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Wednesday, January 27, 2010 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Zelaya to Leave Honduras as Coup Leaders Cleared
2010-01-27

"Casino Jack and the United States of Money"–A Look at Corporate Money and Politics

Guests

Alex Gibney, Academy Award-winning filmmaker. His latest documentary is called Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

Tom Rodgers, member of the Blackfeet tribe and a lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting.

David Sickey, member of the Tribal Council of the Coushatta Tribe.

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As a Supreme Court ruling opens the floodgates for corporations to affect elections, we take a look at corporate money and politics with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. His new documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, focuses on the rise and fall of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. We also speak with David Sickey, a member of the Tribal Council of the Coushatta Tribe, and Tom Rodgers, a lobbyist and member of the Blackfeet tribe who was a key whistleblower in the Abramoff case. Outside of the film, this is Rodgers’ first national broadcast interview. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the issue of corporate money and politics. Seven days ago, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. In a five-to-four decision, the conservative members of the court argued that corporations and unions have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech.

Many advocates for fair elections say the Court’s decision in the Citizens United case will open the floodgates of corporate campaign donations. In the dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, quote, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

Here at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where we’re broadcasting, one of the most talked-about films deals with the topic of money and politics. It’s called Casino Jack and the United States of Money. The documentary is by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. It focuses on the rise and fall of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now serving time in jail for defrauding American Indian tribes, bribing public officials, and evading taxes.

In a moment, Alex Gibney will join us here in Park City, but first, a clip from Casino Jack.

    NEWS REPORT: The government says Abramoff has admitted to bribing as many as twenty members of Congress.

    ALICE FISHER: His activities went far beyond lawful lobbying.

    MIKE WALLER: He was the number one lobbyist in Washington, who could get you in touch with the best and most influential members of Congress.

    NEIL VOLZ: It’s amazing how many members of Congress wanted in with Jack.

    NEWS REPORT: When the story broke, President Bush publicly tried to distance himself from Jack Abramoff.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I frankly don’t even remember having my picture taken with the guy.

    BOB NEY: You know, all of a sudden, nobody remembered Jack Abramoff.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I don’t know him.

    BOB NEY: Of course Bush knew him. Absolutely.

    SUSAN SCHMIDT: It’s just amazing how close Abramoff and his people got to the levers of power in Washington.

    TOM RODGERS: We had no idea that it would lead to the resignation of Tom DeLay, to the conviction of Bob Ney, to Tony Rudy, to Neil Volz. So many people were pulled into this web: Ralph Reed, John Doolittle, Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Conrad Burns, Don Young, Grover Norquist. It was all about the money. It’s the selling of America.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Casino Jack and the United States of Money. The filmmaker Alex Gibney joins us here in Park City. We’re broadcasting from the headquarters of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

In 2007, Alex won an Academy Award for his documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. He also made the film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

We’re also joined by two other guests who certainly played a role in the Jack Abramoff scandal, and they appear in the film. David Sickey is a member of the Tribal Council of the Coushatta Tribe. He’s the vice chair. Tom Rodgers is a member of the Blackfoot Tribe, and he’s a lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting. The Hill newspaper just published an article about Rodgers titled "The Man Who Blew the Whistle on Jack Abramoff Tells the Story of How He Did It."

Well, I want to welcome you all here in Park City to Sundance headquarters, where we’re broadcasting from. Your film, Alex, has been received, as Taxi to the Dark Side was, with great acclaim here, the first time it’s showing. Talk about the significance of going back in time a bit to Jack Abramoff, what could look like a really interesting historical piece, and the Supreme Court decision that just came out.

ALEX GIBNEY: Well, I think the Supreme Court decision suddenly pulls these events from the past into the present with unbelievable force. It’s like — the film is about buying influence, and Jack Abramoff is a wild and outrageous example of how that works. But what the Supreme Court decision does is to show just how — I mean, as much — the tools that Jack had to work with, now anybody like Jack, a lobbyist who wants to really push a political agenda, can do so with unbelievable power, just by eliciting the aid of massive amounts of corporate money.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, go back, for people who, when asked, Jack Abramoff — is it a drink? Some corrupt politician? Explain what happened. Tell us the story in a nutshell. And you can’t speak in sound bites.

