In a message posted on his Focus on the Family website, Dr. James Dobson's group has denied lobbying outgoing Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton on behalf of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"There is no connection," Dobson's site says flatly.
However, in already public e-mails and letters sent in early 2002 between former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and Abramoff, Reed insists that he has secured Dobson's support for Abramoff's gaming interest clients in Louisiana, in opposition of allowing competing tribes to expand the state's access to legal gambling.
Just three days after Reed's guarantee, Dobson did indeed write a letter to Norton, urging her to intervene in blocking rival casinos. (Read the letter here.) Schlafly also penned a letter.
The Dobson-helmed Focus on the Family website explains, "Those e-mails are examples of Mr. Abramoff bragging about events that did not happen."
However, even a cursory examination of the documents reveals that it was not Mr. Abramoff, but in fact Dobson ally Ralph Reed, who claimed to have secured Dobson's involvement.
Focus goes on to address the contents of the e-mails, often attempting to deflect criticism away from Dobson and Reed, and on to Abramoff. In a point- by- point Q & A style list, Focus attempts to distance Dobson and Reed from Abramoff's lobby.
"[The e-mails claim that] Dr. Dobson would record and air radio commercial advertisements against the Jena Choctaw casino opposed by one of Abramoff's Louisiana clients," the argument begins.
In the e-mails, Abramoff and his associates discuss the budget for the "state" advertisements, which they hope to feature Dobson. At no point do they indicate that Dobson has agreed to appear. Reed is reported to have requested $250,000 for the deal, which Abramoff and his associates considered countering with a $60,000 offer.
At least five days earlier, Reed had pressured for funds for the spots, while Abramoff discussed with associate Michael Scanlon offering some "chump change" or "a token" to make it happen.
Focus on the Family concedes that VP of Public Policy Tom Minnery and host Bob Ditmer did publicly oppose the rival tribe's casino plans on a "special edition" radio broadcast aired only in the state, explaining that, "These discussions were not radio commercials." Rather, they were "'state-only' radio content geared to important issues."
Focus goes on to identify another purported falsehood in the e-mails: Claims that, "Dr. Dobson would go on the air to 'hit Haley' Barbour, who at the time was a D.C. lobbyist who'd been hired by the Jena Choctaws, the Indian tribe whose casino project was opposed by Abramoff's clients." The group counters that, "No one from Focus mentioned Barbour on the air, let alone urged listeners to 'hit' him with phone calls or e-mails." This argument appears to be a straw man.
Reed and Abramoff seem to be discussing an appearance by Abramoff on talk radio, most likely his own show, which has discussed the topic of legalized gambling over 200 times. However, at no point in the e-mails do Reed, Abramoff, or any of Abramoff's associates claim that Dobson plans to attack former RNC chair Barbour on the air, encouraging listeners to call the lobbyist. In fact, they appear to grow anxious that Dobson will not appear.
Rather, Reed seems to indicate that Dobson's "history" with Barbour will likely impassion his opposition. Strangely, Focus goes on to verify this claim, explaining that, "Many years before, Dr. Dobson opposed Barbour's role in allowing the Republican Party to take gambling money."
The final claim addressed by Focus, Reed's guarantee that "Dr. Dobson would privately urge Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to oppose the Jena Choctaw casino," it concedes to be true. Dobson, along with Focus Senior VP Tom Minnery, did indeed write Norton directly to express their opposition. They claim this was not due to Reed's urging.
The Q & A closes with an attempt to portray Reed, now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, as a victim of Abramoff: "It appears Mr. Abramoff attempted to use Mr. Reed's respect among social conservatives to further the goals of his casino clients." It denies that Dobson had any knowledge of Reed's ties to the lobbyist.
"We have only one record of a call from Mr. Reed during this time, but it was made after we had already received multiple requests to write letters to Gale Norton from our longtime Louisiana allies. It is not clear whether Reed was calling Dr. Dobson to thank him for writing to Norton, or to ask him to do so."
In the e-mails, Reed reports to have placed his call to Dobson on February 19, 2002. Dobson penned his letter to Norton three days later, on February 22. This timeline is inconsistent with the possible explanation that Reed had placed the call to thank Dobson for the letter.