RALPH REED Part 1: Man of Many Faces

Right-wing religious leaders are worshipping power, money and Trump, not God.
Right-wing religious leaders are worshipping power, money and Trump, not God. A cartoon by Keith Seidel. Click thumbnail to display it full size.

1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a key member of Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board: “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!” American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back the President.”

Ralph Reed, political hit man: “I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until Election Night.”

Ralph Reed, Washington lobbyist: “I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.” This is an e-mail message to his close friend and business partner, the infamous Jack Abramoff, “Casino Jack.”

Ralph Reed is all of those things. But first and foremost, he’s a businessman and a Republican political operative who commands large fees. Show him the money and Ralph Reed will package your candidacy or your company’s political agenda with messaging sure to resonate with evangelical voters.

He’s also a Republican insider who has easy access to these major Republican swamp rats who have been put in place to run the federal agencies. Their job is to kill whatever regulations remain to keep the air fit to breathe, the water safe to drink, the food and drugs free of poisons, the tax loopholes from being closed, the banks from ripping us off.

Whatever corrupt deed needs doing, Ralph can help, in the name of Jesus and free markets. He cannot win elections in his own right—he tried and failed. And he doesn’t have a congregation; he’s a “faith leader” without followers.

But he can deliver grass-roots, right-wing Christian activists to the voting booth or to a lobbying campaign. That’s his value proposition. He’s a top-shelf Republican apparatchik and a con man with strong evangelical connections. Donald Trump’s kind of guy. A Republican Party kind of guy.

Ralph Reed, profitably serving Mammon in the name of God.
Ralph Reed, profitably serving Mammon in the name of God.

Ralph Reed is an important historical figure in his own right. As Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition’s first executive director, he has led the campaign to weaponize God on behalf of the Republican Party.

As he smoothly explains, “the evangelical agenda is really an agenda which restores autonomy to the two-parent family and provides sensible protections for this most basic and most essential unit of society. The American people need to know that we do not desire to exclude our political foes, only to gain our own place at the table.”

Sincere? No, laughable. He just wants to restore “autonomy” to the two-parent family and provide sensible protections? What does that even mean? And that’s why he’s humping for Donald Trump, the man who stands for . . . family values? To give evangelicals a place at the table?

White fundamentalist Christians have no problem gaining a place at the table. It’s their place at the head of the table that’s a problem for Americans who don’t want an American Theocracy.

Victimhood is central to Reed’s theology.

Reed describes conservative Christians as “people of faith” who are “victims,” attacked because of “fear and bigotry.” Victimhood is of course the fail-safe positioning of all Republican politicians, a stance perfected by our Victim-in-Chief, who claims to have been victimized by treasonous Democrats, by dirty cops, by treasonous FBI agents, by lying former lawyers, by enemies of the people. And by fake news, by failing media, by the deep state, by Obama, and on and on.

RALPH REED HANGS OUT HIS SHINGLE

Ralph Reed, evangelical superstar and boy wonder, pictured on the May 15, 1995 cover of ‘Time.’
Ralph Reed, evangelical superstar and boy wonder, pictured on the May 15, 1995 cover of ‘Time.’

At the age of 33, Reed set up his firm, Creative Strategies. The array of services he advertised gives you a peek at how things work in one part of the lucrative political management business:

“Strategic Business Development Assistance, Organizational Development, Direct Mail and Voter Contact Services, Fundraising Management, Research and Analysis, Creative Media Planning, Public and Media Relations, and List Management and Procurement.”

Bottom line: whaddya need? If the price is right, Ralph Reed will deliver his white evangelicals.

This isn’t just a cynical fed up New Yorker talking secular trash. Here’s Georgia’s former Republican House leader, Bob Irvin, explaining Ralph Reed:

“His M.O. is to tell evangelical Christians that his cause of the moment, for which he has been hired, is their religious duty. As an evangelical myself, I resent Christianity being used simply to help Reed’s business.”

JACK ABRAMOFF—REED’S RABBI

In 1983, Reed was the executive director of the College Republicans. Jack Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, was their chairman. He mentored Reed and promoted him in the organization, along with Grover Norquist. Twenty-three years, later Abramoff walked into a federal courthouse, removed the infamous black hat that covered his yarmulke, and confessed to multiple felonies.

Jack Abramoff, felon and mentor to Ralph Reed.
Jack Abramoff, felon and mentor to Ralph Reed.

It didn’t matter whether journalists referenced his religion as many did; Jews, orthodox or secular, cringed as Abramoff’s pictures and his story made the link for those inclined to believe that behind corrupt Washington politics were Jews who run the world.

Abramoff bribed scores of Bush White House officials, congressional aides, and a Republican congressman. The bribe money came from a small piece of the $60 to $80 million over three years that he had collected from Indian tribes that operated gambling casinos.

We don’t know who arranged it or who got how much money for the meeting between George the Younger, Abramoff, and his Indian chief clients. But meetings with the president for lobbyists and clients generally don’t come free. Whether a political party gets the cash or it goes somewhere else, we’ll probably never know. Reed isn’t talking and he wasn’t prosecuted.

AN EVANGELICAL CARD FROM TRUMP’S CROOKED CASINO DECK

Abramoff paid Reed more than $5 million to mobilize evangelical Christians to protest gambling casinos; but not all of them, only the casinos that competed with those owned by Abramoff’s clients like Mississippi’s Choctaws, a tribe trying to prevent other tribes from opening up in Alabama and elsewhere.

