Tangled Like Tumbleweeds: The Ernest Istook and Jack Abramoff Money Connection

So I wonder what $29,000 buys you from U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Warr Acres)? A vote or two? Access? A signature on a letter or petition? Maybe. Is it enough to get Istook to place his sanctimonious, ultra-conservative “moral” principles in question?

Istook image from asgoodasnews.com

The $29,000 is the amount of money given to him by indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates, according to the Associated Press. Abramoff is also under more grand jury investigation for a variety of other alleged corrupt activities. Abramoff is a close friend of indicted, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), who may face even more legal problems as the Abramoff scandal grows. In the past, Abramoff represented the gambling interests of Indian tribes. His lobbying actions for the tribes have drawn the scrutiny of prosecutors.

The plot thickened Monday. Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide and Abramoff associate, pleaded guilty to a political corruption charge and has apparently negotiated a plea agreement with prosecutors involved in the Abramoff investigation. Some believe Scanlon’s testimony could ultimately lead to the implication of DeLay and Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Ney who received trips and other gifts from Abramoff’s lobbying firm. Scanlon has been accused of conspiring with Abramoff to defraud the Indian tribes they represented.

But let’s stick with Istook. (I know. I know. There are now so many influential and high-ranking Republicans either under indictment or under investigation that is it difficult to keep track of it all. )

Here are the streamlined facts as reported by the Associated Press:

Fact 1: From 2001 to 2004, Istook took $29,000 in contributions from Abramoff and his associates.

Fact 2: Istook signed a 2002 letter sent to the Bush administration that would have helped lobbyist Abramoff with his Indian casino interests.

Fact 3: Istook denies the letter had anything to do with Abramoff but was in fact some type of personal manifesto against gambling in general.

Only a rube would believe Istook’s lame excuse. Okies know how the real world works, and they know Washington politicians listen to money, not ordinary people who have to work hard to make ends meet and do not have enough money to buy political influence. The only real excuse Istook might offer is that everyone else in Washington sells their influence, “so why can’t I?” At least it would be honest.

(Listen here to an interview with two top Oklahoma progressives. Dr. Brendan Lalor, head of the UCO Progressive Coalition and Bob Lee, editor of The Progressive Voice. It may take a minute for the mp3 file to upload.)

But what is particularly disturbing about Istook’s acceptance of the Abramoff money is that Istook poses as a self-righteous zealot with a pandering flair for meaningless but symbolic religious legislation. Istook, a Mormon, sponsors the ironically titled Religious Freedom amendment, for example, that would turn our nation into a theocratic fundamentalist state. But then he turns around and accepts money from an allegedly corrupt lobbyist representing gambling interests and then tries to make it all work together in some senseless narrative about how he represents ultra-conservative, religious values.

To paraphrase, it goes something like this: “I, Ernest Istook, took money from a lobbyist promoting gambling. I, Ernest Istook, am against gambling. Don’t you get it?”

Of course, hypocrisy is a birthright and maybe even a duty here on the prairie. It is all just the same ole tumbleweeds to me and you, right? It would be laughable if so much were not at stake in terms of the country’s basic democratic foundations because of the corruption and lies of the Republicans in power in Washington right now.

Here is a telling quote from a now public Scanlon memo that surely reflects Istook’s and the Republicans’ political strategies in red states like Oklahoma:

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

Istook has announced he is running for governor against popular Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry next year. Expect Istook to run on cultural wedge issues, trying to get the state’s rubes and “wackos to vote against something” even as he accepts money from lobbyists whose interests directly contradict his sanctimonious posturing.

Democrats need to expose this sitting turkey of hypocrisy and hubris and hatemongering. If Istook is so opposed to gambling, like Oklahoma’s education lottery, then why does he accept money from people who lobby for gambling interests? It is an honest question.

But do not expect the corporate media here to press him on it because he is a Republican who supports the vested interest of the ultra-rich over ordinary, hard-working Oklahomans.

(The intelligent design movement has made it to Oklahoma. Read DocHoc's views about it in the Oklahoma Gazette, the metro's best newspaper.)