Ralph Reed’s Gamble

Ralph Reed’s Gamble

When Ralph Reed was the boyish director of the Christian Coalition, he made opposition to gambling a major plank in his “family values” agenda, calling gambling “a cancer on the American body pol


When Ralph Reed was the boyish director of the Christian Coalition, he made opposition to gambling a major plank in his “family values” agenda, calling gambling “a cancer on the American body politic” that was “stealing food from the mouths of children.” But now, a broad federal investigation into lobbying abuses connected to gambling on Indian reservations has unearthed evidence that Reed has been surreptitiously working for an Indian tribe with a large casino it sought to protect–and that Reed was paid with funds laundered through two firms to try to keep his lucrative involvement secret. Reed has always operated behind the scenes, and apparently he didn’t want to risk becoming a humbled hypocrite like his right-wing cohorts William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh.

News accounts of the emerging scandal have focused on the two main figures under investigation: lawyer/lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, House GOP majority leader Tom DeLay’s former spokesman and head of two campaign and public relations companies. But Reed has managed to slither below the media’s radar–until now.

Neither he, Abramoff or Scanlon returned phone calls.

In early 2002 the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana was desperately trying to kill a planned competing casino that the rival Jena Band wanted to build in southwestern Louisiana. This new casino would have broken the Coushattas’ geographical monopoly and cost the tribe–whose casino was grossing $300 million a year– an estimated $1 billion in gambling revenue over five years. The Jena Band had hired former GOP national chairman Haley Barbour to make sure its casino compact was approved by the heavily politicized Bureau of Indian Affairs. So the Coushatta tribe, which already was in the process of paying Abramoff and Scanlon some $32 million over three years, also hired Reed, according to three witnesses and documents obtained by The Nation. This was not a crime, just furtive hypocrisy.

Two casino industry lobbyists–Philip Thompson and Bill Grimes–say they were in a meeting in Baton Rouge early in 2002 and heard William Worfel, vice chair of the Coushatta tribe, say he was hiring Reed to lobby for the tribe with the BIA to neutralize the influence Barbour had with the Bush Administration. According to Thompson, Worfel, who also did not return phone calls, “said he was putting Reed on his payroll. He said, ‘If they have Barbour, we need Reed.'” A third casino lobbyist at the meeting, who requested anonymity, says Reed helped “mobilize Christian radio and ministers against the casino.” But, he says, “He wanted to be able to deny it. Or if it came out, he wanted to be able to claim he was against the Jena casino, without anybody knowing he was getting paid by a bigger tribe with a bigger gambling operation.”

The documents obtained by The Nation show that Reed sent bills to Abramoff and Scanlon and that one of his consulting companies, Century Strategies of Duluth, Georgia, received $250,000 from one of Scanlon’s companies, Capitol Campaign Strategies. An invoice to Abramoff from another Reed company, Capitol Media, for $100,000, states only that the payment is for “Louisiana Project Mgmt. Fee.” (The main thrust of the Justice Department investigation involves money laundering among Scanlon, Abramoff and Republican campaigns. Abramoff was fired by his firm for not disclosing $10 million in payments from Scanlon.)

Reed’s involvement with the casino effort followed his departure from the Christian Coalition in 1997 and his reinvention of himself as a corporate lobbyist and campaign hatchet man. One of his first clients was the Enron Corporation–a deal arranged by Karl Rove when George W. Bush was starting to think about running for President in 2000. Rove wasn’t ready to put Reed directly on a campaign payroll but presumably wanted to cultivate good will from Reed toward the coming Bush candidacy. Enron paid Reed’s Century Strategies more than $300,000 to generate support for energy deregulation. In the 2000 GOP presidential primary, Reed justified his big Enron fee by helping to smear John McCain during the South Carolina primary. Now McCain’s Indian Affairs subcommittee is investigating Indian gambling in the context of lobbying abuses, kickbacks and money laundering, with public hearings scheduled for early September.

Reed is in charge of Bush’s 2004 election campaign in the Southeast, including Florida. In 2000, he was paid almost $3.7 million for helping Bush. In 1995, when he was still exploiting intolerance and fear, Time did a story on him that included the cover line “The right hand of God.” Today God’s right hand seems to be holding dice and a bloody political hatchet.

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