(There is a great deal I want to write about now; this post, seemingly unconnected to immediate events, is the result of a gestation that was prolonged due to work. I say “seemingly” because it might be considered part of an informal, on-going series on the less than savory elite that is part of the networks of power (past posts would be “Maureen Otis: A Mystery Inside A Mystery” and “Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and a Tea Party Leader”), and Reed, even in the possible twilight of his career, still holds influence. This perhaps makes this target seem a little less arbitrary, and a few future subjects will have such immediate relevance that they will obviously be not arbitrary at all.
I first became interested in doing a piece like this after coming across the film “The Resurrection of Ralph Reed” on “Moyers and Company”, and the accompanying article “Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches”; to Bill Moyers and the makers of the film, I am indebted. Though I happened upon it only after reading other material, People for the American Way’s “Ralph Reed: The Crash of the Choir-Boy Wonder” was extraordinarily helpful in finding and organizing research by providing a through timeline of Reed’s career. I add a final thank you, giving kudos to Doug Monroe and Josh Latta for “The Book of Ralph Reed”, a short comic that gave me a good summary of Reed’s career while making me very aware of one specific detail unknown to me, his spokeswoman, Lisa Baron.)
The detail that everyone mentions is his eternal boyishness, birthing in you the image of this Christian activist as a street corner child evangelist. Imagining, perhaps, that his parents met in a small Baptist church where his father was an occasional pastor, that he led his church’s Bible Quiz team to the state championships, that during a period of brief delinquency his father might have believed his son were literally possessed by Satan, and held the boy down and tried to cast the devil out. That image, like many guesses you might make, or let’s be modest and not give every reader my flaws, which I made, would be very wrong. Those details are not from Ralph Reed’s life, but from that of the fascinating and incredibly accomplished Apollo Robbins, in the deservedly well-known profile by Adam Green, “A Pickpocket’s Tale” 1.
His boyish features and short stature, the physical qualities always remarked on, are the result of his being born six weeks premature2. Just as the obvious result of dyslexia is the movement towards the visual, and blindness incites a heightened auditory awareness, this physical limit may well have provoked a migration to guile and intellectual game-playing. Though he was born in Portsmouth, Georgia, he spent most of his childhood in Miami, a not very devout member of a Methodist family3, only moving back to Georgia, to the small town of Toccoa, in his fifteenth year. Just as great height and bulk require no greater assertion, they are assertion enough, a smaller stature perhaps requires the opposite, a constant statement of confidence. In small town Georgia, Reed was an abrasive, fast-talking Miami smart aleck. Where a northern outsider might think of Reed as just another tree in a southern evangelical forest, within this habitat he was instead looked on as very much an alien plant4.
Though he would later reflexively chastise the north eastern elites5, he was very much a part of the top tier of intellectual life, receiving a Ph.D in history at Emory University. His dissertation, over five hundred pages long, dealt with the history of religious higher education in the South6. This, however, was an inconsequential moment in his academic life and biography – most writers give no mention of this scholarly achievement, and perhaps to better affect the pose of the aw-shucks rustic, Reed gives little or mention of it either.
No, there were far more important things which happened to Ralph Reed at university. First, he became involved in conservative political activism, joining the college republicans. Among his mediagenic public demonstrations, Reed organized a mock Sandinista prison camp and a celebration of the U.S. invasion of Grenada. He also made his conservative bones through the usual blooding, by trashing some sacred liberal figure, in this case Mahatma Gandhi. Reed had a regular column in The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s newspaper, one of which was “Gandhi: Ninny of the 20th century”, wherein he condemned this formidable man as a quack, a fake, a manifestly colossal boob “whose basic teachings posed a threat to the survival of the human race.”7 It was a nasty, loud thunderclap from a young firebrand which had an unsettling quality to some hearers – they had heard this very sound of thunder, note for note, before.
A month before Reed’s piece had appeared, “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” by Richard Grenier, had been published in Commentary. “Every assertion of, every quote and several seemingly original Reed phrases may be found directly or in slightly modified form in Richard Grenier’s long review,” wrote a student who noticed the striking similarities, though there were a few small differences – only in Reed’s piece was Gandhi called a ninny, a boob, a quack8. Reed wrote a brief apology for not citing his sources, then attacked his accuser for making such thinly veiled personal attacks, which he considered shocking and profane. His editor thought this was disingenuous at best, and banned the iconoclast from ever writing for the paper again. Reed did, however, gain something from borrowing another’s words to indict Gandhi as a colossal fraud: “It was a valuable learning experience,” he would say two decades later, “I became a better person because of it.”9
Second: Ralph Reed became a devout Christian. This happened after joining the young Republicans, and this life-changing event is something whose sincerity supposedly cannot be questioned10, and yet whose context cannot help but provoke questions as to its sincerity. His conversion was very abrupt, taking place on a 1983 Saturday night in a D.C. bar, when he suddenly felt his conscience hinting that he should go to church more often. Where others find divinity in stained glass or a lover’s eyes, Reed found god in a D.C. bar’s phone booth: he picked a church at random out of its yellow pages. The next morning, he attended services at Evangel Assembly of God church in Camp Springs, Maryland, going up to the altar to be saved. This absent-minded, slightly bored approach to a major shift in religious outlook was related in his memoir and manifesto combo, Politically Incorrect. He would later add other causes for his Damascene path: he had gotten tired of drinking; he had made the shocking discovery of a congressman cheating on his wife11. The editor of the student newspaper which published Reed’s column, the one that ended with borrowed words to beat a martyred saint, had many enjoyable, energetic political arguments with Reed during the time he worked at the paper, the very year of his conversion – but never a single one dealing with religion12.
A skeptic might look at this absence of an explicit spiritual quest, and see only a possible political context. Here was a man interested in politics, a successful activist, a savvy operator who had already rigged a student election13, a man knowledgeable enough of politic history to know that a man alone is nothing, he must draw on some kind of network, some kind of base. There are the usual old school ethnic sects on which a big city pol might rely, and there is the well-known constituency an Old South politician might pull in. But Reed is a man seen as a Miami hustler by the very southern constituency he would have to attract – only a Yankee might mistake him as a man of the South. There is another possibility, and that is to make himself part of a constituency that has just played a major role in the ’76 election and an even bigger one in the ’80 race. All he needs to do is pledge himself to god. Pledge himself to god, and maybe, talk a little different.
When Frank Abnagale writes of impersonating an airline pilot in his memoir, Catch Me If You Can, he stresses the importance of getting the verbal codes of a profession properly. Once you get the verbal shibboleths right, you will be accepted as a member of that profession, both by outsiders and its own members. The anecdote which best illustrates this is where Abnagale gives himself away, before mastering the pose and blending in seamlessly as a captain:
“What’s Pan Am doing here at La Guardia?” he asked casually. Apparently, Pan Am did not fly out of La Guardia.
