Sleaze in the Capitol

Editorial

New York Times

January 2, 2005

One of the sorriest chapters of American history, the gulling of native Indian tribes, is continuing apace in Washington, where two Capitol insiders close to the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, are being investigated for allegedly fleecing six tribes of more than $80 million with inflated promises of V.I.P. access. The shameful dealings of Jack Abramoff, a Republican power lobbyist, and Michael Scanlon, Mr. DeLay's former spokesman, are coming to light as Senate and Justice Department investigators follow leads from nouveau-riche tribes whose casino profits spurred a new category of lucre and greed in the hyperkinetic world of Washington lobbying.

Even as the two fast-talking political brokers banked large profits for three years of minimal labor, it was found, they were exchanging gleeful private messages mocking tribal leaders as "morons," "troglodytes" and "monkeys." "I want all their MONEY!!!" Mr. Scanlon exuberantly e-mailed in the midst of one deal.

The outrageous affair includes evidence that the two sought to manipulate tribal elections to ensure their lobbying boondoggles, while dropping the names of Mr. DeLay and other leaders and urging tribal contributions to Republican political funds. In the latest high-roller abuses laid bare by The Washington Post, Mr. Abramoff was found to have prodded the tribes to pay for his luxury skyboxes at Washington sports arenas - yes, even at the home of the football Redskins - so he could impress Capitol politicians, staff members and fund-raisers with swank perches to push causes unrelated to tribal issues. A colleague pronounced Mr. Abramoff a master of schmooze, but sleaze seems a far better word.

While the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is continuing its inquiry, the Republican House leadership remains mute. The gulling of the casino tribes is a blot on Congress and the lobbying industry that cries out for a thorough public vetting. But no one is taking any bets, particularly at tribal casinos, that Capitol politicians can fully face the task.