The Influence Industry

GOP memo against Web gambling invokes Abramoff scandal

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010

The prosecution and imprisonment of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff was a political disaster for Republicans. But now some GOP lawmakers are wagering that the scandal can be used against Democrats in a fight over legalizing Internet gambling.

A GOP-generated memo circulating on Capitol Hill and obtained by The Washington Post argues that while Abramoff's ties to Indian casinos are well known, he and the lobbying firm that employed him, Greenberg Traurig, also did a significant amount of work on behalf of foreign-based gambling Web sites.

Citing lobbying disclosure records, the GOP memo asserts that Internet gambling interests paid "Team Abramoff" nearly $5 million from 2001 to 2004, including clients such as the Interactive Gaming Council of Vancouver, which is helping to lead efforts to legalize online gambling in the United States. "While Jack himself is now imprisoned, many of his former associates continue to carry out Abramoff's plan to legalize Internet gambling in the United States," the GOP memo reads.

Gambling proponents bristle at such attacks, and say the memo is full of misinformation that treats all Greenberg Traurig clients as if they were connected to Abramoff, who was fired by the firm. Keith Furlong, deputy director of the Interactive Gaming Council, said his group "never retained Jack Abramoff in any capacity. We did retain others at his firm at the very end of his tenure there, and we continue to do so, but we have never had a relationship with him."

The new line of attack comes as gambling supporters push legislation proposed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that would legalize and regulate Internet poker, mah-jongg and other online betting games. The Obama administration has also angered Republicans by delaying implementation of a 2006 law that bars banks from processing online wagers.

The gaming council and other pro-gambling groups have spent millions over the past year attempting to stave off the crackdown and muster support for legalization. On Wednesday night, the Poker Players Alliance sponsored a charity tournament in Washington attended by lawmakers of both parties.

But opponents, which include many top GOP lawmakers as well as conservative groups, began pushing back this week against the legalization effort. Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and other lawmakers have scheduled floor statements condemning the legislation, while GOP aides began circulating the Abramoff-related memo and other attacks.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement that he would continue to push for implementation of the 2006 law hardening the prohibition for online gaming. "Our children and families need this protection," Bachus said.

Davis hanging out his shingle

Lanny J. Davis, the former White House counsel and longtime Clinton booster, is launching his own eponymous law-and-lobbying shop, according to a draft announcement obtained by The Post.

Lanny J. Davis & Associates LLP will provide "a unique combination of traditional legal and litigation services plus media/crisis management, and legislative/public policy strategies to solve U.S. and international client problems," the announcement says. Davis, a cable television staple who has often run afoul of more liberal Democrats, highlights his avowed centrism as a prime benefit for potential clients.

"In today's Washington, there is usually no 'Red' solution or 'Blue' solution but almost always the best solution is a 'purple' or bipartisan solution," Davis is quoted saying in the announcement.

The new venture means Davis will step down as partner at the global law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, but he says he will continue to write a column for "The Hill" newspaper and contribute to a legal strategies blog that he began last year.

A new Blue Dog group

Speaking of avowed centrists, a group of Democratic lobbyists announced the formation of a nonprofit policy group this week called the Blue Dog Research Forum, aimed at furthering moderate Democratic proposals.

The effort, first reported by Roll Call, is being spearheaded by former representatives Robert E. "Bud" Cramer (Ala.) and Charles W. Stenholm (Tex.), both of whom were among the founders of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition of conservative House Democrats. The group plans to solicit contributions of about $10,000 each from corporate and union donors and will primarily focus on sponsoring roundtable discussions and other public events, organizers said.

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