“Oh, I just deadheaded in from Frisco on the first flight I could catch,” I replied. “I’ll catch a chopper to Kennedy.”
“What kind of equipment you on?” he asked, biting into his roll.
My brains turned to ice cubes. I nearly freaked out. Equipment? What did he mean, equipment? Engines? Cockpit instruments? What? I couldn’t recall having heard the word before in connection with commercial airlines. I frantically searched for an answer for it was obviously a normal question for him to ask. I mentally reread the reminiscences of the veteran Pan Am captain, a little book I’d really liked and which I’d virtually adopted as a manual. I couldn’t recall his ever using the word “equipment.”
It had to have some significance, however. The TWA airman was looking at me, awaiting my reply. “General Electric,” I said hopefully. It was definitely not the right answer. His eyes went frosty and a guarded look crossed his features. “Oh,” he said, the friendliness gone from his voice. He busied himself with his coffee and roll.
Whatever, I knew I wasn’t sufficiently prepared to attempt a deadheading venture, despite all my prior work and research. It was evident that I needed a better command of airline terminology, among other things. As I was leaving the terminal, I noticed a TWA stewardess struggling with a heavy bag. “Can I help you?” I asked, reaching for the luggage.
She relinquished it readily. “Thanks,” she said with a grin. “That’s our crew bus just outside there.”
“Just get in?” I asked as we walked toward the bus.
She grimaced. “Yes, and I’m pooped. About half the people in our load were whiskey salesmen who’d been to a convention in Scotland, and you can imagine what that scene was like.”
I could, and laughed. “What kind of equipment are you on?” I asked on impulse.
“Seven-o-sevens, and I love ’em,” she said as I heaved her suitcase aboard the bus. She paused at the bus door and stuck out her hand. “Thanks much, friend. I needed your muscles.”
Airline people manifestly loved to talk shop, and at the moment I obviously wasn’t ready to punch in at the factory. So equipment was an airplane, I mused, walking to my own bus. I felt a little stupid, but halfway back to Manhattan I burst out laughing as a thought came to mind. The TWA first officer was probably back in the pilot’s lounge by now, telling other TWA crewmen he’d just met a Pan Am jerk who flew washing machines.
That being Christian involves a mastery of a Christian pose, talking Christian, just as you might have to talk airline pilot in order to pass yourself off as an airline pilot, is conveyed in this interview on “Conversations With David Lewis” with Reed’s former communications director, a saucy party girl named Lisa Baron. Baron is Jewish, and often had to speak to devout Christians as part of her work as Reed’s spokeswoman, employing phrases of great significance to the evangelical community that had no personal significance to her. Here she speaks of using these phrases in the context of assuring other Christian leaders after Reed suffered a major political scandal:
You mentioned “talking christian”. Here you are, a nice Jewish girl, you’re out there working for Ralph Reed, politically, with his clients, and Christianity is obviously part of that…give me an example of having to talk Christian.
I would say…I feel bad, because I’m not mocking…just repeating what I was hearing. I would have to go to meetings on behalf of Ralph, I would say “this is very unfortunate, but I know what’s in his heart, his heart is good, he may have strayed a little bit, but he’s come back to…I never said the Lord, or Jesus, but I would say he’s come back and wronged his ways, and he’s been humbled.
Well, I actually did a documentary for the Gospel Music Channel on Christian and gospel singers, and I did have to ask people, when were you saved by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the first time it was really hard to say, but then I realized this is like saying “hello”.
In that world, it’s a completely…it’s not a remarkable thing at all. But yes, talking Christian, I’ve been there. Uncomfortable?
But it’s a bit disingenuous. I wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was a bit disingenuous. But I wanted to relate to people in a way that was relatable to them. I didn’t want to speak in my own voice. Cuz what would I say? “Oh, who cares! He’s [Ralph Reed] just a tangential figure! He’s gonna be fine!”
This reference to later political turmoil brings us to the third, and final, important effect of Reed’s academic career. It was at the University of Georgia, while involved in political activism, that he would connect with three other Republicans, two of whom would go on to great achievement and infamy. One was Grover Norquist. Another was Jack Abramoff. The last was already well-established as a subject of love and loathing: the giggling fanatic, Pat Robertson.
In January 1989, Robertson met Reed at a dinner for conservative students. Robertson had tried to run for president the year before, and though his campaign had lost badly, he saw the possibility of a great political force of devoted christian voters that, properly harnessed, could wield great influence. Robertson may not have won, but he had finished second in the Iowa primary, and he had scared the good Jesus out of the party chiefs – the first of many times when the Republican generals would go goggle eyed over the unelectable presidential candidate christian voters might be handing them, but whose christian votes they badly needed, nonetheless. There must have been something very impressive about this young man who’d just finished his history doctorate, because Robertson almost immediately asked him to head this political group of religious voters. Reed turned him down. Again, there must have been something very impressive about this young man; when, in September, Reed changed his mind, the offer was still outstanding. Reed would lead the Christians, in an organization called the Christian Coalition14.
The next few years were the lintel stone on which all of Reed’s later achievements would rest. The Coalition was founded as a tax-exempt non-partisan organization, but it was started with Republican money, and always ended up favoring Republican candidates. This boy wonder who was an emissary of the Prince of Peace wore knuckle dusters; “I want to be invisible,” he told Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot, “I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.”15 Gandhi, after all, was a ninny. He had soon built the Coalition into an organization of over three million members with twelve million dollars to throw around, back when twelve million dollars in politics was – I apologize for the incongruous profanity in this piece on a man of god – back when twelve million dollars in politics was worth a damn16. The Coalition would hijack the 1992 Republican convention, so that its central point was the one made by Pat Buchanan, its most prominent speaker – we are engaged in a cultural war. The Republicans lost the presidential race, but the Coalition was considered vital for their mobilization of voters. When victory did arrive, two years later, when both congressional houses surrendered to Republican control, they were seen as essential17. Reed was given the imprimatur of a Time magazine cover, which, like twelve million dollars in politics, actually meant something then. Next to the lightning bolt yellow rubric, “THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD”, was a picture in Manichean tones of a boy squinting out, unsmilingly, from abyssinal darkness18. The Lord picked out his emissaries, all the way back to the Nazarene, from the shabbiest and most wretched of the earth, but even this portrait might have prompted some to ask: why does this divine messenger look like someone who might offer me dirty pictures of the Virgin Mary?