(Trump joined with the Catholic Church to hire lobbyists in New York to oppose legalization of casinos. I don’t think I have to tell you that Trump didn’t give a rat’s ass about the morality of gambling. Not yet known as the “Chosen One,” he didn’t want competition for his Atlantic City, New Jersey gambling operations.)

Reed with his recent book ‘God and Country—a Christian Case for Trump.’
Reed with his recent book ‘God and Country—a Christian Case for Trump.’

Reed enlisted some of the same evangelical leaders with whom Trump surrounds himself, high-profile evangelicals like Gary Bauer, James Dobson, the aforementioned Richard Land, Donald Wildmon, and Jerry Falwell Jr.. Reed even got his old boss, Pat Robertson to help. Reed organized religious rallies and produced mass mailings to protest against the sins of gambling. State officials were flooded with thousands of calls from concerned Christians. Reed and Abramoff laughed all the way to the bank.

Eventually, even the forgiving jurisprudence that narrowly defines the corrupt relationship between those who pay to play and those who receive, could not forgive Abramoff, the boldest of felons.

As many as thirty FBI agents were assigned to the case, a slew of laws had been broken, many federal agencies were involved, and Abramoff—along with dozens of Republican crooks—eventually went to prison. Reed’s career blossomed. Kevin Spacey played Casino Jack in the movie. If memory serves, and I may be wrong, there was no Ralph Reed character.

To borrow a Trumpism, Reed’s Christian crusade against gambling was a complete hoax, something like being paid by one drug cartel to enlist your government business partners to knock out a rival cartel. All the evangelical leaders would later claim they had no idea Reed was working for the gambling interests he had proclaimed to be “a cancer on the American body politic.”

Whether or not the others knew the source of the funds, their involvement enabled politicians to take the moral high ground: we want those casinos stopped; not because we’re being paid off with cash and junkets to exotic places; we’re working for Jesus.

But let’s take the evangelical leaders at their word; all but Reed, of course. Had the source of the funds—gambling casino revenues—been public, there would have been hell to pay. Reed issued the standard non-denial denial: “We have never been retained by a casino to serve their interests.”

Right. The retainer didn’t have an Indian tribe’s name on it. But the money came from Indian casino gambling operations. A lie, but as the saying goes, good enough for government work.

A 1999 e-mail from Abramoff to Reed: “Get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP.”

2000 e-mail Abramoff to Reed: “The firm has held back all payments pending receipt of a check from Choctaw.” But he needed more cover.

THE MONEY LAUNDERING SCHEME: GROVER NORQUIST WAS ALL IN

The two men laundered the gambling money fees through faux Christian-right groups like the US Family Network. And they arranged to launder some of it through a phony “think tank” set up by Abramoff’s junior partner, the public relations specialist Michael Scanlon who would himself later be convicted.

Abramoff and Reed also laundered payments through Grover Norquist’s organization Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Norquist also was an old friend of Reed’s since their college days as Young Republicans. The three men had teamed up on other lobbying projects like Puerto Rican statehood and Channel One, the TV station that beamed Britney Spears and junk food ads to captive audiences of school children. Not a particularly Christian agenda, but what the hell. The money was good.

Abramoff even paid Norquist to help defeat legislation to tax Native American casinos. That’s not to say that Abramoff was loyal to his own clients—far from it. He ripped them off for millions of dollars, going so far as to secretly stop one tribe from operating its casinos while getting them to hire him as a lobbyist to try to open them up.

Tribal leaders begged the sentencing judge to give him a far stiffer sentence. Native American Indians weren’t the only Abramoff-Reed lobbying scam.

RALPH REED, ENRON, GEORGE W. BUSH AND KARL ROVE

Enron was one of the worst corporate scandals in U.S. history. Its CEO, a former McKinsey partner, the sinister Jeffrey Skilling and other top executives went to prison. The scandal collapsed Arthur Andersen, one of the country’s century-old Big Five accounting firms. Andersen had helped Enron cook the books. An Enron vice-chairman committed suicide. The original chairman and CEO who returned to replace Skilling—“Kenny Boy” Lay (nickname courtesy of George Bush the Younger)—died of a massive heart attack after being convicted of several felonies.

Most important, Enron’s collapse wrecked the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people:  employees, pensioners, small stockholders, suppliers, entire local communities. It was wreckage on a scale worthy of Trump’s own history.

Ken Lay was a multimillion dollar Bush/Republican donor, and thus a close friend of the Bush family. Bush the Elder showered Enron with regulatory favors and legislation that enabled it to reap huge profits. Before Enron’s collapse, Karl Rove (now advising Trump) arranged a lucrative Enron lobbying contract for Ralph Reed.

Enron had no need to retain Reed as a lobbyist. Ken Lay only had to pick up the phone. Rove was concerned that Reed might help deliver Christian conservatives to an even harder-right candidate in a Republican presidential primary that Bush was positioning himself to enter as the “Compassionate Conservative.” They couldn’t put Reed on the campaign payroll directly; he was too closely identified with right-wing Republicans. So In a variation of the Abramoff-Reed money-laundering and gambling scheme, they rented Reed’s loyalty by putting him on Enron’s payroll. (Rove denies he arranged it, denies everything—though he says he may have “mentioned” Reed to Enron’s CEO).

From Casino Jack and Enron, two of the sleaziest lobbying scandals in modern history, to one of the slimiest presidential campaigns in modern politics, Bush v. McCain—which is part 2—Ralph Reed is a swamp rat worthy of his place in Trump’s huge swamp. It’s the biggest, swampiest swamp, inhabited by the biggest swamp rats in American history!

NEXT: Reed and Manafort, Swamp Rats for Trump