Carol Platt Liebau

Sunday, March 13, 2005

There is an ugly scandal brewing in Washington -- and with it, there are those who are salivating with excitement at the prospect of using it as a way to tarnish the Religious Right.

Here is the story from today's Washington Post. Note that it seems to draw a connection between the lobbyist being investigated by the Justice Department (and who does seem less than ethical, judging from this disturbing piece in The Weekly Standard) and Dr. James Dobson, an icon of the religious right.

Here are the passages, right at the top of the Post story:

Jack Abramoff, one of Washington's most prominent Republican lobbyists, tapped into the gambling riches of a rival tribe to orchestrate a far-reaching campaign against the Jena Band of Choctaws -- calling on senior U.S. senators and congressmen, the deputy secretary of the interior and evangelical leaders James Dobson and Ralph Reed.
. . .
Abramoff arranged for Dobson and Reed to pressure federal officials to reject the Jenas' bid on anti-gambling grounds.

Sounds like Dr. Dobson hopped into bed, as it were, with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, doesn't it? But wait! Lower -- much lower -- in the story, is this revealing passage:

There is no evidence that Dobson's group knew of Abramoff's connection to Reed.

In other words, it seems that Abramoff worked with Ralph Reed -- who in turn contacted Dr. Dobson, not with regard to pursuing an Indian tribe's parochial economic interests, but with regard to Dr. Dobson's consistent and public anti-gambling agenda. (Ralph Reed involved Phyllis Schlafly, as well -- also a staunch gambling opponent).

I've always liked Ralph Reed, but it sounds like he may have used his friendship and history of shared politics with Dr. Dobson and Mrs. Schlafly to manipulate them. In this case, Dr. Dobson's and Mrs. Schlafly's opposition to gambling would serve Abramoff, Reed and the client Indian tribes who didn't want the Jena tribe to get permission to operate casinos.

If that's what happened, it's a pretty serious breach of trust within the Christian Right. Dr. Dobson and Mrs. Schlafly may well have merely been contacted by an old ally, Ralph Reed, and encouraged to campaign against an extension of gambling -- and through that, they unwittingly helped Abramoff/Reed's client. That, of course, is a very different matter than their knowingly assisting a lobbying campaign designed to benefit one gambling interest over another.

And Dr. Dobson and Mrs. Schlafly would be well advised to make sure that the public understands the difference -- and that they had no clue about Reed's connection to Abramoff. Because the way the story's being reported right now, it's clear that the press isn't going to do it for them.

Don't get me wrong. Anyone who's behaved improperly should be exposed and (if appropriate) punished. But the press should refrain from suggesting that Dr. Dobson and/or Mrs. Schlafly were knowingly advancing Abramoff's client's interests -- if all they were doing was continuing their anti-gambling campaigns in complete ignorance of any Abramoff connection to Reed.

You can like them or not -- but I've never known either Dr. Dobson or Mrs. Schlafly to be sell-outs.


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