And we're off to the races! After weeks of stomach-churning media coverage about Tom DeLay's turn on Dancing With The Stars, we finally saw his moves unveiled in last night's two-hour season premiere. And what moves they were! Stiff and jerky, the former bugman did his best to exterminate the viewing public's sense of rhythm. And did we mention the air-guitar and ass-shaking? Note to ABC: if you persist in showing close-ups of DeLay's posterior shaking like a tree in a Gulf Coast storm, you need to register with the authorities as a sex offender in every major media market.
DeLay's performance was pretty bad. I don't think he's looked so uncomfortable since he was indicted for money laundering. Makes me wonder where he learned how to lip-synch and hip-gyrate like that–maybe on a lobbyist junket to the Mariana Islands with his old BFF Jack Abramoff?
Perhaps the problem is his partner. I sense a lack of connection between DeLay and two-time champion Cheryl Burke. While DeLay dances on stage in LA, we know his heart is really dancing cheek to cheek with Jack Abramoff in Maryland as he does time in Federal Prison for fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion. So this week, as the memory of The Hammer's animal-print costume remains burned on our retinas, let's look at DeLay's real dance partner, notorious GOP influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.
This Week: A Match Made On K Street
Last week we looked at how Tom DeLay vastly increased lobbyists' influence in government. In 1994, after the Republicans took over the House, DeLay told top lobbying firms to fire Democrats and hire hand-picked Republicans, or else be shut out. The lobbyists complied, and poured millions of dollars into Republican campaign coffers as directed by Delay. Referred to as the “K Street Project” for the avenue in D.C. where most lobbyist firms keep their offices, DeLay funneled Republican Congressional staffers directly into lobbyist firms.
Described as “the face of Republican lobbyists,” Abramoff was DeLay's right-hand man in the GOP's effort to let corporations and special interests control the legislative process. DeLay has called Abramoff “one of his closest and dearest friends.” Even lobbyist trade magazines talked up the connection between the two. From the Washington Business Forward:
Thanks to his close ties to prominent conservatives like soon-to-be Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), Abramoff has become a force in the Washington lobbying world, bringing in more than $10 million a year for his firm.
DeLay enabled Abramoff's work in two key areas: lobbying for Native American tribes, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Who wouldn't want to help Native American tribes? Answer: Jack Abramoff, who defrauded Native American tribes out of millions of dollars, thanks to the help of his friend Tom DeLay. Basically, Abramoff and friends–including Ralph Reid, Grover Norquist, and Michael Scanlon–bilked Native American tribes out of $85 million dollars in excessive lobbying fees for the tribes' casino interests. They even organized lobbying against their clients, thus forcing the clients to require more lobbying, and thus more exorbitant fees. As part of Abramoff's scheme, the lobbyists illegally gave gifts and made campaign donations to legislators in return for votes or support of legislation. But that's nothing.
DeLay and Abramoff enabled sex slavery, forced abortion, and workers' rights violations in the Northern Marianas.
The Northern Marianas are a haven for sweatshops, as well as a hotbed of forced prostitution. The Commonwealth government hired Abramoff to lobby congress against an effort by then-President Clinton to bring federal immigration standards, minimum wages, and workers' rights laws to the Commonwealth. They paid Abramoff and his firm $6.7 million dollars to lobby on their behalf, and were able to retain the ability to put “Made in the USA” on their clothing, while openly flouting American labor standards. Young men and women are brought to the islands with the promise of US citizenship and work in the sweatshops, then often forced into the sex trade. The family-values crowd would look the other way when pregnant young workers were forced to have abortions, lest their pregnancies interfere with making more money. The Coalition Against Trafficking Women has more details on the record of abuse in the CNMI.
Of course, Tom DeLay seems to like all of that just fine. TPM Muckraker reports that “DeLay 'aggressively took the lead' in the effort to keep the Marianas deregulated.” DeLay was later quoted on NPR speaking about the CNMI:
“You are a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party and you represent everything that is good about what we're trying to do in America, in leading the world in the free market system.”
Sex slavery, worker's rights violations, blatant greed and bribery? Usually the Republicans are a little more subtle about their goals. In a particular high point, Abramoff's team prepared Congressman Ralph Hall (TX-4) to attack the credibility of an escaped teenage sex slave from the island. DeLay blocked a further fact-finding mission to the island by Congressman Pete Hoekstra, and refused to give Clinton's wage-standards bill a date on the House calendar.
Eventually, the Feds busted Michael Scanlon, former DeLay spokesman turned lobbyist, and even got Jack Abramoff himself, who pled guilty and is in prison through 2011. As part of his deal, Abramoff has to rat out his co-conspirators, and already nearly one dozen disgraced Republicans and former government officials have admitted guilt.
So here's to hoping that the house of cards Tom DeLay built comes tumbling all the way down, and ends with Mr. Cha Cha Cha joining Abramoff in a rousing version of Jailhouse Rock.