I was shocked to learn that the infamous Ralph Reed is back in business as a political consultant of sorts and is heavily involved with GOP candidates. Actually I believe the title “professional con-artist” is a better fit for Reed. The protégé of the late Lee Atwater for years has been a master of conning the right wing community out of big bucks. Along the way, Reed has taken advantage of lots of well-meaning folks, many of them Christians, and has made a fortune in doing so. He also did very well in his “representation” of Native Americans, bilking them out of millions of dollars, along with his colleague Jack Abramoff. A recent editorial in the Anniston Star gave a good account of Reed’s activities.
Ralph Reed is bragging that his Faith & Freedom Coalition plans to spend as much as $12 million between now and Nov. 6 in hopes of turning out Christian conservatives at the polls. The implicit message is that these Christian soldiers will be marching to put Mitt Romney into the White House. Alabamians, including those who are Christian conservatives, could be forgiven for tapping the brakes on Reed’s drive toward Election Day. We’ve seen the unmasked version of Reed, and it’s not pretty.
In 1999, Alabama considered legalizing various forms of gambling, including casinos and a statewide lottery. As the former national head of the Christian Coalition, Reed helped lead the charge to defeat those measures. What wasn’t known until years later was that Reed had a secret partner in his anti-gambling crusade — an Indian casino in Mississippi. The Mississippi Choctaws had a vested interest in seeing gambling fail in Alabama, namely because passage might mean fewer folks from Alabama making the drive to Philadelphia, Miss., to place a wager.
It was a nifty little shell game. Reed rallied the unsuspecting faithful in Alabama while collecting more than $1 million from the casino. The money was laundered through an anti-tax Washington operation to place a fig leaf over the top of this sordid deal. By the time these shenanigans were discovered, the issue of gambling in Alabama was dead and the culprits had moved on. Several of the key players went to prison. Reed didn’t serve time in what became known as the Abramoff scandal, named for the lobbyist/schemer Jack Abramoff who served more than three years in federal prison for his leading role in this episode.
Getting rich by cynically trading on the sincere beliefs of Alabama Christians didn’t land Reed behind bars. It did leave a crimson stain on an already sordid reputation of a man who once described himself as a commando political operative, “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.” That’s similar to what Reed did in Alabama 13 years ago. By the time we caught up to his game, he had moved on to new enterprises, including creation of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. Now, Reed’s back with a fresh message in support of Mitt Romney. His intended audience can take a lesson from Alabama, where Reed has already played a dishonest game.
It is difficult to understand how a man like Ralph Reed, considering his sordid past and his associates, could convince anybody to give him money or even ask for his “political advice.” But apparently, a good many still do. His close ties to Jack Abramoff and his lack of a moral compass should be enough to raise concerns about the man.