There is always something of illusion in politics, and there might have been something very illusory in Reed’s greatest political triumph. The coalition’s power may have lain in perception, rather than actual substance. It did not have three million members, as it claimed, but only a fifth of that. Voter guides printed up to harness this mighty fist were often found still bundled, thrown in the garbage19. Soon, there was something else. Benjamin Hart, a co-founder of the conservative campus paper Dartmouth Review and a former executive of Oliver North’s lobbying group, Freedom Alliance, had joined the coalition in 1992. Hart’s work put him in good stead with Reed, and though technically an outside contractor, he became a trusted confidante and his de facto lieutenant. “Any conflict that came up with Hart was going to go Hart’s way,” said one former associate. Hart’s ascension was due to the fact that, even in god’s work, you need to bring in the dollars, and Hart brought in the dollars: through his efforts, donations went from five million in 1991, to four times that in 1994. The key to the coalition’s expansion, and its influx of donations, was direct mail, and Hart was given full sway over this: he handled direct mail, telemarketing, the voter guides, and the bidding on the million-piece direct mail packages20. This last item was where the problem started.
The coalition’s marketing director noticed that the two firms used to handle the coalition’s mailings, Universal Lists (which rented mailing lists to the coalition) and Federal Printing & Mailing (which handled the group’s direct mail solicitations), were both owned by Hart Conover, Benjamin Hart’s own company. The man responsible for overseeing bids to the mailing list contract was awarding them to his own firm. The marketing director sent the coalition CFO, Judy Liebert, a warning memo: “This ‘closed circle’ of business provides Hart Conover with an extraordinary income stream. It doesn’t give us the benefit of a competitive bidding environment. Consequently, our ‘above the line’ cost for direct mail fundraising is astronomical (somewhere in the 50 to 70 percent bracket).”21 Liebert approached Reed with this accusation, but Reed dismissed it: he knew already about Hart’s ownership of the firms, and he assured her that Hart had sought out competitive bids from other firms. Liebert asked to see invoices of these competitive bids from other firms. Reed refused to show them22.
The coalition then underwent a scheduled internal audit. The auditor contacted Hart about auditing his firm, but was told such an audit was unnecessary, as he would be resigning his position. Hart then changed his mind and stayed on. Around the time of his possible resignation, Hart also tried to obtain the coalition donor database, a mailing list worth close to a million dollars. Hart’s request of the database was refused. Liebert, the coalition CFO, then made an additional charge at a specially convened meeting: Federal Printing & Mailing, which handled the coalition’s direct mail solicitations, only existed on paper. Hart’s company, Hart Conover, for all intents and purposes, wasFederal Printing & Mailing. Federal Printing & Mailing did no actual printing, and was located in the same set of offices as Hart Conover. Liebert believed that Hart had bagged the coalition for a million dollars or more, and she had contacted an attorney to determine if Hart’s actions were illegal. The Christian Coalition board took immediate action: Liebert was reprimanded for contacting outside authorities, suspended with pay, ordered to hand over all coalition property, and then six months later, officially fired23.
Yet something in Liebert’s accusations must have struck home. The coalition hired the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand to do a specific audit of Hart Conover, whose results were kept secret. They found some “keypunch and arithmetic errors in billing”, said Hart’s lawyer. Hart Conover agreed to a payment adjustment. A minor adjustment, said Hart’s lawyer24. In the April after Liebert’s termination, Reed left the coalition. After this, the organization went into a steep decline and political eclipse. A decade after the Hart billing scandal, the coalition was buried in debt and lawsuits over unpaid bills, to landlords, direct-mail companies, lawyers and an employee seeking back pay. At the turn of the new century, it was sued by a group of African American employees who charged that they had to enter their offices by a back door and eat in a segregated area. That same year, Robertson resigned from the coalition25. Reed, however, would survive.
In 1997, the same year he left the Christian Coalition, Reed would start Century Strategies. This was a firm whose stated business was strategic business assistance, direct mail, fundraising management, public and media relations. It was “one of the nation’s leading public affairs and public relations firms”. It was not a lobbying shop. A lobbying firm has to, by law, disclose its clients and fees. A media relations firm does not26. He almost immediately pulled in a number of high profile clients for whom he was able to do very effective work.
He worked hard on behalf of Boeing and the Business Roundtable to persuade Congress to normalize trade relations with China. “We believe that human and civil rights and religious freedom and liberty should be at the center of our foreign policy,” he declared a year earlier, at a Christian Coalition press conference. This was, however, before Boeing was a client, and Boeing had $120 billion worth of planes to sell to China. A year, after all, is a lifetime in politics. A former Reed associate believes that Reed was critical in persuading conservative members of Congress of the importance of trade normalization, and recalls that he helped write ads arguing that trade normalization would bring about improved human rights. Reed also attempted to deal with China’s past human rights record through the efforts of the Alliance of Christian Ministries in China, a group of ministry organizations arguing for trade normalization in order to better spread the gospel in the ancient kingdom. The Alliance of Christian Ministries in China, however, did not exist, never existed, but were simply a paper group constructed by Reed for the purposes of this lobbying effort. At the same Christian Coalition press conference: “We believe that if the United States makes the center of its foreign policy profits rather than people, and money rather than human rights, then we will have lost our soul as a nation.”27 Profits: one, national soul: zero.
If he was able to look past Chinese human rights to lobby for Boeing, he could look past the smaller gomorrah of children’s commercials for another client. These ads were what conservatives hated about Channel One, the well-known in-school TV network which doles out ten minutes of news to schools in return for two minutes of advertisements which target pre-teens and teens. Channel One is the sort of frigid vacuity that makes you understand the appeal of heroin to those in high school – if this is all the world offers, why not? The opposition of the religious centered on the carnality of its movie trailers, and its rancid fast food ads. A few calls were made, where Reed stressed Channel One’s abstinence and anti-alcohol advertising; the Texas Board of Education halted its attempts to stop the barbarian invasion28.
