Ralph Reed: The Rhinestone Choirboy

Did he fleece his flock? In the 1990’s, as the head of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed became the face of Christian conservativism. And what a face: Scrubbed and clean – innocent-looking as a choirboy. He had the unctuous, soothing demeanor of a televangelist but even when he spoke about God, his message was always politics.

“I used to tell people he was going to be either President of the United States or Al Capone. “
– Ralph Reed’s Mother

Since leaving the Christian Coalition in 1997, Ralph Reed has concentrated on politics, serving as chair of the GOP in Georgia and overseeing the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign in the South.

In the late 1990’s, Reed’s fortunes changed. He created Century Strategies, a political consulting and lobbying firm that offers its clients – politicians, corporations and others – access to fundraising and opinion-leading among to Christian organizations.

Recently, however, investigators into the Indian gaming scandals have uncovered evidence that Reed may have abused the trust of Christian groups by surreptitiously using their political clout to line his own pockets with millions of dollars.

The accusations come as Reed’s campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006 appears to be faltering. He has been ahead in fundraising but was recently behind even the Democratic candidate in the polls. The lieutenant-governorship was to have been his springboard to the presidency in 2012.

What could torpedo Reed’s chances for good is the allegation that disgraced GOP uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff secretly paid Reed to hoodwink the Christians using money from Indian tribes. And now Reed’s political fate, and maybe even his personal freedom, are shackled to the man at the bullseye of what could very well be the biggest political scandal of the decade.

Interestingly, Reed, Abramoff and rightwing anti-government activist Grover Norquist have worked together in political skulduggery since 1983, when they took over the College Republican National Committee. Back in those days, Abramoff, Norquist and Reed called themselves “the Triumvirate.” Today, all three members of the Triumvirate appear to be in very big trouble.

The Secret Deals and a Cover Up

Beginning around 1999, Jack Abramoff apparently laundered millions of dollars from Indian tribes who owned casinos in Texas and Mississippi through Ralph Reed’s Century Strategies, and Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).

The Senate committee found numerous memos between Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist discussing how to move more money through (c)4s to obscure or deceive the source of the money.

Reed’s alleged role was to enflame moral outrage over gambling among Christian activists and then assist them in pressuring politicians and voters to put a stop to particular gambling activities including casinos in Texas and a state lottery in Alabama. What the Christian groups did not know was that Reed was being paid millions by other Indian casino owners allegedly to con the Christians in order to put their competition – the Texas casinos and Alabama lottery, for example – out of business.

As Bob Irvin, a prominent Georgia Republican and former Speaker in the Legislature, put it:

“[Reed’s] M.O. is to tell evangelical Christians that his cause of the moment, for which he has been hired, is their religious duty, and therefore they need to write regulators, turn up at meetings, or whatever. As an evangelical myself, I resent Christianity being used simply to help Reed’s business.”

The scheme may have been immoral but it appears to have been quite successful:

[In 1999,] Ralph Reed delivered what was expected as a consultant to two Alabama anti-gambling campaigns: victories over proposals for a state lottery and video poker, and donations totaling $1.15 million.

But Reed didn’t tell the campaign organizations — and, he insists, he didn’t know — that the money came from a Mississippi Indian tribe trying to protect its casinos from competition.

The money’s path to the Christian Coalition of Alabama and another anti-lottery group echoes Reed’s entanglement in a scandal surrounding Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Indian casino money in Texas.

In that case, Abramoff hired Reed in 1999 to build public support for closing the Tigua tribe’s casino in El Paso. The casino closed in 2002. Immediately afterward, Abramoff, who had kept his role secret, offered to help the Tiguas reopen the casino — for $4 million, according to Senate testimony.

Reed’s ignorance about the true source of the funding appears to be disingenuous. An investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by John McCain, found otherwise:

Emails implicate Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, as knowing the Choctaws were “financing his company’s work in 1999 when he was trying to defeat gambling initiatives in Alabama.”

In emails to Reed, Abramoff is quite open about the money laundering scheme, according to the McCain committee’s report:

The committee found “numerous memos” between Abramoff, former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform on “how to move more money through (c)4s to obscure or deceive the source of the money.” One e-mail has Abramoff complaining to Reed that a certain group “does not have a (c)4; only a (c)3. So we are back to ATR — Americans for Tax Reform — only. Let me know if this will work. Just do this through ATR until we can find another group.”

