May/June 2010 Issue
Five years on, the Jack Abramoff scandal seems like a distant memory. But the new documentary from director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) portrays the rise and fall of the right-wing superlobbyist as a colorful prologue to the new era of unrestricted corporate campaign cash.
Casino Jack traces Abramoff's early career as a College Republican alongside Ralph Reed and Karl Rove, as well as his farcical turn as the producer of an anti-Soviet action movie. The humor wears off when he arrives on K Street in the early '90s, shilling for sweatshops in Saipan and extracting enormous fees from Indian tribes. By the time Abramoff hires a lifeguard to front a company that will launder millions in kickbacks, you have to at least admire his ambition. The film skims over the unraveling of Abramoff's empire, but Gibney is clear that his downfall didn't end the corruption. Abramoff's exploitation of the system was unprecedented, but he didn't invent it.