlong effort by Abramoff on behalf of eLottery, a small gambling services company based in Connecticut. Details of that campaign, reconstructed from dozens of interviews as well as from e-mails and financial records obtained by The Washington Post, provide the most complete account yet of how one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists leveraged his client's money to influence Congress.
The work Abramoff did for eLottery is one focus of a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation into his dealings with members of Congress and government agencies. Abramoff is under indictment in another case in connection with an allegedly fraudulent Florida business deal.
Abramoff had deep roots in the conservative movement and rose to prominence by helping Republicans tap traditionally Democratic K Street lobbyists for campaign dollars. But in the eLottery fight, he employed a win-at-any-cost strategy that went so far as to launch direct-mail attacks on vulnerable House conservatives.
Abramoff quietly arranged for eLottery to pay conservative, anti-gambling activists to help in the firm's $2 million pro-gambling campaign, including Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show. Abramoff also turned to prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, arranging to route some of eLottery's money for Reed through Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.
At one point, eLottery's backers even circulated a forged letter of support from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).
Rudy declined to comment for this report. A spokesman for Reed -- now a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- said that he and his associates are unaware that any money they received came from gambling activities. Sheldon said that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat the bill. Norquist's group would say only that it had opposed the gambling ban on libertarian grounds.
Abramoff's lawyer declined requests for a comment.