Ralph Reed: The Crash of the Choir-Boy Wonder

Campaign for Lt. Governor – Reed’s Grab for Political and Personal Power

Ralph Reed's Campaign Banner

With news about the Abramoff scandal severely damaging Reed’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor, he insisted that he was not aware that his anti-gambling activities were being funded by competing gambling interests or the extent of Abramoff’s corruption. The latter may be true, but the former has been proven demonstrably false.  Emails that have emerged from the investigation of Abramoff’s lucrative lobbying business have made it clear that Reed was fully aware that his anti-gambling activities were being bankrolled by casino-owning tribes and that his work fighting the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act in 2000 was being funded by eLottery.

The Reed campaign’s insistence, despite evidence to the contrary, that he “did not know who [Abramoff’s] specific clients were or their specific interests”[99] ultimately did serious damage to his campaign, at one point reducing him to offering to cover the entrance fee and hotel costs in an attempt to get his supporters to attend the Georgia Christian Coalition’s annual conference.[100] It didn’t help that Reed was sued in a high profile Abramoff-related lawsuit just a week before his primary.[101]     

Reed’s ambition, his right-wing ideology, and his willingness to use dirty tricks to further his own personal and political agenda have been in evidence ever since he first became involved in politics.  From his days as a right-wing rabble-rouser on the campus of the University of Georgia, through his years at the College Republicans and Christian Coalition, and on into his consulting business, Reed has tried to balance his history of operating as a right-wing “guerilla” who leaves his enemies in rhetorical body bags with his preferred image of himself as a moderate, family-friendly Republican. 

One of the most audacious elements of that public relations strategy was his 1996 book, Active Faith, which brought him a lot of attention for his call for more civility in politics. Reed wrote that “politics is a contact sport. I have a job to do, and it involves trying to advance my agenda.  In that combat, I play hard and I try to win.  But I never hit below the belt, I play according to the rules of fairness and courtesy.”[102]  Of course, at the time, he was running the Christian Coalition, and his boss Pat Robertson was on the air every day violating this principle.  And all evidence is that  when push comes to shove and money or power are on the line, Reed tends to default to what he knows best: right-wing zealotry and political dirty tricks. 

It did not bode well for Reed when it was revealed that admitted felon Abramoff wrote to Scanlon, his partner in crime, to complain about Reed’s business practices, grumbling that he “is a bad version of us! No more money for him.”[103]  

That probably didn’t sit well with Reed’s church-going base, who may have found his hypocrisy too much to take.  Or maybe a lot of potential supporters made the hard political calculation – backed by polls – that Reed’s presence on the ticket would have been a drag on the GOP’s chances of holding on to the governorship.[104]

Either way, Reed’s willful participation in Abramoff’s schemes, coupled with his refusal to own up to his role, meant that it would have taken a minor miracle for him to have escaped the scandal unscathed – a miracle that even the man dubbed “The Right Hand of God” ultimately couldn’t pull off.  Of course, Reed is still young.  And American politics is full of redemption stories. No doubt Reed is already writing his.

[99] David Kirkpatrick & Philip Shenon, “Ralph Reed’s Zeal for Lobbying is Shaking His Political Faithful,” The New York Times, April 18, 2005

[100] Jim Galloway, “Reed Drums Up Crowd for Evangelical Event,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” January 21, 2006

[101] Rick Lyman., “Abramoff and 4 Others Sued by Tribe Over Casino Closing,” The New York Times, 7/13/06

[102] Ralph Reed, Active Faith: How Christians are Changing the Soul of American Politics, Simon & Schuster, Copyright 1996, p.24

[103] Thomas B. Edsall, “In Ga., Abramoff Scandal Threatens a Political Ascendancy,” The Washington Post, January 16, 2006

[104] Tom Baxter and Jim Galloway, “Political Insider: Legislature 2006: Poll: Reed a drag on GOP ticket,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 22, 2006

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