ALEX GIBNEY: Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist, or was a lobbyist. And a lobbyist is somebody who represents people’s interests, trying to get laws passed in Congress on their behalf. But Jack Abramoff really is better understood as a political zealot. He was a college Republican who came to some prominence with his friends Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, as they began to enter the political arena with a kind of a radical agenda for sort of extreme free market views and also a very sort of radical anti-Soviet agenda.

He then launched some rather — he was also a movie producer at times, doing a rather unique genre, which was to produce political action thrillers, which were actually very ideological in tone. In one of them, called Red Scorpion, which stars the action hero Dolph Lundgren, he —-

AMY GOODMAN: Which was supported by the South African apartheid regime.

ALEX GIBNEY: Which was supported by the South African apartheid regime. The film tries to resuscitate the career of Jonas Savimbi, a rather brutal dictator.

But from there, Jack launched his career -— with the ascent of the Republicans in 1994, Jack launched his career as a lobbyist in Washington, DC. And he had tremendous credentials among kind of the conservative community, the movement conservative community, and that allowed him access to people in power. With access to people in power, he could sell that access to clients who wanted to buy that access. And that’s how he really made his fortune. And that’s how he really made a name for himself.

You know, he’s now called “disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” and a lot of people like to say that they didn’t really know him. In fact, he was in the mainstream. He was very much a power broker in Washington, DC, very good relationships with Karl Rove, President Bush, and particularly Tom DeLay, the former Majority Whip. So, that’s the big story about Jack Abramoff. He was a guy who really bought and sold politicians, is really what he did.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Alex Gibney’s film Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

    NARRATOR: To reach his goal, he had to get to one man: Tom DeLay.

    TOM DELAY: Jack Abramoff was a committed conservative. He was well known in the conservative movement. And I dealt with him no differently than I dealt with any other lobbyist.

    NARRATOR: Jack was not like any other lobbyist. He had a very special relationship with Tom DeLay. He took him on trips to Russia, Scotland and the South Pacific. He made sure that his clients showered money on DeLay’s foundation and employed his wife. And in return, DeLay let Jack market himself as the man who had access to DeLay’s power.

    NEIL VOLZ: The first time I met Jack Abramoff was in the Majority Whip’s office at an event. Jack is one of a kind. I mean, Jack Abramoff could sweet talk a dog off a meat truck. He’s that persuasive. And he’s the king of K Street. This is the guy. And he comes in for five minutes, sits down next to somebody who’s willing to spend millions of dollars, you know, to lobby Washington, and then he leaves in five minutes. And the guy or the woman thinks that Jack’s talking to the President, but he’s probably playing solitaire on his computer. And then he comes back in, and it’s like, “Hey, you know, sorry about that, but you got two more minutes. And by the way, I need about $250,000 a month,” and then walks out the door. One of a kind. One of a kind.

AMY GOODMAN: That, a clip from Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

Alex, go on from there and talk about Tom DeLay. Interestingly, at your premier here at the Sundance Film Festival, one of those who were in the audience was Bob Ney, who went to jail, the congressman.

ALEX GIBNEY: Congressman Bob Ney spent seventeen years in a federal — seventeen months, I should say, in a federal penitentiary. Bob was caught up in Abramoff’s web, and it was really a very powerful moment. I mean, when we screened the film here, Bob had never seen it before. And I was unsure a little bit how he was going to react. He’s in the film. He’s interviewed at length, as is his former chief of staff, who then went on to work for Jack Abramoff, Neil Volz. And Bob came out of the audience to talk to people afterwards, and a lot of people were very interested, because Bob is very candid about how this influence-peddling process works. Interestingly enough, now Bob is one of the most vigorous advocates of campaign finance — more than reform, it’s like taking the money out of the system.

AMY GOODMAN: And Tom DeLay?

ALEX GIBNEY: Tom DeLay would not be like — that would not be his view. Tom DeLay’s view is, we spend more money on potato chips than we do on political campaigns. His view would be, let the money rush down like great waters.

