Sundance hit Casino Jack and the United States of Money is everything a documentary should be: Fast paced, informative and fun. It opens with Jack Abramoff’s quote that no one watches documentaries, suggesting that an action film be made instead, and rockets on from there, beginning with a murder and taking us through the perfidious history of Jack Abramoff, a master of corruption, shady deals and deregulation and the fallout: Human trafficking, environmental disasters, the hornswoggling of Indian tribes for casino profits, and murder.
Jack Abramoff lived his life with a cinematic eye for drama. At age 12 he converted to Orthodox Judaism after seeing Fiddler on the Roof and he drew the wrath of GOP organizers, when as head of College Republicans National Committee he overspent his budget on copies of a spy novel which he passed out to new recruits (his playing hard fast with donations to the non-profit USA Foundation he created caused some hand wringing for the Republicans as well).
Later, Abramoff would organize and attend a foray in international political machinations: The Citizens for America’s meeting of anti-Communist leaders from around the world including Mujahedeen, the Contras and Angola’s UNITA, held in Angola. The State Department was not amused and Abramoff went on to produce 1989’s dire Red Scorpion starring Dolph Lundgren.
But then came 1995 and the Republican sweep of Congress, Abramoff’s dream come true, the conservative revolution that he and his pals Reed and Norquist had dreamed of and (they felt) helped hatch. By then Abramoff was working as lobbyist for Preston Gates & Rouvelas Meeds when he came across a great plan involving the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CMNI) US territory with no US regulations but a nifty loophole that allowed residents to own manufacturing plants. Thousands of workers were imported, paid substandard wages in sweatshops and abused. Some ended up working in the sex industry, others were beaten and raped, some were chained to their work stations, others forced to have abortions; all of them, men and women from around the world, lured by the promise of living wages, were exploited. But the labels on the cheap clothes said “Made in USA” and that’s what mattered.
After the human rights abuses began to hit the media, Preston Gates and specifically Abramoff were hired by factory owners in CMNI to do damage control. Donations were made and influential Congressmen–including Tom DeLay–were flown to Saipan where they toured a couple factories, pronounced them just fine and dandy, then spent the rest of the time golfing.
Golf paid off well for Abramoff and his clients. It was golfing trip to St Andrews in Scotland with Ohio Congressman Bob Ney that got an Indian gaming provision attached to arms appropriation bill. Abramoff’s newest clients at Greenberg Traurig a lobbyist/law firm, were the Tigua tribe whose El Paso casino had been shut down more or less at the request of his other Indian casino clients. Yeah, Abramoff played both sides–and called his clients names while doing so. Abramoff’s partner was his old buddy uber-conservative Christian Ralph Reed whose angle was to play the outraged moralist crusading against legalized gambling in areas that were a threat to Abramoff’s clients…or simply to give his clients a scare. Then they’d split the fees and laugh on the racquetball courts.
And then there was the lifeguard who was hired to run one “think tank” which laundered casino funds; John McCain covering for Congressmen who might be caught up once Abramoff’s web of malfeasance was brought to light by outraged tribes; a forged wire transfer for $23 million; stupidly incriminating emails; and the mysterious murder of Sun Cruz casino owner Gus Boulis.
At the heart of all of this is corruption, deregulation and a lack oversight and the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes for elected officials to get into–and stay in– office. Abramoff saw a need and filled it, filling his pockets and cronies’ along the way. All he got was four years in prison, while lack of regulation still allows for massive abuses of the system–witness the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign advertising by corporations. Abramoff’s actions–and those of high powered lobbyists and the elected officials who participate with them–threaten democracy, the ideals of our Founding Fathers and the American way of life.
Please join us in welcoming Casino Jack and the United States of Money producers Alison Elwood and Zena Barakat as we delve into Abramoff, his influence peddling and its effects on politics nationally and globally.