Reed is also vulnerable to charges of attempting to hide his role in the Texas episode, for which Abramoff paid him $4.2 million. He is accused of illegally failing to register as a lobbyist in Texas. Failing to register incurs only a small fine, so Reed may have chosen to risk being fined for not filing rather than registering, which would have required disclosing the identity of his client and the amount of his fees.

The Triumvirate

If the scandals that radiate out from Jack Abramoff engulf Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, it will be a strange twist in the intersecting paths of three men whose careers have taken them high into the rarified world of political power.

They met around 1981 when Reed moved to D.C. to work for the College Republican National Committee (CRNC). Jack Abramoff was chairman of the group, and Norquist was its executive director. The three young men quickly formed a working partnership:

At the CRNC, Abramoff, Norquist and Reed formed what was known as the “Abramoff-Norquist-Reed triumvirate.” Upon Abramoff’s election, the trio purged “dissidents” and re-wrote the CRNC’s bylaws to consolidate their control over the organization. Reed was the “hatchet man” and “carried out Abramoff-Norquist orders with ruthless efficiency, not bothering to hide his fingerprints.”

In 1983, Reed was also accused of plagiarism at the University of Georgia. He wrote a scathing article for the school newspaper about the world-renowned Indian peace activist Mahatma Gandhi. (Title, “Gandhi: Ninny of the 20th Century.”) Another student recognized large sections of Reed’s writing as being word-for-word the same as the text of an article from a recent issue of “Commentary” magazine.

Caught red-handed, Reed responded with what has become a familiar tactic from the American rightwing, he attacked his accuser, a fellow student named William Reid:

“Mr. William Reid’s thinly veiled personal attacks on my character are a poor substitute for the truth.”

Reed never apologized or acknowleged his guilt.

The Taint of Scandal

Today, one of the old CRNC Triumvirate – Abramoff – is under indictment and has announced his intention to cooperate with investigators. At least two other major players in the scandal, Adam Kidan and Michael Scanlon, both former business partners of Abramoff, are also cooperating with investigators.

It is quite likely that Reed may feel like a noose is tightening around his neck. Indeed, Reed’s supporters are already blaming the liberal media for his woes. (Logically, it’s hard to see how “the media” could have forced Reed to fleece his own flock for profit. )

What will be revealed as the Abramoff scandals unfold is whether Ralph Reed was simply a cog in the wheel of a sleazy operation or one of the masterminds who is a target of federal prosecutors. In any case, he’ll be lucky if he can avoid tarnishing his aura of choirboy innocence after the complete details of Abramoff’s sordid dealings have been exposed to daylight.


  • December 27, 2005 - 2:52 pm | Permalink

    What a perfect subject for a post, especially as we enter the New Year. Reed is the one who caused us so much damage down in the south (and beyond) in election 2004. He’s also the Tom Delay of Georgia, baby. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution said recently he’s done in Georgia. Mama was right, but only on the latter assessment.

  • Art Durand aka Whitebear
    December 27, 2005 - 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem with Christians, even conservative evangelical Christians but I certainly wonder at their choice of leaders.
    I have no problem with Repuglicans, even conservative Repuglicans, but I certainly wonder at their choice of leaders. Are they now circling the wagons or are they righteously casting out those among them who do not practise Christian virtues? Let’s keep watching.

  • Kenneth Demarest
    December 27, 2005 - 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Too bad that the majority of americans don’t give a shit about our country and government enough to pay attention. All “christians” should read Jimmy Carters new book and see if they can look themselves in the mirror afterward. What a fuckin world!

  • December 27, 2005 - 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Ralph Reed is just another vile Republican Phoney. Even better is that he’s a vile CLOSETED GAY republican Phony who I outed to ABC’s Jeff Greenfield about 8 years ago when the two of them had a debate at the 92nd St. Y here in NYC. First I delivered a Fax to Reed via the Y’s staff. On the fax was stated a warning from one of Reed’s Christian Coalition associates in which Reed was warned to “butch it up”. Then, posing as a messenger from ABC, I delivered a notice Greenfield stating that ABC managed to intercept a copy of a fax to Reed warning him to not debate Greenfield “in front of all those NYC Jews” and that Reed’s gayness would be more apparent than Liberace showing up at Yankee’s Stadium on Bat Day.

    Was this wrong? Sure. But was it worth it and damn funny? Ab-so-lutely!

    It was short time after. That Reed stepped down from heading the Christian Coalition.

    Makes you wonder, eh?