AMY GOODMAN: So his wish was answered by the Supreme Court.

ALEX GIBNEY: Indeed. I think the Supreme Court was channeling Tom DeLay when they issued their recent decision.

AMY GOODMAN: But Tom DeLay is out of office now. How does it tie into this?

ALEX GIBNEY: Well, Tom DeLay is out of office now, but I think the point is that —-

AMY GOODMAN: Forced to resign.

ALEX GIBNEY: He was forced to resign as a result of this scandal. And he’s still facing charges for violating campaign finance laws in Texas, but under a cloud, he resigned his position from the Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break in a minute, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion. But before we do, I wanted to introduce our next guest, who has -— well, just beginning to speak out, really the first time in your film, Alex. Tom Johnson [sic], talk about your role in the unraveling, in the exposing of Jack Abramoff.

TOM RODGERS: I’m a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, and I represent a number of Native American tribes across the country and have advocated for Native Americans, like —-

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Rodgers, sorry.

TOM RODGERS: That’s alright, no problem. And my family is Native American. And I came back to work in DC, and in working with tribes, and some tribal leaders who had trusted me throughout my career reached out to me a time in early 2002 because of threats that had been made to them regarding the lobbying practices of a lobbyist who was representing them. And I received a number of phone calls and was asked to meet with a number of tribal leaders, because they felt that their lobbyist was defrauding them and cheating them, and they had no idea what they were paying for with these large, large amounts of money.

And so, through phone calls and meetings, all the way back into 2002, through Monica Quigley at the Saginaw Chippewas, Kevin Battise at the Alabama Coushattas, Ernest Sickey, David’s father, we met in 2002, started to collect our data. Bernie -—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you go about checking this data?

TOM RODGERS: Checking the what?

AMY GOODMAN: The data.

TOM RODGERS: What was very evident, we looked at the political contributions that Jack was asking the tribes to make. And I saw that they were making contributions to politicians who were in opposition to Native American ideas and concerns. That immediately was, you know, an indicia of “Oh, my God, this is not right.”

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

TOM RODGERS: Well, I mean, there are members in Congress, like, for one, John Doolittle. John Doolittle — some of the tribes were making — were asked to make campaign donations to John Doolittle, who is in opposition to long-term Native American interests. Tom DeLay, even though I know Jack and Mr. DeLay would like to represent that Tom DeLay was there for Indian country, if you look at his legislative record, he was not. On one or two rare isolated instances. But you look at his overall track record, legislative record, he was not a supporter of Indian country.

And so, I looked at this, and I said, we are making contributions to people who are in opposition to us, who avidly work against Indian country. And there was that, and there was also these invoices, these amounts, which were — and I kept saying this, and we had to convince the media, these were numbers that were like — the only organization at that time that was spending the amount of money that these tribes were spending, were being asked to spend, was the US Chamber of Commerce. Not — even Microsoft under divestiture or GE were not spending these gross amounts of money. And I work in Indian country, and I’m going — and I was benchmarking against what work was being done. There was no way — no way — you could rationalize these amounts.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we’re going to come back, and I want to ask David Sickey, who is a vice chair of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, about how his nation was involved, his relationship with Jack Abramoff.

This is Democracy Now!. We’re talking about a film that has premiered here that is, well, going to have a big effect in this country, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision that has just come down. It’s about the jailed, the disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. It’s called Casino Jack [and] the United States of Money. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival headquarters here in Park City, Utah. We’re here because it’s the largest celebration of independent film in this country. And it goes throughout the week. I’m Amy Goodman.

Our guests now are — well, one of the features of this film festival, Alex Gibney has come back, the Oscar Award-winning filmmaker who did Taxi to the Dark Side and also Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. And he has a new film called Casino Jack [and] the United States of Money. We’re also joined by Tom Rodgers, a member of the Blackfoot Tribe and a lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting, and David Sickey, who’s vice chair of the Tribal Council of Coushatta Tribe.

David, before we go to you, I wanted to play yet another clip from Casino Jack.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, so help me God.

