The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, a California-based Religious Right activist who claims to be opposed to the spread of legalized gambling, helped scuttle an anti-gambling measure five years ago after receiving a check from a gambling company, The Washington Post has reported.
Sheldon, whose Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) claims to represent 44,000 houses of worship, is best known for his strident anti-gay rhetoric. But like many Religious Right leaders, Sheldon has spoken out against legalized gambling. That did not stop him from accepting money from a gambling company in the summer of 2000.
The Post reported that the money from the eLottery firm was arranged by Jack Abramoff, a powerful D.C. lobbyist now under investigation for allegedly brokering corrupt deals involving members of Congress.
The eLottery firm wanted to make it easier for people to play lotteries in other states by selling tickets online. But a 1999 federal law designed to crack down on web-based gambling had hampered the company’s growth. When another anti-internet gambling bill gained momentum in Congress in the spring of 2000, the group hired Abramoff to stop it.
Abramoff enlisted help from Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and Sheldon. Because the new anti-gambling bill contained minor exceptions for jai alai and horse racing, Abramoff decided to try to persuade the Religious Right that the measure would actually expand gambling.
Most Religious Right groups rejected his appeal. Groups like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition remained strongly in support of the measure.
Abramoff realized he needed help. Reported The Post, “To reach the House conservatives, Abramoff turned to Sheldon, leader of the Orange County, Calif.-based Traditional Values Coali\xadtion, a politically potent group that publicly opposed gambling and said it represented 43,000 churches. Abramoff had teamed up with Sheldon before on issues affecting his clients. Because of their previous success, Abramoff called Sheldon ‘Lucky Louie,’ former associates said.”
In June of 2000, Abramoff asked eLottery to write a check for $25,000 to Sheldon’s TVC. In an e-mail, Abramoff’s assistant, Susan Ralston, asked what should be done with the check for TVC and a separate check made out to right-wing activist Grover Norquist’s Ameri\xadcans for Tax Reform.
Abramoff instructed Ralston to send the $25,000 check directly to Sheldon. The check for Norquist was laundered through a Religious Right front group founded by two Reed associates.
Sheldon, The Post reported, got right to work, “holding news conferences and buttonholing House conservatives to argue against the bill.” Sheldon even finagled a private meeting with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and urged him to stop the bill.
When the bill failed in the House that July on a procedural vote, Abramoff was ecstatic. One of his lobbyists, Patrick Pizzella, sent an e-mail the next day reporting how Sheldon, who had observed the vote at the Capitol, reacted.
“There was lucky Louie out front hi-fiving with some lobbyists,” wrote Pizzella.
But Abramoff was worried that the measure would rise again, aware that it had strong backing from the rest of the Religious Right. He decided to turn up the heat.
About a month later, Reed arranged for a TVC mailing attacking several conservative House members as being soft on gambling for supporting the bill. The mailing asserted that the members voted in support of “the law the gamblers want on horse and dog racing,” never pointing out that the overall effect of the bill would be to roll back internet-based gambling.
The campaign was successful, and the bill failed to come up for another vote that year.
Today Sheldon claims he does not remember receiving a check from eLot\xadtery, even though it was sent directly from the firm to his group. He told The Post he had no idea Abramoff was working for a pro-gambling group.
“This is all tied to Jack?” Sheldon asked. “I’m shocked out of my socks.”
Sheldon critics noted that he has worked for gambling companies before. Casinos and a racetrack paid TVC $20,000 in 1994 and 1998 to encourage him to oppose the spread of other forms of gambling because they did not want the competition.
The Post found Sheldon’s defense hard to swallow. In an editorial, the paper wrote that the story put forth by “Lucky Louie” just did not wash, asserting it’s hard to believe that “despite receiving a $25,000 check from eLottery, [Sheldon] somehow didn’t realize that Mr. Abra\xadmoff or the company was involved.”
A second Religious Right group, Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Toward Tradition, also received eLottery money. The group was given $25,000 to temporarily hire Lisa Rudy, wife of Tony C. Rudy, a senior aide to DeLay. Like Sheldon, Lapin now says he cannot remember receiving money from eLottery.