It was a greater crime he had to look away from in the Marianas islands, but Reed had the resolution to look away. The Marianas were an island cluster north of Guam, which held warehouses that were something like prison factories, where Chinese women were brought in to do garment work, six days a week, sometimes twenty hours a day. Women started work in debt seven thousand dollars, plus up to twenty percent interest, to whatever recruiter brought them to the island, and had to work that off before they saw a cent. Every day had a quota, and a worker who did not finish their quota by the end of the paid work day had to work for free until her quota was finally completed. They were expensed for food and housing, and sometimes their employer decided to not pay them. The Marianas voted in 1975 to become a commonwealth of the United States, so clothing made there sported a “Made in the USA” label. With its commonwealth status, the Marianas became subject to most U.S. laws with two notable exceptions. It had no legal minimum wage in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, so its hourly wage was three dollars five cents, with the possibility of lengthy unpaid overtime. It had no need to comply with the Immigration and Nationality Act, so those who worked at the Marianas were always guest workers, and they could be terminated at will, then deported back to China, without possibility of legal recourse. Guest workers on the island who got pregnant often got illegal abortions so they could continue to work, or were deported back to China where they were forced to have abortions there. Garment workers in need of money, as well as other women who’d been falsely lured to the island for waitress and hotel jobs, were forced to work as prostitutes in the local sex tourism industry – the islands’ second largest business after clothing – until they’d paid back the debt to their recruiter29.
It was for these women, these brave souls, Ralph Reed now fought for. Wait – did I just say he fought for these women? No, my mistake: he fought on behalf of the islands’ local officials, against a minimum wage and improvement of the inhumane conditions. At least 29 different bills were put forth to raise the Marianas minimum wage, to close the immigration exemption, to abolish use of a “Made in the USA” label on Saipan-made clothing, by, among others, Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), George Miller (D-Calif.) and David Bonier (D-Mich.)30 Every one failed, and Reed could take credit for the failure of some. It was a Reed owned mail order firm, Millenium Marketing, which instructed conservative Christians of Alabama to write their congressperson to vote against any such bills. To fight against bills that might ameliorate the inhumane squalor was a fight against liberalism, and a fight for Christian values. “The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands,” the mailer argued. Chinese workers who came to the Marianas, “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Chinese workers who came to the Marianas, “are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.”31
The 2000 presidential election was close by, and it was owing to it that Reed picked up two other clients. One was famous, one of the largest American companies at the time, and that was Microsoft. One was soon to be infamous, and that was Enron. The software giant hired Century Strategies in the wake of their unfavorable anti-trust ruling, with the specific mission of recruiting letters from around the country of influential Bush supporters, specifically those working at a high level inside the Bush campaign, to write the then presidential candidate that the government case against Microsoft was misguided, and the American people opposed it – without ever revealing they were doing so at the instigation of Microsoft or a firm in their employ. The ultimate goal, of course, was to have the Republican nominee speak out against the case, and, as it went through multiple appeals, abandon it if he were elected president. Regional contractors were to be paid $300 a letter that could be of use, a high price for such work32. When this lobbying strategy was revealed by an anonymous letter recipient who did not agree with the goals of the campaign, Bush spokesman Scott McClelland made clear that it was an unpleasant surprise. However, the matter was now closed and Reed would remain with the campaign. Veteran political columnist Mark Shields saw the stomaching of this misdeed as an example of the moral numbness of a money-besotted political culture33. Given all that would take place in the eight years of the administration Reed helped elect, it really was nothing at all.
Enron was another election season gift, awarded in the pre-season to Ralph Reed in order to hold him to the side of the Bush campaign during the main event. Reed was granted a lucrative consulting contract on the recommendation of Karl Rove, with a twofold intent. First, it would keep Reed loyal to the Bush team, warding off other suitor candidates who were seeking the endorsement of this Christian emissary. Second, by giving Reed this substantial plum, a consulting gig that awarded him ten to twenty thousand a month from September 1997 until the company’s collapse, rather than a paid position within the campaign, the Bush team was able to put forward a moderate compassionate conservative message, untainted by any close association with Reed or his hardline evangelism34. Both Rove and Reed denied that the consulting position was in any way a quid pro quo for Reed’s support of the Bush campaign; numerous Rove associates, however, affirm that the consultant position was granted for this very reason35. A quid pro quo where Reed was compensated in a roundabout way for work done on behalf of the Bush campaign, argues Trevor Potter, a Republican and former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, may have been a violation of federal election law36. Again, given all that would take place in the eight years of the administration Reed helped elect, it really was nothing at all.
Officially, during the 2000 election, Reed was an unpaid consultant for the Bush campaign – the only open question, of course, is how you define “unpaid”. Reed’s firm, on the other hand, was openly paid for by the campaign for its direct mail and phone bank service37, and it is the use of this service in the Republican primaries which is part of one of the greater, unresolved mysteries of that pivotal election. In that year, George W. Bush was the presumptive front-runner, the man favored by the party elite, the expected nominee, before a surprise took place: Bush lost New Hampshire by twenty points to John McCain. The two men entered the next primary, South Carolina, with the expected nominee having lost a fifty point lead. Bush was now in desperate straits, but they would win this. They would play dirty, and South Carolina was the state to play dirty, because South Carolina was a dirty playing state. Lee Atwater, the cruel weasel adman whose signature achievement was the race-baiting Willie Horton ad of 1988, had been birthed here and honed his craft here, before the universe finally had enough of his happy-go-lucky callousness, and buried him down here again. The Bush team would win back this race, and they would do it by destroying John McCain, the decorated Navy pilot and former prisoner of war, any which way they could38.
Their allies were the local Campbell machine, a group of state bosses headed up by former state governor Carroll Campbell, along with other former Atwater associates and clients: Strom Thurmond, the segregationist who owed a re-election to the cruel weasel; local strategist Warren Tompkins, the cruel weasel’s boyhood friend; and Tucker Eskew, communications czar and cruel weasel apprentice39. There was another man, of course, along for the ride, a boyish smallish man, who aspired to be the Christian Lee Atwater. Years later, a respected Washington figure with solid ties to the religious right would say that he’d been told that the strategy in South Carolina would be an underground campaign involving all the heavyweights of the Republican and Christian right. They had picked their nasty back alley fight in the right nasty back alley: South Carolina was where the Christian Coalition was strongest. A rumor campaign could be done without difficulty through the network of the evangelical community, a network that a certain boyish smallish man could tap into with ease. They’d be able to disseminate any nasty, filthy stories through Christian whispering, and by the time the secular media would pick up on it and cry foul, it would be too late. Reed pledged to Rove that he could deliver, said the respected Washington figure, and by delivering, he would demonstrate his political power40.
There were the emails suggesting that McCain had had children out of wedlock. The whispers that McCain had slept with prostitutes in Viet Nam. That his wife, Cindy McCain, was addicted to painkillers. During a candidates debate, every parked car of the audience got a flyer in its windshield. The flyers had a McCain family picture, with a dark skinned girl in their midst, and a caption that suggested McCain had an out of wedlock child who was part African American. McCain’s deputy campaign manager would say of this: “I always figured that would sort of be the underground thing there. But, man, the child thing…I’ve seen the worst form of racist sons of bitches in the world in David Duke, but this was unbelievable.”41 The dark skinned girl in the picture was not part African American. She was Bangladeshi. She was John McCain’s daughter. When Cindy McCain was in Bangladesh as part of a relief mission, she had helped fly a girl with a cleft palate to the United States for surgery. She grew so attached to the girl in the flight over, that the family had adopted her42. There is a nasty phrase about good deeds never going unpunished, and I think we all know it too well.