    NARRATOR: Jack had raised lots of money for Bush and convinced his tribal clients not to contribute to Bush’s key Republican rival, John McCain. In 2001, Abramoff was asked to bring his lobbying practice to the same firm that Bush had hired to win the battle of the Florida recount, Greenberg Traurig.

    RON PLATT: He clearly had a big practice, five or six million dollars. The Marianas, the Mississippi Choctaw, I guess the Louisiana Coushattas. He was making a big push for the Saginaw Chippewa.

    JACK ABRAMOFF: How do I help this tribe? Any fees you end up spending with us, you get back, you know, with a multiple. Last year, Choctaw fees were, I think, like three-and-a-half million dollars, in terms of the lobbying fees, and they got $120 million in direct and indirect federal help, grants, etc.

    NARRATOR: Suddenly, Jack was a popular man in Indian country.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

David Sickey, you’re vice chair of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. Talk about Jack Abramoff and Native politics. How was your tribe affected?

DAVID SICKEY: Well, my tribe became involved with Jack Abramoff in and around 2000, 2001. Just to kind of give you a little bit of background, I was elected for the first term, for my first term, in May of 2003. So the previous administrations had brought in Jack Abramoff as a consultant. And also I think there was a tribal state gaming compact renewal issue that needed some level of sophistication, as far as negotiations were concerned. And I believe he was referred to the tribe from another tribe, a neighboring tribe from a neighboring state. So it’s kind of interesting how it evolved.

By the time I came into office, it was clearly evident that there were appalling, just huge amounts of money already being sent to Jack Abramoff and/or Michael Scanlon. And there were — you know, we would hear different things about lobbyists being paid, but the average member of the tribe simply had no clue as to how big these payments were. And that’s the type of platform that I came in on in ’03.

So, Tom Rodgers, much credit to him, came in at a very appropriate time, as we were sifting through some of these documents. I finally made contact with Tom Rodgers soon after my election. And Tom helped out as far as, you know, giving me a sense of what to look for, providing me a grocery list of the internal documents to begin looking for and sifting through.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Tom, you were finding that people who raised questions, within the various tribes —-

TOM RODGERS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —- who had hired Abramoff —-

TOM RODGERS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —- were starting to get fired.

TOM RODGERS: Yes. Sadly, Monica Quigley, in November of 2002, who is a former — one of the former in-house counsels for the Saginaw Chippewas, when she proceeded, because she’s — once again, started to see these large incredible invoices, she saw that — she reached out to me, and she says, “Tom, I cannot believe these numbers that are coming into us and why we’re paying them.”

AMY GOODMAN: What are the numbers?

TOM RODGERS: Oh, we’re looking at $1.875 million for three months of work, which had not — not even done yet. In fact, Jack asked that $1.875 million be wired to him. And the line, the addendum on the explanation for services, was simply “professional services.” So we want $2 million. We want it three months before we’ve done the work. And we want it wired to us immediately. And she was fired when she started to raise questions, so she reached out to me in November of 2002 and said, “Tom, would you be willing to help us?” And that led to David Sickey, Bernie Sprague and —-

AMY GOODMAN: And who is Bernie Sprague?

TOM RODGERS: Bernie Sprague was a sub-chief at the Saginaw Chippewas. And he ended up calling me in January of 2003. He had made previous attempts, but it was very -— the atmosphere at the Saginaw Chippewas was very threatening at that time. Jack had told him that if he continued to raise questions regarding his invoicing and spread ill-founded rumors about him, that he might be suing him. And that’s when I talked to Bernie Sprague at 1:30 in the morning on January the 3rd.

And it was very interesting, because Bernie — I picked up the phone, and at that late hour, I didn’t recognize the phone number, but I said, “Can I help you, sir?” And he goes, “Well, my name is Bernie Sprague. I was told I could trust you.” And I says, “Well, I don’t know if you can. Who told you that?” He said, Rick Hill. And Rick Hill is a national leader in Indian country and is a very close friend of mine. So that was my kind of password that we could trust each other, even though I had never met the man.

