How ‘American Hustle’ Is Helping One Former Senator’s Campaign

A Senate candidate in South Dakota is highlighting his role in the Abscam scandal in a new TV ad.

Chris Hemsworth and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell/'American Hustle' as nominees for Best Original Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards Nominations Announcement at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater on January 16, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Feb. 28, 2014, 7:02 a.m.

A dec­ades-old polit­ic­al scan­dal and grainy FBI foot­age are usu­ally the stuff of Hol­ly­wood movies, not TV ads for Sen­ate can­did­ates. But a can­did­ate from South Dakota is turn­ing to the glitz and glam­or of Tin­seltown and his own brush with a dark chapter in U.S. polit­ic­al his­tory to ar­gue voters should send him back to Wash­ing­ton.  

Larry Pressler, a former three-term Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or who has launched something of a quix­ot­ic in­de­pend­ent bid for South Dakota’s open Sen­ate seat, will run a new TV this Sunday that high­lights his role in the Ab­scam scan­dal, an FBI sting op­er­a­tion that led to the con­vic­tion of a hand­ful of Cap­it­ol Hill law­makers back in the early 1980s. Pressler not only turned down the bribe, but was filmed by a secret FBI cam­era do­ing so.

The scan­dal later be­came the plot for the Academy Award-nom­in­ated movie Amer­ic­an Hustle. And be­cause the Oscars are this Sunday, Pressler’s saw a unique op­por­tun­ity to high­light his eth­ic­al ped­i­gree.

Amer­ic­an Hustle shows the FBI mak­ing real-life bribes to Wash­ing­ton politi­cians,” Pressler says in his ad. “I know, be­cause as your U.S. sen­at­or, I turned them down.”

The spot then shows the FBI’s black-and-white foot­age, which ap­pears to be taken from hid­den cam­era, of Pressler telling dis­guised agents that “it would not be prop­er” to ac­cept a cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion.

“This is the type of hon­est lead­er­ship I would bring to Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” the in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate says.

The ad, ac­cord­ing to Pressler, will run in South Dakota dur­ing the Academy Awards. It was not im­me­di­ately clear how large the ad buy is.

Pressler sur­prised many this year when he un­ex­pec­tedly de­clared he would run as an in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate for the state’s open Sen­ate seat. His bid is con­sidered a long shot: Re­pub­lic­ans have largely co­alesced be­hind former Gov. Mike Rounds, and the state’s con­ser­vat­ive bent will make it dif­fi­cult for any oth­er can­did­ate to claim vic­tory.

Still, Pressler held the of­fice for 18 years. And now he has a crit­ic­ally ac­claimed movie help­ing him make the case that he de­serves an­oth­er six. 

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