Congressman gambles with ex-colleague’s words

Bachus op-ed parallels Leach’s of 3 years earlier

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By his own account, U.S. Rep. Jim Leach’s argument against online gambling, which he laid out in a 2006 article, was more factual and perfunctory than soaring political rhetoric.

But three years later his words would reappear in print — though under a different name: Rep. Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican who was a key ally of Mr. Leach’s in opposing online gambling legislation.

With Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, fighting off a plagiarism scandal, and insisting he is being targeted, Mr. Bachus‘ situation offers an indication that it may be more common on Capitol Hill than lawmakers readily admit.

Mr. Leach’s 2006 piece, part of an email debate with a proponent of Internet gambling published online by The Wall Street Journal, deployed some basic facts to defend his conclusion that Congress should tread warily.

“The characteristics of Internet gambling are unique,” wrote the Iowa Republican, who lost his re-election bid later that year. “Online players can gamble 24 hours a day from home; children may play without sufficient age verification; and betting with a credit card can undercut a player’s perception of the value of cash, leading to gambling addiction, bankruptcy, and crime.”

"I am extremely appreciative that Spencer has picked up on the cause I advocated," former Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican, said of Mr. Bachus. (Associated Press)

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“I am extremely appreciative that Spencer has picked up on the cause ... more >

In 2009, Mr. Bachus, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, struck the same note.

“The characteristics of Internet gambling are unique,” Mr. Bachus wrote in an op-ed for U.S. News & World Report that did not mention Mr. Leach. “Online players can gamble 24 hours a day from home; children may play without sufficient age verification; and betting with a credit card can undercut a player’s perception of the value of cash, leading to gambling addiction, bankruptcy, and crime.”

Another passage that first appeared under Mr. Leach’s name in the same Wall Street Journal piece later appeared in a different piece by Mr. Bachus — with just a few changes.

“Americans were sending $6 billion to unregulated, offshore online casinos each year, or nearly half of the $12 billion bet worldwide on the Internet,” Mr. Bachus wrote in American Banker in 2008. “These sites evade rigorous U.S. regulations that control gambling by minors and problem gamers and ensure the integrity of the games.”

Mr. Leach wrote almost exactly the same passage. Mr. Bachus‘ office didn’t comment for this story. The Washington Times first contacted the lawmaker’s office after discovering the passages last week.

Mr. Leach, who is now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa, said he has no problem with Mr. Bachus using his words.

“I was close to Spencer Bachus and he’s a smart guy and he’s no slouch,” Mr. Leach said. “I would consider it a compliment if he wanted to use anything I’ve written.”

Mr. Leach said Mr. Bachus would have known about his long-term position on the issue, and so he might have told a staff member writing his material to go review Mr. Leach’s past statements.

“On Capitol Hill, most of the stuff is written by others … I don’t think he would’ve done this directly,” Mr. Leach said. “I definitely approve of it.”

“Rather, I am extremely appreciative that Spencer has picked up on the cause I advocated,” Mr. Leach wrote in a follow-up email. “He is a very decent, smart representative who in the 1990s worked closely with me on significant African AIDS initiatives. Both of these causes involve political risk for him.”

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