AMY GOODMAN: They asked you to check out where they were sending their checks to when they weren’t wiring them?

TOM RODGERS: Right. That was a very interesting point. We had — then I sat down on the edge of the bed, and I said, “Bernie, let’s talk.” This conversation went on for quite a while early in the morning on January the 3rd.

And he goes, “Well, Tom, we’ve been sending these large amounts of money.” And I said, “Well, Bernie,” I said, “be more specific.” He says, “Well, there’s this one check we were going to send, it’s going to 611 Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Washington, DC at Suite 375.” Well, I’ve lived in DC for a number of years, and I said, “Bernie, with all due respect, there’s nothing up at 611 Pennsylvania Avenue SE but nail salons, bars and gas stations. He says, “No, no, no, no, no. This is a reputable business. We’re sending them to a large organization.” So I said, “Bernie, I will drive up there, and I will take a picture of where you’re sending it.”

So I drove up there, and I started to look around, and it’s a Mailboxes Are Us. It’s now a UPS store. But at that time, it was a Mail Boxes, Etc. And I said, “Bernie” —-

AMY GOODMAN: Mail Boxes, Etc. -—

TOM RODGERS: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: — that has the little mailboxes.

TOM RODGERS: The little mailboxes. And that point exactly, I went in, and I — of course, looking for Suite 375, was a mailbox. And it was eight inches across and eleven inches deep.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Gibney, talk about the significance of this. And David Sickey mentioned Michael Scanlon. Talk about the people around Jack Abramoff, because this isn’t just, by any means, one individual story.

ALEX GIBNEY: No, it’s not. And one of the interesting things about Jack is, a lot of people have painted him as a bad apple, but he’s really kind of more spectacular evidence of a rotten barrel.

And in terms of Mike Scanlon, who was his kind of key co-conspirator, Mike Scanlon was a guy who had worked as the press secretary of Tom DeLay, and then he came over to Jack’s shop and then started setting up business on his own. And what they would do is, Jack would go in to an Indian client, and he would say, “Well, look, I’ll charge you so much, but the guy you really need to hire is Mike Scanlon, because he does this grassroots work that you’re really going to want to have.” And then they would pay Scanlon, and then Scanlon would kick back about half his fee to Jack.

But in terms of the bigger picture, it’s interesting that Jack would get a number of staffers. He got staffers of John Doolittle to work for him, staffers of Bob Ney to work for him. And that’s really the way it works in Washington, DC. It’s the revolving door. Lobbyists use relationships that staffers have with members. They take them over to their shop, and then that’s how they get inside the members’ offices.

AMY GOODMAN: And Neil Volz?

ALEX GIBNEY: Neil Volz was a former chief of staff for Bob Ney, and he was also — he also came to work for Jack Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a last clip from your film, from Casino Jack, that looks at how Jack Abramoff got involved with the Tigua Tribe in Texas.

    NARRATOR: “Fire up the jet, baby, we’re going to El Paso!!”

    SUSAN SCHMIDT: “Fire up the jet, baby, we’re going to El Paso!!” That refers to maybe the most cynical campaign involving Indian tribes that they were involved in.

    NARRATOR: Jack gave the caper a code name: "Operation Open Doors." A plan to sell his services to a Texas tribe whose casino had just been shut down.

    MELANIE SLOAN: Michael Scanlon sends Abramoff a piece from the El Paso Times.

    TOM RODGERS: This was on the front page of today’s paper, while they’ll be voting on our plan.

    MELANIE SLOAN: Which is the plan to pay Abramoff and Scanlon to reopen the casino.

    TOM RODGERS: Abramoff replied, “Is life great or what?”

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the new film Casino Jack. It’s Alex Gibney’s. He’s here next to me, Tom Rodgers next to him, and David Sickey next to him. David Sickey, vice chair of the Coushatta Tribe.

But, Tom Rodgers, you’re a lobbyist.

TOM RODGERS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re Blackfeet yourself.

TOM RODGERS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this last deal, the Tigua. Talk about — also I want to hear about the email that were going back and forth that really blew this out into the public.