  • oldgringo
    December 27, 2005 - 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Be he a philistine,a pahrasee, or a “money changer at the temple” there can be little doubt tha he has been “missleading his flock”,(and who knows how many others!), for fun and personal profit, just like his “brothers” of the collection plate Buchanan, Robertson, Dobson, aa well as Falwell, Farakahn, Father Divine, Oral Roberts, Jim and Tammie Baker and so on.
    We should also add another all time great con artist to this “list of holy fakers”‘ the grand champion liar himself…..the man setting in the stolen chair in the white house, George W. (aka NEVER TOLD THE TRUTH IN HIS Life!)Bush.
    Happy New Year, yawl!

  • Tippersnore
    December 27, 2005 - 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Reed is a Christian? His is a faith and practice they didn`t teach me in Sunday school.

  • big dave from queens
    December 27, 2005 - 9:08 pm | Permalink

    When will the Democratic leadership learn?

    You must attack these Right wingers as the anti-christians they are. You take their issues one by one and label them as anti-jesus.

    You must attack them on foreign policy as people who put money over your security. You run ads telling people how a vote for a republican is a vote to help bin laden.

    December 27, 2005 - 9:11 pm | Permalink

    What a Christmas gift to get these three frauds giftwrapped and possibly on their way to jail. Throw in Rove and Delay and you have the movers and shakers behind today’s corrupt GOP. A moderate Republican might welcome the purge of these nasty bastards. Bottom line is these guys are all criminals who think laws are for the other guys.

  • Johnston
    December 28, 2005 - 4:39 am | Permalink

    It’s peculiar that the media never mention Ralph Reed’s employment with Enron. During the 2000 election cycle, Reed threatened to ciphon the looney born-again vote from Dubya. Some calls were made and thanks to the cozy relationship between Bush and Enron CEO Ken Lay, Ralph Reed joined the hundreds of influence peddlers at Enron. A six-figure payment was enough to allow Reed to drop out of the race and may have been just the moment when he decided how lucrative “lobbying” could be.

  • Brenda Thornton
    December 28, 2005 - 10:20 am | Permalink

    This is no surprise to me.

    After reading the philosophy of Leo Strauss, the Neocon Hero, I knew that most of these religious leaders and most of the Republicans who used them for their means were definitely NOT CHRISTIAN OR MORAL.



    Tell me that this is not what Bush, DeLay, Scanlon, Abramoff, Reed, Falwell, Robertson, Frist, and many of these politicos and so-called religious leaders have not done.

  • December 28, 2005 - 11:58 am | Permalink

    Remember Animal Farm? Ultimately the cunning, rather ruthless pigs ruled the more peaceful animals.

    “God” help the rest of us. Of course there’s always “God helps those who help themselves” (though I now believe this was meant foremost in the spiritual sense).

    Moral: Don’t be an animal.


  • December 28, 2005 - 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Addendum: Sorry I neglected to credit George Orwell for Animal Farm. After 7+ decades the short slips.


  • Just a Citizen
    December 29, 2005 - 12:35 am | Permalink

    Unless the criminals currently infesting our governmental seats of power are stopped, they will succeed in undoing the greatest civic experiment of all time. What are the odds that the house of cards is about to collapse? Will they go quietly if it does? Worrisome.

    I fear the hatred and divisiveness that I sense boiling beneath the surface of our national veneer. Will it be another civil war? Or perhaps a quiet and orderly succession of blue from red?

  • Concerned Citizen
    December 30, 2005 - 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I read all the comments in every article
    and all shown disgust for the Bush goverment (3 more years to go) BUT I do not see any
    proposals to get organized and take back our
    country before the GOP take us to hell.
    I do not think the Democrats alone have the
    guts to do it.

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    January 24, 2006 - 12:13 pm | Permalink

    One word – Homo.

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  • Frank Eichenberg
    February 25, 2011 - 2:22 pm | Permalink

    When you have someone this uptight about homosexuality, you can bet they are just self loathing freaks and probably take it up the butt on a regular basis.

  • July 10, 2011 - 7:40 am | Permalink

    Your information on Mr. Reed is the same as mine but you wrote it up well. One comment expressed amazement that Christians would select such a person to be one of their spokespersons. Might it be that phonies known another phony when they see him, and if Reed was a crook, that was OK, too, as he can be forgiven; besides, Jesus wants us to make lots and lots of money: that’s the megachurches’ Prosperity Gospel.

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