All these rumors were further propagated by push polls, telephone polls that ostensibly were to ask a voter what would make them more or less likely to vote for a candidate, but were actually intended to further a rumor about your opponent, that their wife was hooked on pills or they had a child out of wedlock. An example can be made of the push poll used by then senator Caroll Campbell against his opponent Max Heller, a man who’d escaped the holocaust in Europe which killed off ninety relatives of him and his wife. In this 1978 senatorial race, voters were called up and asked if they were more likely to vote for “a native South Carolinian”, or a “Jewish immigrant”? They were also asked which characteristics best described the two candidates, and listed a series of traits, among which were “honest”, “A hard worker”, and “Jewish”. During one of Heller’s meets, a man came up and said, “Gee, Max, I didn’t know you didn’t believe in Jesus.” That was the tip-off of what was going on43. Heller lost the senator’s race. McCain lost the South Carolina primary. Ralph Reed’s firm, as said before, was hired to provide phone bank services.
You would think, given this extraordinary turnaround by the Bush campaign in this state, there would be no shortage of claimants of who was behind these lowdown tactics. Yet this success, which revolved around rumors of illegitimate paternity, defies the proverb and claims no fathers at all. Somehow this victory was both just politics as usual, yet something so toxic and vile that it cannot be touched. Lisa Baron, Ralph Reed’s spokeswoman, was often asked about her boss’s involvement, and alibied with a less disreputable activity: she would say that she had no idea, as she was too busy sucking Ari Fleischer’s cock44. Fleischer, a future Bush White House spokesman, recently complained that he would have to contribute a little less to charity because of hikes in the top tax rates45. It seems he was in a more giving mood that year.
Almost all others involved in this primary incident, even its victims, have kept a discrete silence. There is one other notable exception, and that is Meghan McCain. In her Dirty Sexy Politics, she speaks of this incident in detail, and describes the hurt that it caused her, her sister, and her family. Though it is her book and her perspective, I do not think she would write of a family matter such as this without her family’s consent.
I give lengthy excerpt, and bold the most striking and relevant parts.
This is where things become ugly and sad. What happened in South Carolina in 2000 is what caused me to reconsider everything, and draw away from politics. My father lost in South Carolina, but he didn’t lose fair and square. He lost as a result of one of the dirtiest political tricks ever played. A hate campaign was waged against him and our family-a campaign that spread lies and fear.
E-mails went around, and became viral, saying that my dad had “sired children out of wedlock.” There was mention of a “Negro child.” Pamphlets-thousands of them-were stuck under car windshields showing a photograph of all of us, my mom and dad; me; my brothers, Jack and Jimmy; and my sweet sister, Bridget, who was adopted by my parents from a Bangladesh orphanage when she was a baby. The pamphlets led people to believe that Bridget was the “Negro child” my father had sired out of wedlock.
Something called “push polls” were conducted. Republican voters were called at home and informed that my father was mentally unstable from his years in prison as a POW or a Manchurian candidate secretly planning to spread communism. There were mentions of the “Negro child” during the push polls, and my mother, who had struggled with a prescription drug addiction after back surgery six years before-and had talked publicly about it-was smeared as a drug addict.
It was sick, disgusting-and everything it will go down in history for being. And it was so dirty and secret that it became impossible to trace who was responsible, directly or indirectly, except to know the man who won that primary: George W. Bush.
For my family, it was devastating. My whole world, the people whom I loved most, my parents, and brothers, and baby sister, were suddenly at the center of ugliness and unwanted attention. To lose a race is hard enough. But to lose unfairly is brutal and haunting. I blocked out the pain, and tried to forget, but at the same time, it stayed with me-the way feelings do when you try to ignore them. Someday I’d want to know what happened, I figured, but not yet.
Three or four years later, when I was in college, I came across an article in Vanity Fair that went into explicit detail about the South Carolina primary, and I remember feeling really uncomfortable reading it. I wanted to know the details, but at the same time, I didn’t. My mom had explained a few things-but not too much.
She had been waiting until we asked questions, and were old enough to understand, except I don’t think there is a way to understand.
People in politics, and those of us raised in political families, are told not to take politics personally. But, of course, we do. We must. Otherwise the world of politics will become even more dehumanizing and impersonal. If we don’t take politics personally, we aren’t honoring what it means to be human-and risk winding up as cruel and unfeeling, as inhuman, as the ones who spread lies and win unfairly.
The trick, I think, is to remain human and just forgive.
My father moved on-that’s how he is, he moves forward, doesn’t look back, doesn’t get burdened by hate or the wrong actions of others. He leaves things for history to judge. But for my mom, and the rest of us who love him so much, it was impossible. Eventually, when I was in college, I asked my mother about South Carolina. And I guess my brothers, Jack and Jimmy, eventually did too.
But my little sister, Bridget, the youngest in our family, didn’t know anything about it until she was sixteen years old and, just for kicks, she happened to google her own name and found herself linked, in almost every item, to the South Carolina primary of 2000.
She called me immediately, extremely upset, crying, and-not understanding what had happened-she feared that somehow she, and the color of her beautiful skin, had affected the outcome of that election, and caused our father to lose the race. It was heartbreaking, so heartbreaking.
I told her a few things that I knew, mostly that it was sick, and screwed-up people did things like that. I told her that I believed in karma-and that what goes around comes around, and those events will live with President Bush and Karl Rove, his creepy campaign “mastermind,” and with the individuals from the Christian Coalition who had helped to orchestrate it and did the push polls.
I told her that I loved her and that it was our job to make sure that things like this didn’t happen in politics again, because it was wrong and terrible for our country.
“Does President Bush hate me?” she asked.
This was the saddest of all.
“No,” I said. “He can’t hate you. He doesn’t even know you.”
“Why did he do it?”
“He just wanted to win.”
For Reed, the presidential election was just a break from other action; he was pulling in dollars from corporate clients and becoming more involved in the state politics of Georgia. The rungs of the ladder could easily be discerned: become state GOP chairman, then win one of the smaller offices, like representative or lieutenant governor, then senator or governor, and then finally go for the holiest of holys. His mother once said that her son would end up either as president of the United States or Al Capone46. If a man like Reed has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes you don’t have to choose. It’s a little of column A, a little of column B. Maybe a lot of column B.
