Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ralph Reed-y

I have a personal reason to be angry at Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition stand-in-for-Jesus: he was the wingnut who woke me up from the hundred-year sleep though not with a kiss. It was more like a venomous bite to my butt. I guess more spiritual people would see him as having given me the gift of political awareness, but political awareness hurts.

Anyway, karma is finally getting even our little Ralph. It doesn't matter that he has no belief in karma, being a wingnut Christian. Karma is quite oblivious to your beliefs, it seems.

The specific way karma is tapping on Ralph's shoulder, to remind him, is this:

There was only one reason that clients ranging from Native-American tribes to Fortune 500 CEOs to Pacific Island potentates were willing to pay Jack Abramoff millions. The lobbyist at the center of a spreading scandal that has touched numerous lawmakers, including former House majority leader Tom DeLay, had access like few others to people in power. But in the place that mattered most, even someone as well-connected as Abramoff needed help. When he had to make sure his clients' concerns got the attention of the right people in the George W. Bush White House, Abramoff often turned to a longtime friend and business associate whose ties there—especially with the President's most trusted adviser, Karl Rove—were far better than his: former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, an operative of such political talent that he made the cover of TIME in 1995, at age 33, with a line that declared him "the Right Hand of God."

Reed, a key Bush campaign strategist and the favorite in the 2006 race to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, was an obliging, even eager middleman, judging by e-mail exchanges between the two, which have been obtained by TIME. (The e-mails have attracted the interest of federal investigators already looking into whether Abramoff defrauded his Indian clients—a charge he denies.) Ten days after 9/11, for instance, Abramoff was promoting a business venture to rent cruise ships to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to billet rescue workers off New York City. Reed assured Abramoff he had "put in a tag call to Karl to find out the best contact at FEMA."
Abramoff's friendship with Reed goes back to their political organizing in the early 1980s, when Abramoff was national chairman of the College Republicans and Reed was executive director. Reed slept on Abramoff's couch at one point and introduced him to the woman he married. After Reed started his consulting firm in 1997, Abramoff threw him what would end up being as much as $4 million worth of business on campaigns to stop gambling—which Reed had once called "a cancer on the American body politic."

However mutually beneficial that relationship was, it has returned to haunt Reed in his first campaign for elected office. Reed, a former Georgia G.O.P. chairman who was considered the engineer of an impressive sweep of Republican victories in that state in 2002, has tapped his national connections and swamped his rivals at fund raising in his race. Lieutenant Governor is largely a ceremonial job, but it could give Reed, 44, a leg up for a gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Yet in recent months Reed has mostly been on the defensive. Questions have been raised about his golfing trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002 and whether Reed knew that the ostensibly antigambling campaigns he waged with Abramoff were actually paid for by gambling interests eager to get rid of their competition. It is a particularly uncomfortable situation for a politician famous for his ability to rally religious conservatives. Those supporters largely dismiss the revelations as a left-wing smear, but Rusty Paul, Reed's predecessor as Georgia G.O.P. chairman, acknowledges "a lot of very nervous people around waiting for other shoes to drop." Allies of his chief rival in the primary have circulated a memo among local Republicans warning that having Reed on the ticket could jeopardize incumbent Governor Sonny Perdue and the G.O.P.'s legislative majorities.

Unsavory, I think. Ralph Reed, who hates gambling like a sin might also be helping people to get gambling rights. His defense seems to be that he wasn't paid with money earned from gambling. But the tribe only gets revenues from gambling. Tough for Ralph, isn't it?