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Dobson roused faithful for Abramoff's aims

Did Focus on the Family knowingly campaign for lobbyist's casino clients?


Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson.

Since his participation seven years ago on a national commission that identified it as addictive and disruptive, James Dobson occasionally has rallied evangelical Christians to oppose gambling.

The Focus on the Family chairman's latest admonishment came this month, as the scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff deepened.

"If the nation's politicians don't fix this national disaster, then the oceans of gambling money with which Jack Abramoff tried to buy influence on Capitol Hill will only be the beginning of the corruption we'll see," Dobson stated in a Jan. 6 Focus on the Family press release, issued three days after Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion.

"Politicians need to root out this infection."

What Dobson didn't explain was his own role in helping advance the aims of Abramoff, who is at the center of a massive corruption scandal and cooperating with a Justice Department probe after defrauding American Indian tribes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan and Texas. Each of the tribes either ran casinos or tried to get into the gambling business.

Reed in the middle

Hundreds of documents recently released by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee show Abramoff contacted Dobson through a mutual associate: Ralph Reed, a political strategist and former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

According to some of those documents, Reed asked Dobson in 2002 to mobilize Christians in opposition of a new casino proposed by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana.

Dobson obliged with a radio blitz and demanded that Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, reject the casino.

The Coushatta Indian Tribe of Louisiana, which owns a casino there, sought to thwart the potential Choctaw competition by employing Abramoff, according to the Justice Department.

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. - COURTESEY OF GETTY IMAGES
  • Courtesey of Getty Images
  • Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"[Reed] may have finally scored for us!" Abramoff wrote in a Feb. 20, 2002 e-mail to his business partner, Michael Scanlon, who also has pleaded guilty to corruption charges. "Dobson goes up on the radio on this next week!"

With Focus on the Family's senior vice president of public policy, Tom Minnery, and other evangelical leaders, such as Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, Dobson also wrote a letter to Norton.

"I urge you not to bring another gambling establishment to the state of Louisiana," Dobson stated in the Feb. 22, 2002 letter.

Focus on the Family did not return calls seeking comment.

Stay tuned

None of the documents posted by the Indian Affairs Committee show Abramoff communicating directly with Dobson.

But Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Capitol Hill watchdog group, notes the unfolding nature of the federal investigation and expects more documentation of Abramoff's connections to come.

"We don't know everything yet," she says.

Documents released by the Indian Affairs Committee, which is headed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are redacted in places, concealing the names of some of those involved.

For nearly a year, CREW has battled the Interior Department over a Freedom of Information Act request seeking written communications between department employees and Abramoff, Scanlon, Reed, Dobson and a long list of others. CREW filed a federal lawsuit in December alleging that the Interior Department broke the law by ignoring its request after the Washington Post quoted e-mails and the Indian Affairs Committee released scores of documents.

Reed, who currently is campaigning to become lieutenant governor of Georgia, has been known for his anti-gambling posturing. He did not return calls or e-mail messages.

Reed has denied that hundreds of thousands of dollars he received in consulting fees from Abramoff were connected to Indian gaming. However, e-mail indicates that Reed knew the Coushatta tribe was Abramoff's client.

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