He was both very successful and very unsuccessful in the place he’d designated over Florida as his home state. Following his defeat of decorated veteran John McCain, he helped defeat another decorated veteran, Max Cleland. Cleland, a triple amputee, was attacked in campaign ads which interspersed his picture with that of Osama Bin Laden, declaring him soft on defense for having voted against various domestic security bills. This was accompanied by the election of Georgia’s first Republican governor in forty elections. This dual triumph in 2002 was either because it was the best election year for Republicans since Reconstruction, multiple visits to the state by then president George W. Bush, the use of a new state of the art voter targeting and mobilization system, or the strategic work of the boyish smallish man who was the new chairman of the state GOP47. It was a happy, or unhappy, contrast with Reed’s last major involvement at political consulting, in 1998.
That year, Reed attempted to put in power a phalanx of Christian candidates – congressmen, governors, senators, state representatives, lieutenant governors, even a labor commissioner, with Century Strategies acting as consultant to each – and almost every one lost. Reed lost every big ticket race, except for Georgia senator Paul Coverdell and Alabama senator Richard Shelby, and those two were expected to win anyway. He lost Governor Fob James’ re-election bid in Alabama, he lost Gex “Jay” Williams try for a House seat in Kentucky, he lost Gary Hofmeister’s bid to be an Indiana rep48. In Georgia, Reed’s campaign for Mitch Skandalakis, candidate for lieutenant governor, depicted his opponent as an inmate in a psychiatric and drug-treatment facility. Another Skandalakis ad played what might be discreetly called the “D.W. Griffith” card, charging Atlanta’s predominantly black political leadership with gross incompetence. Skandalakis was one more notch in Reed’s losing streak, defeated by Mark Taylor, and the incendiary ads may have been one more reason for the high black voter turnout, bringing victory to democratic candidates statewide. Because of the boy wonder’s political ads for one lieutenant governor, Republican operatives grumbled, Reed had managed to defeat their entire slate49.
In 2006, Ralph Reed took to another rung of the ladder, running for this same measly post of lieutenant governor, and it was around then that the devils of Gehenna – or perhaps an angel, with a capricious mercy for humanity – wrenched his hands from this celestial ladder and let him fall, to the humbling ground below. His hard descent was because of that massive defeat in 1998, and because of an old college friend, Jack Abramoff.
Since meeting as fellow college Republicans, Abramoff had had a varied, colorful, and even more financially successful career than Reed. After graduating from Brandeis, he would make the movie Red Scorpion, possibly with the assistance of the apartheid government of South Africa50, as well as found the International Freedom Foundation, a think tank which was covertly funded by the South African intelligence service to disseminate their propaganda, whether to defame Nelson Mandela or stop one of their protectorates, Namibia, from declaring independence, by putting out the false story that it had chemical weapons51. After the 1994 Republican congressional takeover by Congress, Abramoff was hired by lobbying shop Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. “Can you smell the money?” wrote Abramoff in a later email; through his work at Preston Gates, and at later rival lobby shop Greenberg Taurig, the air from now on would reek of money. He charged seven fifty for an hour of his time, owned one of the most popular restaurants in D.C., and skybox tickets were as common in his pockets as lint in another man’s – though, of course, this dream life ended badly52. The name of Abramoff is now immutably bound to scandal, a scandal of which there are two plot points: both involve gambling. Plot A concludes in imprisonment and disgrace, Plot B finishes in imprisonment, disgrace, and murder.
Following the rout of Reed’s candidates in 1998, he needed to find another way to make money than giving election advice – who wants to be told how to win from a horse trainer with a stable filled with losing horses? The email where Reed asked Abramoff for client work is now reasonably well-known, as it became a piece of evidence in a congressional inquiry. The note from this man of god to his old friend was enthusiastic and to the point: “Hey, now that I’m done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.”53
It was through Abramoff that Reed was brought in to help out a longtime client, the Marianas islands. Channel One was another Abramoff client, and, of course, Reed helped out with that too54. Then he was brought in to help out with the larger, lucrative game that would destroy them all. Jack Abramoff worked with a series of Indian tribes, mainly related to the issues of casino ownership, and would promote the services of a company, Capitol Campaign Services (CCS), whether it be mailing lists, grass roots organizing, or a voter database. This company was presented as one owned by an Abramoff associate, Michael Scanlon, but one entirely independent and unaffiliated with Abramoff. In actual fact, as part of a pre-arranged deal, all fees paid to CCS were split evenly between Scanlon and Abramoff55. The prices of the services were always wildly inflated; the biggest ticket item was a voter database. This was sold as a tool that would allow tribes to co-ordinate their own casino campaigns through detailed knowledge of relevant voters. Scanlon would say these databases were valued at a million and a half dollars, when they actually cost about a hundred grand. Scanlon would brag to the tribes that their customized database was built by top quality people who spent day and night to set it up, working with a stable of graphic artists. In reality, the database was never customizable, and Scanlon just got it ready-made from a vendor, or had another vendor make a cheaper, less functional front end for this existing product. The databases were incredibly expensive, and usually they ended up going unused56. It was through these and other services that a group of five tribes ended up paying out close to $66 million to Capitol Campaign Services. Abramoff, a man who infamously referred to various tribesmen as troglodytes, morons, and idiots, received half57.
The Mississippi Choctaw were worried about competition to their reservation casino if next door Alabama legalized slot machines, so they recruited Abramoff to defeat the bill. Ambramoff, in turn, brought in his college friend Ralph Reed to rally the Christian troops against the bill, through mail, radio ads, and top name religious warriors like James Dobson. Reed guaranteed his fellow College Republican that “he would open the bomb bay doors and hold nothing back.” When a tribal spokesman brought up the fact that Reed was a hard-right ideologue, Abramoff answered (my emphasizing italics): “as far as the cash goes.”58 Of course, Reed could not be paid directly by the Choctaw to defeat the gambling bill, as this would look like what it was, a gambling interest manipulating sincere Christian sentiment in order to destroy their competition. At first, the payments went to Reed via Preston Gates, Abramoff’s lobbying shop. This was later changed, perhaps because the path was too obvious, and instead the money went through Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and then onto Reed. Americans for Tax Reform was the political organization founded by Ralph Reed’s other prominent college friend, Grover Norquist59.
Here is Reed relaying to Abramoff the script of the ad they’ll be deploying:
This is Reed and Abramoff actively discussing the deployment of ads, and the use of an intermediary party, in this case, ATR, to get the money to Reed.
