The second and more telling event was the disclosure that Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. — archenemy of the adult entertainment industry, co-sponsor of the bill that brought us expanded 2257 regulations and a stalwart opposer of gay rights — was caught engaging in what may well turn out to be criminal acts involving an underage male page. Adding to the outrage is the fact that Foley may have exploited one or more children while he sits as none other than the chairman of the House Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children.
Call it outrageous. Call it hypocrisy. Call it rank stupidity. All those terms generally fit, but they do not quite capture the absolute height of arrogant abuse of power and venality demonstrated by this creature. Remember, this is one of the most loyal, boot-licking servants of the Religious Right in Congress, a guy who has regularly and repeatedly championed repressive legislation depriving citizens of cherished freedoms to further — get this — a moral family values agenda.
As bad as Foley is, the real problem is that this hypocritical betrayer of the people's trust is not an endangered species in Congress. The unfortunate truth is that our national Legislature is overpopulated with his kind, on both sides of the aisle. And that fact has produced and continues to produce an ever-increasing amount of morality-driven regulations that are economically unsound and constitutionally questionable. Case in point: the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 ("the Act").
For the past 10 years the Republican-controlled Congress has tried to curb Internet gambling. Conservative proponents of online gambling prohibition have consistently claimed that it's too easy for gamblers to log on, make a few bets and get hooked. I can see that there is at least some merit to that view. But I have always found it interesting that the same learned legislators and guardians of our welfare do not seem concerned about extending the same reasoning to Internet users who play the stock market or the futures markets through online brokerages.
Regardless, during the last 10 years, as the conservatives unsuccessfully tried to enact online gaming legislation, the number of Americans gambling via the web grew an average of 20 percent a year to the point where we are now wagering $6 billion annually, according to a study from the American Gaming Association. So, with all that sinnin,' and the conservatives in control of Congress, why did online gambling legislation take so long to enact? Well, there's one thing you can always count on to distract a right-wing member of Congress from dutifully advancing the moral agenda of the religious right: money.
Here is but one example of this cherished principle of corrupt politics. In 2000, the Republican-controlled Congress failed to pass online gambling legislation similar to the Act. The bill was titled The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. Supporters of the bill, who included many anti-gambling groups and Christian conservatives, were stunned by the defeat. But that outcome was, in fact, assured from the start because of the activities of one very effective and now very famous and very convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In 2000, Abramoff successfully lobbied against Internet gambling legislation on behalf of eLottery Inc., a small gambling services company based in Connecticut. He did so with the assistance of a senior aide to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who helped Abramoff scuttle the bill in the House.
According to a report published in the Washington Post on Oct. 16, 2005, DeLay's aide, Tony C. 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. Abramoff also arranged for eLottery to pay $25,000 to a 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.
Also, according to the Washington Post story, "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. 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."
Unfortunately for them, Abramoff's and DeLay's ability to hold back the Religious Right's demand for online gambling legislation was eventually undercut by scandal and federal prosecutions as both fell from their lofty positions of power and prestige. It wasn't long before prohibition of Internet gambling once again became the cause celebre for the Religious Right. This time, however, when House conservatives reintroduced the legislation that would ultimately become the Act, DeLay was no longer the majority whip. He was instead a party pariah who had resigned from the House in disgrace following a felony conspiracy indictment for alleged involvement in a Texas campaign finance scheme. Abramoff, now a convicted federal felon, was in no position to do much of anything from his new prison home. So, inevitably, with the departure of DeLay and the incarceration of a corrupt but effective lobbyist, the fine moral stewards of the Republican right wing, like Foley, were free at last to again advance the anti-gambling portions of their moral agenda.
The result — in literally the final minutes before Congress' election period recess, without any debate and attached to a completely unrelated bill addressing port security — the Act was born. Hallelujah, we are saved.
In part two, we'll look at The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 and more.
Gregory A. Piccionelli, Esq. is one of the world's most experienced Internet and adult entertainment attorneys. He can be reached at Piccionelli & Sarno at (310) 553-3375 or www.piccionellisarno.com.