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Pressler 'American Hustle' ad to air during Oscars

Former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler was renowned in 1980 as the public officials who turned down bribes from undercover FBI agents in the ABSCAM scandal fictionalized in the Oscar-nominated film, "American Hustle." (Photo courtesy of Larry Pressler)

By Dirk Lammers

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — As "American Hustle" vies for a best picture Oscar Sunday night, former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler will pop into the Academy Awards broadcast a couple of times to remind South Dakota residents that he was the lone congressman to turn down a bribe in the real-life 1970s Abscam scandal.

The 71-year-old Pressler, a three-term Republican hoping to win back his old seat as an independent, said he's bought two 30-second local spots to debut his ad during the awards show broadcast.

"American Hustle," starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, is a fictional account of the scandal in which a con man and the FBI worked together to bribe politicians using two agents pretending to be Arab sheik investors. The operation led to 19 convictions, including six U.S. House members and U.S. Sen. Harrison Williams.

Pressler makes his pitch to Oscar watchers: "'American Hustle' shows the FBI making real-life bribes to Washington politicians. I know, because as your U.S. senator, I turned them down."

The spot then cuts to black-and-white hidden camera footage showing the attempted transaction.

"$50,000 is, you know, is no problem," the undercover FBI agent says.

"In any event, it would not be proper for me to promise to do anything in return for campaign contributions," Pressler tells the agent.

The spot cuts back to Pressler in the president day. "This is the type of honest leadership I will bring to Washington, D.C.," he says.

Pressler, in a race with one Democrat and five Republicans, said his Abscam refusal brought him "15 minutes of great fame in 1980." CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite called him a hero during his broadcast, and a then-little-known talk show host named Oprah Winfrey brought him on her Baltimore-based show.

"And then the stage went dark," Pressler said Friday. "We tend to forget the people who do the right thing."

Although David O. Russell's corruption comedy is so fictionalized it begins with the disclaimer "Some of this actually happened," it places a renewed spotlight on the influence on big money in politics. And the problem has gotten worse, Pressler said.

"I thought Abscam would cause some real reform," he said. "But I'm disappointed. I don't think it has."