The Senate Indian Affairs Report, the result of the subsequent investigation into Abramoff’s dealings, relates the perspective of Nell Rogers, planner for the Mississippi Choctaw and a liaison between Abramoff and the tribe, on the reasons for the use of such in-between parties to pay Reed; from the Report, starting on page 45:
[Nell] Rogers did not speak with anyone at ATR about using ATR as a conduit. As far as Rogers knew, ATR was not involved and was not considering getting involved in any of the efforts the Choctaw ultimately paid Reed and others to oppose. Based on everything Rogers knew, ATR simply served as a conduit to disguise the source of the Choctaw money ultimately paid to grassroots groups and Reed. Rogers told Committee staff that she understood from Abramoff that ATR was willing to serve as a conduit, provided it received a fee.
The Choctaw’s intent and understanding was that the money would pass through ATR and ultimately reach either Reed or a grassroots organization engaging in anti-gaming activities. It was never intended as a contribution to support ATR’s general anti-tax work. As far as Rogers was concerned, ATR was serving as a conduit on a project that had nothing to do with taxes and that was designed to oppose gaming.
The question arises why the Choctaw paid money to Reed through various conduits, such as Preston Gates and ATR, rather than directly. Rogers told Committee staff, “I always assumed it’s because Ralph was more comfortable with that.” Rogers understood from Abramoff that “Ralph Reed did not want to be paid directly by a tribe with gaming interests. It was our understanding that the structure was recommended by Jack Abramoff to accommodate Mr. Reed’s political concerns.” Nevertheless, the work Reed and his company Century Strategies performed and for which they were paid through Preston Gates and ATR was on the Tribe’s behalf and for its benefit. The Tribe has no complaints about the quality of work Reed undertook on its behalf.
After Norquist got nervous about the use of ATR as a conduit, Arbamoff instead moved the cash to Reed via the AIC. The AIC, or American International Center, was a think tank that listed as its directors David Grosh, a lifeguard, and Brian Mann, a yoga instructor. The headquarters of AIC was a beach house. Mann could not remember Grosh doing anything during the time they were directors, except help him put a desk together. “If AIC was a think tank, I sure don’t know what we were thinking about,” said Grosh. AIC’s mission “was the global minded purpose of enhancing the methods of empowerment for territories, commonwealths, and sovereign nations in possession of and within the United States.” Grosh and Mann had no idea what that meant. It was a Potemkin think tank, with the usual portentous objective that sounded like dialogue from a wet dream of Thomas Friedman, but entirely non-existent, just a shell to funnel money to Reed and others60.
When a tribe refused to do business with Abramoff and Scanlon, the two men would have a new tribal council elected. We have here, in microcosm, the politics of the United States, now: politicians elected not to serve their constituents, but elected by lobbyists to serve them. After the Saginaw Chippewa decided to drop Abramoff and go with another lobbyist, Abramoff ousted the existing tribal leadership. He and Scanlon put together a slate of eight rival candidates, devised candidate strategy, paid all campaign expenses, and put out mailers and fliers, warning that “[t]he upcoming election may be the only chance for the disenfranchised, [sic] and beaten down members of this tribe to voice their disapproval.”61 Seven of Abramoff’s eight candidates won. Following their electoral victory, a mailer prepared by CCS was sent out, announcing that this was “the day the people of this tribe swept away the politics of the past, and started a new era of positive and responsible government.” Abramoff had emailed Scanlon shortly before the triumph: “Looks like you have it well in hand. I smell victory! I smell gimme five!!!” “Gimme five” was code for the under the table money Scanlon would pass on to Abramoff62.
Abramoff, Scanlon, and Reed happily fought on behalf of one tribe to close the casinos of another, then turned around and helped out the rival tribe, without ever disclosing that they were the ones who had shut down their casinos in the first place. The Louisiana Coushatta had a casino which drew most of its revenue from Texas gamblers. When another tribe, the Alabama Coushatta, planned to open a casino in Texas, Abramoff and Scanlon convinced the Louisiana tribe that if Texas allowed a local tribe, the Tigua, to keep their casino open, it would mean that gambling would become legal throughout Texas; the Alabama Coushatta would be able to build their casino, and Texans would gamble at home, rather than travel to another state. Abramoff and Scanlon were given the nod to do what was necessary, so they went down to Texas, and got the anti-gambling bill passed with the help of Ralph Reed’s Christian soldiers. When Reed told him that he’d heard the Tigua place would be closed by the next week, Abramoff emailed Scanlon, “Whining idiot. Close the f’ing thing already!!” When the Tigua tried to put forth a legislative solution, Abramoff and Scanlon had the lieutenant governor block it63.
The revenue generated by the Tigua casino had helped provide education to tribal children and health care to tribal elders. In desperation, the Tigua turned to two men who might do something, anything, to help them: Abramoff and Scanlon64. The tribe would pay the men millions, even pay for a junket that allowed Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Congressman Bob Ney to go to Scotland and play golf, and all for naught65. Congressman Bob Ney was willing to put a provision in an election reform bill so that the casino would re-open, but Senator Chris Dodd, would be needed to support it – and Dodd wanted nothing to do with it. After this failure, Abramoff had one last idea for squeezing money from the tribe: he decided to try to set up life insurance for the oldest of the Tigua. Reed would try to introduce an equivalent program in some African American churches. Jack, summarized a former Reed associate, approached Ralph about mortgaging old black people. Reed may have had no compunction about this, but even for a desperate people this was too much; the Tigua tribal council turned the offer down. When it was all finally over, the principals in disgrace or in jail, the duplicities revealed, the Lieutenant Governor of the Tigua, Carlos Hisa, was asked how he felt about Abramoff and Scanlon: “A rattlesnake will warn you before it strikes. We had no warning.”66
Abramoff and Scanlon not only used Reed’s christian network for the benefit of tribal casinos, they used this same network to benefit one prominent non-native gambling venture: eLottery Inc., an internet company whose business revolved around helping states and other groups set up lotteries on-line. In 2000, it was facing two major problems, the collapse of the dot-com boom and the Senate passage of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which would make it easier for states to stop online gambling sites. The company, in desperate straits, sold assets in order to raise the cash to pay for the work of Jack Abramoff. Abramoff brought in Reed, as well as another christian group, Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Value Coalition, who would rally the religious right to petition their congressmen to fight against the anti-gambling bill. Hold on: how would they get christian voters to fight against an anti-gambling bill? Easy. Abramoff found exemptions in the bill for jai alai and horse racing, and so the bill was presented as one that was actually pro-gambling. To further help out, Shandwick Worldwide, a company working alongside Abramoff’s team, hired an operative to get Florida’s then governor, Jeb Bush, to come out and say such a bill infringed on state’s rights. A letter saying the very thing, signed by the governor, was soon circulating Capitol Hill. The letter was a forgery, but it didn’t matter. Abramoff won again; the Senate may have passed the bill, but his efforts persuaded enough members to keep the House from voting on it67.
