The Deceptions of Ralph Reed

Let's say it plain: Ralph Reed is a fraud.

On a recent radio show--highlighted by a blog from People for the American Way--Ralph Reed was chatting about his halcyon days as part of Jack Abramoff's lobbying machine. He recalled that his work with "Casino Jack," the once and famous king of K Street, "was outstanding, I'm proud of it, and it advanced sound public policy."

God Bless. What would that policy be? The legalized bribery of government officials?

To recap, Ralph Reed worked for team Abramoff by mobilizing Christians opposed to gambling to shutter casinos. The only hitch: Reed was usually paid by other casinos who had a financial interest in eliminating their competitors. Therefore, Abramoff needed to find a way to make Reed comfortable, and to protect him against critics and the likely fury of his own Christian followers--who might have been upset if they had discovered that Reed was being paid by gamblers to do their bidding. The solution: Abramoff laundered the Indian casino payoffs to Reed by routing them through other organizations, including Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and a phony "think tank" in Rehoboth Beach, MD, run by a life guard and a yoga instructor who were friends of Abramoff's pal, Mike Scanlon. Details of this can be found in my film, Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

Let's be clear: there was probably nothing illegal about what Reed did. But, he was engaged in a kind of spiritual fraud: telling his supporters that he was opposed to gambling when, in fact, gambling was making him rich.

Reed still denies that he knew that the millions of dollars paid from him came from casino profits. There are publicly available e-mails that prove that is not so. More to the point is the view of his old business partner, Jack Abramoff. On a visit to see Abramoff in prison, Jack made it clear to me that Reed knew precisely where the money was coming from. Is that credible?

In the Alan Colmes radio show, Reed throws Abramoff under the bus, damning his credibility by noting that Jack is a convicted felon (true), though Reed "loved him and still loves him." Whether Abramoff feels the same way, he has no motive to lie about dealings with Reed. Having served his time, Abramoff is a pretty good witness to the kind of spiritual corruption that his old partner Reed represents.

Reed correctly notes that he has never been charged with a crime and implies that he had been fully investigated by John McCain's Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. But the implication is deceptive. According to one very famous, disgraced former lobbyist, Reed was supposed to have been called before McCain's committee but Karl Rove intervened and pressured McCain not to call Reed. (Reed was an enormously powerful fund-raiser for the Republican Party.)

If true (McCain and Democratic Committee head Byron Dorgan refused to respond to my inquiries) it would be amazing. After all, McCain hated Reed for Reed's scurrilous personal attack campaign (funded by Abramoff) on McCain during the 2000 South Carolina Primary. And no one was more fundamental to Abramoff's Indian casino business than Reed. Yet Reed was never called. Why?

This leads to another intriguing part of the radio interview. Reed tries to downplay a famous statement of his: "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." He says it was just youthful hyperbole.

Really, the language is key to the militarized "take-no-prisoners" mindset of many movement conservatives. To them, politics is never about religion--or what's right or wrong--it's only about getting caught. By "painting his face and traveling at night," Reed avoided being called by the McCain Committee. To Reed, Abramoff committed the unpardonable sin of getting caught, and that's why Reed prays for him. Well, Abramoff did his time and now seems to be willing to speak the truth. Reed should pray for himself.