Ralph Reed: The Crash of the Choir-Boy Wonder

Mobilizing the Right – For Profit

In 2001, Reed was involved in another Abramoff-driven effort to fight a loosening of restrictions on riverboat gambling in Louisiana, which would increase competition to a casino operated by the Coushatta tribe in that state.  Again, the funding for Reed’s operation was funneled through a third party because, according to the tribe’s former vice-chairman, “it wouldn’t look good if [he’s] receiving money from a casino-operating tribe to oppose gambling.  It would be kind of like hypocritical.”[84]  This time around Reed sought to help protect the Coushattas‘ gambling interests by reaching out to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins, then a state representative who now heads the Family Research Council.[85]  While Perkins lobbied his colleagues in the legislature, Reed launched a phone-banking operation that targeted tens of thousands of Louisianans with calls from Robertson and Falwell opposing the bill.  When the bill went down in defeat, Reed received an ecstatic email from Abramoff reading “You are the greatest!!!”[86]  

The following year, Reed again worked with Abramoff to fight a proposed casino to be operated by the Jena Band of Choctaws in Louisiana that threatened the interests of Louisiana’s Coushatta tribe.[87] Again Reed tapped into his network of right-wing leaders to oppose the effort, getting the American Family Association, the Eagle Forum, American Values and Focus on the Family to besiege Interior Secretary Gale Norton with opposition to the casino.[88]  

The involvement of Focus on the Family’s James Dobson was, according to Abramoff’s emails, an especially important accomplishment.  The Jena Tribe had reportedly hired former RNC chairman Haley Barbour to lobby on its behalf, and Reed worked to get Dobson to publicly attack Barbour on his daily radio program heard by millions.  Abramoff was thrilled, writing to Reed: “Let me know when Dobson hits him. I want to savor it." He also e-mailed Scanlon, "[Dobson] is going to hit Haley by name! He is going to encourage people to call Norton and the [White House]. This is going to get fun."[89]  Though Reed took credit for this coup, Focus on the Family insists that it became active on the issue at the request of the Louisiana Family Forum and that FOF’s involvement was, according to World Magazine, limited to recording “a segment for a state-only broadcast, and FOTF did so, with Rep. Perkins appearing in a February 2002 ‘drop-in’ on FOTF's radio program and urging listeners to contact Secretary Norton to oppose the casino.”[90]

Reed also worked with then-Representative David Vitter of Louisiana, reporting to Abramoff that Vitter was “feeling the love” and was also contacting Norton in opposition to the casino.  In turn, Reed’s misleadingly named Committee Against Gambling Expansion mailed out thousands of postcards to voters praising Vitter’s stand and gave Vitter permission to use the organization’s name in his own phone-banking efforts.  The increased profile Vitter obtained from taking on the gambling issue helped him win election to the US Senate in 2004.[91]

[84] Committee on Indian Affairs, “Gimme Five: Investigation of Tribal Lobbying Matters,” June 22, 2006, p.56

[85] Max Blumenthal, “Abramoff’s Evangelical Soldiers,” The Nation, February 20, 2006

[86] Ibid.

[87] Susan Schmidt, “Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2005

[88] Max Blumenthal, “Abramoff’s Evangelical Soldiers,” The Nation, February 20, 2006

[89] Ibid.

[90] Jamie Dean and Marvin Olasky, “Ideologue for Hire,” World Magazine, July 1, 2006

[91] Susan Schmidt, “Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2005

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