Ralph Reed: The Crash of the Choir-Boy Wonder

Moolah, Monkeys, Morons – and Reed

Jack Abramoff and his business partner, public affairs specialist Michael Scanlon, are at the center of a complex, multi-million dollar scandal that involves several high-ranking government officials and members of Congress.  Scanlon has already pled guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials,[59] while Abramoff has pled guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.[60]  Both of these guilty pleas came from cases unrelated to their work with Reed, which is still under investigation. 

As part of their “business strategy,” Abramoff and Scanlon worked together to rake in more than $80 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes over a three year period.  Abramoff, a lobbyist, was required by law to disclose his clients and fees, whereas Scanlon, a former press secretary for Rep. Tom DeLay, was merely a “public affairs strategist” and not required to make any such disclosures.  Together, the two developed a system, nicknames “Gimme Five,” whereby Abramoff would get hired by a tribe and urge them to hire Scanlon’s firm to handle PR at a cost of millions of dollars.[61]  The money paid to Scanlon was then funneled through a series of fraudulent foundations and think tanks, including one that operated out of the basement of a beach house in Delaware and was run by two of Scanlon’s childhood friends; one a lifeguard, the other a former yoga instructor.[62]  The money would then be sent back to Scanlon and split between him and Abramoff.[63] 

But in some cases, the money was passed on to others – such as Ralph Reed.  Given Reed’s close personal ties to Abramoff and his position as the head of an influential “public affairs firm,” it seems only natural that Scanoln and Abramoff would turn to Reed when they needed the right-wing base ginned up in order to help their casino-owning clients - in Scanlon’s words, to “bring out the wackos to vote against something.”[64] 

For his part, Abramoff dismissed his Indian clients as “morons,” “monkeys,” and “troglodytes” in widely publicized emails to Scanlon[65] and was primarily concerned with getting his “mitts on [their] moolah.”[66]  But in order to do that, he needed to show the tribes that he could actually deliver something in exchange for the millions he and Scanlon were being paid. 

Beginning in 1999, Reed, who had once called gambling “a cancer on the American body politic,” was hired by Abramoff on more than one occasion to employ his expertise in mobilizing the right-wing grassroots to help shut down gambling initiatives that threatened the interests of Abramoff’s casino-owning clients.


[59] Pete Yost, “Ex-DeLay Aide Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy,” Associated Press, November 21, 2005

[60] Associated Press, “Abramoff pleads guilty in corruption case,” January 3, 2006

[61] Andrew Ferguson, “A Lobbyist’s Progress,” The Weekly Standard, December 20, 2004

[62] Dana Milbank, “One Committee's Three Hours of Inquiry, in Surreal Time,” The Washington Post, June 23, 2005

[63] Andrew Ferguson, “A Lobbyist’s Progress,” The Weekly Standard, December 20, 2004

[64] Jamie Dean, “House of Cards,” World Magazine, January 14, 2006

[65] Peter Whoriskey, “A Tribe Takes Grim Satisfaction in Abramoff's Fall,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2006

[66] Susan Schmidt,  “Insiders Worked Both Sides of Gaming Issue,” The Washington Post, September 26, 2004

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