TOM RODGERS: This is probably, as Alex has raised, it is one of the saddest chapters, a complete betrayal of trust amongst all the tribes. The Tigua tribe was — and you have to look at the political conditions in Texas, are very adverse for Native Americans. We used to have almost thirty tribes in Texas; we have three now. And for a reason.

And what happened with the Tiguas, their economic situation was so dire that they were willing to hire somebody like Jack. Of course, not all the necessary due diligence was done, and I understand that, but what happened was, is that they were trying to have their casino operation open up, where they could once again use their moneys to educate their youth, provide healthcare.

But what Jack and Mike did is they — kind of a bait and switch on them. They were hired by them to help them open their casino, and then also the collateral effect of efforts to close casinos statewide had the impact of closing their casino. And so, they got paid millions and millions of dollars. At the same time as they read as — on the front page of the El Paso newspaper, when they were closing the casino and over 450 employees were being let go, they were sitting in their offices in Washington, DC, reading these newspaper articles of "Fire up the jet, baby, let’s go back out to El Paso and rebuild them." And the cynicism was over the top.

AMY GOODMAN: And the names that they were calling Native Americans in their emails, Alex?

ALEX GIBNEY: Well, yeah, there’s a rather shocking series of exchanges, in terms — I mean, Jack routinely referred to a lot of his clients in really derogatory terms. And this was certainly no exception.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Reed was head of the Christian Coalition. So they’re working to close the tribes to get more money to fight to reopen them.

ALEX GIBNEY: Well, what happened was, actually, Jack was hired by a tribe out of Louisiana — in fact, under a previous administration, the Coushatta Tribe — to try to shut down the casino of a tribe just outside of Houston. And Ralph would often employ Ralph Reed, who was, in theory, you know, radically opposed to gambling. He called it a cancer on the body politic. But in fact, what would happen is Ralph would hire — I mean, Jack would hire Ralph to, you know, beat the drum against gambling, in a religious way, but would never disclose that, in fact, Ralph was being paid millions of dollars — I think he ultimately got $7 million — from casinos to — so that they were basically playing one casino off of another. And it was Ralph’s campaign and also — and his relationship with Senator — now Senator John Cornyn, then Attorney General John Cornyn, that led to the shutting down of tribal casinos in Texas. And then, once they were shut down, then Jack went to the Tigua tribe and said, “Hey, you guys have been shut down. How about hiring me to open you up?”

AMY GOODMAN: Then, we only have a minute, but the death certificates, Tom?

TOM RODGERS: That is a disturbing thing, is, you know, in corporate America, yes, there is insurance policies called corporate-owned life insurance, but once again Jack and Mike took this to another level. Our elders in our society are incredibly respected. They are our — they teach us. What these people did was beyond beyond. They asked the Tiguas to take out life insurance policies on our elders, and once they died, then they would pay those benefits to them to pay their lobbying fees.

AMY GOODMAN: They would pay the benefits to...?

TOM RODGERS: To Jack and Mike, to pay the lobbying fees.

ALEX GIBNEY: I have to say, I mean, I think that I find this unbelievably extreme, but I should note that this is a rather common practice. AIG used to do this all the time. You know, it’s one of those —- and, in fact, many investment banks have huge programs for this, where they buy life insurance policies for people. I mean, it’s staggering. It’s shocking. But -—

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute. Very quickly, the reforms that were passed in the wake of the Abramoff scandal, do they mean anything?

ALEX GIBNEY: No, I don’t think the reforms passed in the wake of the Abramoff scandal really mean much of anything, because they haven’t taken the money out of the system. You know, we now have congressmen and senators who spend sometimes two, three days out of every week raising money. Well, how perverted is that in our system? Why should we be paying them to raise money? That’s really the fundamental problem here. And, you know, deciding how and when lobbyists can have lunch or dinner with members is really not the point. The point is, how do you take the influence of money out of the system? That’s really the key issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Alex Gibney, Oscar-winning filmmaker, his new film just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s called Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Tom Rodgers, thank you for speaking out, in his first national broadcast outside of the film that Alex has done. And thank you very much, David Sickey, vice chair of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.

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