Did you hear the one about the rabbi, the Orange County reverend, the gay child molester, the Republican congressman, the Christian Coalition founder, their crooked lobbyist pal and loads of casino cash?
It's no joke if you're Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition, Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, 700 Club disciple Ralph Reed, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, lobbyist Jack Abramoff or Robin Vanderwall, a Republican operative and convicted pedophile.
These men find themselves entangled in the nation's largest federal corruption scandal in years. But you wouldn't know it if you rely on The Orange County Register for your news. Though the scandal is four months old, the Register hasn't bothered to tell its readers about Rohrabacher and Sheldon's close relationship not just with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges earlier this month, but also his influence-peddling operation surrounding the proposed Internet Gambling Prohibition Act and a riverboat casino scheme.
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It used to be that Sheldon enjoyed a big day when, for example, he and a group of skinheads angrily disrupted a 1989 gay pride festival in Santa Ana. Or a year later, when he claimed an Anaheim elementary school was secretly training toddlers to become homosexuals. Though he didn't have a shred of proof, Sheldon eventually said he wanted parents to ponder his scenario. He explained, "It's better to put the sprinkling system in place before you smell the smoke."
Nowadays, the smoke isn't so much pink as it is green for Sheldon. His stage has shifted from Orange County, where he was considered a clown even by friends, to our nation's capital. There—thanks to Republican domination of every facet of the federal government—the physically diminutive Sheldon has actually gained stature as a lobbyist.
He's parlayed the shameless gay-bashing gig, an unverified claim that he represents 43,000 churches and his very real access to conservative lawmakers into cash—tax-free, of course. His church, a high-tech direct-mail political operation, has bought him and his wife, Beverly, property two blocks from the U.S. Capitol: a historic, four-bedroom brownstone built in 1860 and worth more than $1.2 million.
And, yes, that was Sheldon—the man who douses conversations with pithy biblical passages, graphic references to gay sex, the size of a black man's penis he saw in a shower once and the obligatory talk of eternal damnation—giving a high-five to other lobbyists on the steps of the Capitol in 2000. The cause of celebration? He'd secretly aided Abramoff and his gambling clients' plot to kill federal gambling legislation, according to an explosive October 2005 expos in TheWashington Post.
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People's eyes often glaze at the mention of legislation. But the Post report ("How a Lobbyist Stacked the Deck," Oct. 16) is one of last year's finest pieces of journalism. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the sleazy insider game of political power, money, secrecy, special favors and orchestrated lies that afflict both Republican and Democratic operatives. Aided by e-mails, memos, cashed checks and federal law-enforcement sources, the story outlines how Abramoff not only used bribes of federal officials but also funneled casino cash to shell groups for Sheldon, Lapin and Reed, who in turn lobbied Republican lawmakers for the gambling interests.
"To reach the House conservatives, Abramoff turned to Sheldon, leader of the Orange County, Calif.-based Traditional Values Coalition, a politically potent group that publicly opposed gambling and said it represented 43,000 churches," wrote Post reporters Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi. "Abramoff had teamed up with Sheldon before on issues affecting his client. Because of their previous success, Abramoff called Sheldon 'Lucky Louie,' former associates said."
The story goes on to describe how Abramoff employed Sheldon, Reed, pedophile Vanderwall, Rabbi Lapin, Rohrabacher pal Grover Norquist and former Rohrabacher press secretary Tony C. Rudy, who'd later become chief of staff to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Key to winning the votes necessary to kill the anti-gambling bill was Sheldon's threat that he'd target uncooperative Republicans with his vicious direct-mail operation. According to the Post, the reverend threatened to allege the kiss of political death in GOP circles: that the Republican in question had kowtowed to homosexual interests. Fearful of fighting the trumped-up charge, several politicians fell in line, and the bill was defeated. As a reward, huge checks flowed from Abramoff to Sheldon.
Rohrabacher, an ex-Register editorial writer, originally defended Abramoff by accusing the FBI of a smear campaign. But the nine-term congressman was forced to backtrack after Abramoff and another pal, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to federal crimes. The FBI probe, one of the most intense in agency history, is expected to snare a couple of congressmen before it's over.
When the Post reporters confronted Sheldon with Abramoff's schemes, he replied, "This is all tied to Jack? I'm shocked out of my socks!"
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Selling out his religious convictions for cash is a traditional value for Sheldon. In 1998, for example, the Weekly disclosed that Orange County's allegedly rabid pro-life Republican politicians—Rohrabacher, Curt Pringle, John Lewis, Ross Johnson and Scott Baugh—accepted favors, interest-free loans and contributions from Dr. Edward C. Allred, the nation's most prolific abortion doctor. (Another bombshell ignored by the Register; see my article, "The Abortionist Who Funds Pro-Life Republicans," June 26, 1998.)
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Given Sheldon's sermons, you'd think he would have lambasted Allred, who is also a racetrack owner, and the GOP officeholders. But the reverend was silent. The Weekly had learned that Sheldon's family was also on Allred's payroll and—does this sound familiar?—that he'd quietly lobbied for Allred's gambling interests in Sacramento. Even conservative activist Jon Fleischman, who shares Sheldon's politics, has called him "rent-a-reverend."
Such brazen hypocrisy has served Sheldon well. In fact, his success is reminiscent of the theme song to television's The Jeffersons:
"Fish don't fry in the kitchen;
Beans don't burn on the grill;
Took a whole lotta tryin';
Just to get up that hill;
Now we're up in the big leagues
Gettin' our turn at bat;
As long as we live, it's me and you baby;
There ain't nothin' wrong with that . . . We're movin' on up!"