When you’re a big-time Washington lobbyist like former liberal Connecticut Congressman Toby Moffett, you win some, lose some, and sometimes you just keep taking the money and let others decide how you’re doing.
Moffett, for example, is the lead lobbyist for online poker and also happens to represent the generals who are running Egypt these days (the same dudes who used to back Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and have been cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators and even U.S.-based groups).
Known as a liberal firebrand in his congressional days, Moffett bitterly resents anyone questioning whether some of his current clients might be, well, considered a little less than liberal. And he clearly has no intention of dropping any of those very lucrative accounts.
Last month’s apparent change of policy by the U.S. government toward online gambling seems like a big win for Moffett. Most experts are predicting that full legalization of online gambling is now a matter of when rather than if.
Earlier this year, Moffett was confidently saying the same thing despite federal indictments of major online poker companies, one of which was described by prosecutors as a “global Ponzi scheme.” Moffett insists he’s still a true-blue liberal at heart and describes support for the $6 billion-a-year online poker industry as “a liberal issue.”
The U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last month appears to clarify the federal government’s stance on a 2006 law that made it illegal for banks to process funds related to online gambling. The memo specifies that the federal “Wire Act” only applies to gambling on sports events, not other types of wagering.
The federal change of heart has triggered a major response from states all across the country, including Connecticut.
Legalizing online gambling could become a huge new source of revenue for this state, boosting lottery sales among other potential benefits. But it could have its downsides as well, possibly cutting into the slot machine revenues at the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal casinos, which would slash the state’s share of that revenue.
And then there’s the whole issue of whether online gambling would create even more problems for people addicted to gambling. Gov. Dannel Malloy says he’s no huge fan of gambling in general, quickly adding the federal ruling has changed the nature of this game and the state is going to have to take advantage of it. He also warns Connecticut may have to spend even more on gambling addiction treatment and prevention programs than the $1.9 million it does now.
Presumably, if the U.S. does fully legalize online gambling, Moffett won’t have to keep defending those corporate poker guys who got indicted.
The Egyptian generals could be a somewhat stickier client for Moffett, good liberal that he says he is, to explain away.
Just last week, Egyptian soldiers and security police raided 17 U.S.-based and local pro-democracy and human rights organizations, a move that drew protests from the U.S. State Department.
In a long email back in November, Moffett protested against the Advocate newspapers coverage (stories reported by me) of his continued lobbying for the Egyptian generals despite the recent bloody crackdowns on protesters.
He also provided an extensive list of all the good “White Hat” causes and groups he lobbies for, and noted that he continues to raise money for Democrats and supports President Obama.
Responding this week by email to a question about whether he is continuing to represent the generals, Moffett had this to say:
“You are obviously predisposed to conclude that anyone who is trying to assist Egypt, as we are, including working closely with elections officials to produce what nearly everyone has said are astonishing open and fair elections(for the first time in their history).....and anyone who is trying, as we are, to help mediate the conflict between the government there and the US elections monitoring groups....are somehow doing something deplorable.
“This is a rapidly evolving and complicated process towards what, hopefully will be a democracy, albeit not necessarily one that is from a US cookie-cutter model.
"As I've said to you before, we'll be very lucky to avoid a too-extreme Islamic government, but my hunch is it will be a more moderate Islamic-led government.But I continue to believe strongly that Egyptians are not going to let secular leadership lose substantial influence and that the generals will abide by the schedule that will produce a constitution and an entirely new leadership.
“My extreme disappointment with you and people like you is that you don't seem to be using that considerable brain power of yours to grasp just how difficult this is for a 7,000 year old civilization that has never been down this road before. Our democracy was created with a lot more bloodshed, a lot more lynchings and killings and a lot more discrimination along the way.”
So Moffett’s argument is that lobbying for the corporate giants of the online poker world and the Egyptian generals is just as “liberal” as lobbying for environmental activists, alternative energy projects and cops and firemen seeking health benefits for problems resulting from working at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
And he really doesn’t like people referring to him as “a hired gun,” because Moffett says he’s not one of those big-time Washington lobbyists who’s just in it for the money.