Reed would insist that he had no idea he was working on behalf of gambling interests, but he mentioned eLottery by name in several emails. In one, he sends a jokey warning to Abramoff about his place in the in-coming White House: “Tell your elottery friends that the next [technology] czar will be an anti-gambling [Pentecostal] Christian”. As usual, Abramoff paid Reed through intermediaries, the money going first to Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which then sent it on to a group based out of Virginia Beach, the Faith and Family Alliance, who passed it on to Reed. This latter group was run by Robin Vandervall, a political operative who would later serve seven years for soliciting minors. It would also play a supporting role in a Republican congressional primary in Virginia. The Family Alliance was paid $100K to distribute pamphlets and make robo-calls saying that a certain primary candidate did not represent Virginia values, and that his opponent was the “only Christian in the contest.” The primary candidate that supposedly did not represent Virginia values, the non-Christian in the contest, was future Majority Whip Eric Cantor, a Jewish man. “Politics,” Cantor would say of the incident, “is a very interesting business.”68
Before things finally collapsed, Scanlon and Abramoff would first turn against Reed. Though he constantly bragged of the incredible results he was getting, they had a feeling that players were getting played. Just as the Christian Coalition had far fewer members than actually claimed, Reed’s claims of the extraordinary efforts he was making to organize Christians to lobby against a competing gambling venture were soon met with skepticism by Abramoff and Scanlon. A good chunk of the money that he was supposed to be spending on radio ads and mail campaigns, they believed, were actually just being kept by Reed. The natives of the continent had been granted gambling palaces in exchange for stolen land, and layer upon layer of thieves, an onion of pickpockets, grifted that, while casually sliding their hands into each other’s wallets. When Abramoff had passed three hundred thousand to Reed via Norquist’s ATR, he was surprised that Norquist first took a slice of twenty five thousand before passing on the rest69. One is surprised that this worldly man would even be surprised.
In perhaps the most famous email exchange of the affair, Scanlon wonders if Reed will return any unused funds from his last grassroots efforts. Would we? asks Abramoff, one con to another. He cuts off the only oxygen breathed by Reed, no more money for him, and damns him with the ultimate compliment: he is a bad version of us!
When they stopped using Reed, Scanlon handled the grass roots activism himself, doing activism without activists. The Saginaw Chippewa paid money to be passed on so that a number of secular and christian grassroots networks – Concerned Citizens Against Gaming Expansion (CCAGE), Global Christian Outreach Network (GCON), and the Michigan Environmental Group – would fight the legalization of gambling that would compete with the Chippewa casino. These were organizations that existed in name alone, created by Scanlon. Most strikingly, the Indian Affairs Abramoff Report acknowledges that such ersatz grass roots organizations, created solely for a political purpose, are to be expected. An example might be the “60 Plus Association”: ostensibly a seniors advocacy group, it is one which gets no money from individual seniors. Instead, its funding comes entirely from pharmaceutical companies and other industries. The “60 Plus Association” is a seniors association that fought against legislation to reduce drug prices. It also fought against Obamacare, against regulation of greenhouse gases, and in favor of using Yucca mountain as a storage site for nuclear waste. These last ones might seem out of the purview of a seniors association, but were most likely motivated by funding the “60 Plus Association” received from the American Petroleum Institute70. Again, the problem the Indian Affairs Committee found was not that Concerned Citizens Against Gaming Expansion or the Global Christian Outreach Network was ersatz, the problem is that it did not conduct the ersatz activism you would expect when you contract for such an organization.
From the Indian Affairs Abramoff Report, page 268:
While using bogus groups in furtherance of grassroots strategies may be common, Scanlon and Abramoff’s use of them is distinguishable in that they were employed as part of Abramoff and Scanlon’s “gimme five” scheme. In an interview with Committee staff, former CCS associate Brian Mann said that he thought that, for example, the letter-writing and signature-gathering campaigns, many of which he helped lead or otherwise conduct in the name of such bogus organizations, were “fraudulent.” He described them as “flashes in the pan [that were designed] to appease [CCS’] clients.” He regarded them as exercises that “created face time” and “scuttlebutt” by “send[ing] a few people out there to show them that we exist.” With CCS associates collecting signatures “on K-Mart or Walmart parking lots,” Mann felt that those activities “didn’t amount to very much.”
This was the main plot of the Abramoff scandal, but there was also a subplot. In the late nineties, the owner of some casino ships that operated out of Florida was ordered to divest himself of the vessels. Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis was a son of a Greek fisherman, a sailor on the Merchant Marine, and a hard-working, incredibly successful businessman. He first moved to Canada where he started a submarine sandwich franchise that made him a multimillionaire before he was twenty-five; then he moved to Florida to retire, but ended up starting SunCruz Casinos, a fleet of eleven ships that docked in Florida and travelled into international waters so the passengers on-board could gamble without violating U.S. laws. The U.S. shipping code, however, doesn’t allow foreign nationals – Gus Boulis was a Canadian citizen – to own American commercial vessels. To avoid jail, Boulis would have to pay a fine and sell his boats. Boulis’s lawyer worked at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas, and one of his co-workers, Jack Abramoff, knew someone who would be interested in buying SunCruz. The someone Jack Abramoff knew was Jack Abramoff. But, wait: Jack Abramoff was forbidden by company rules from entering into business deals with those represented by the firm. So, instead of Abramoff buying SunCruz, Adam Kidan would buy SunCruz for him. Gus Boulis’s life story was interesting, but Kidan’s story was even better71.
Kidan was from New York and had gone to D.C.’s George Washington University, where he joined the College Republicans, and through them, met and became friends with Abramoff. There was a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and then he got to be president of the Four Freedoms Foundation, which appeared to be a think tank devoted to post-communist nations that was little more than a tax shelter. He then started a Long Island bagel franchise with a partner, Michael Cavallo, who in turn was an associate of Anthony Moscatiello, owner of a catering company and an associate of the Gambino crime family. He’d been indicted with John Gotti’s brother, Gene, for heroin trafficking, and accompanied him to court. Kidan would occasionally go to Anthony Moscatiello for business advice: this is someone, he would say, “who has experience in feeding large groups of people.”72
Despite the advice, the bagel franchise fell apart, so Kidan started a Dial-a-Mattress franchise in D.C. He made and announced the radio ads himself, so the Brooklyn nasal of “Leave off the last `S,’ that’s the `S’ for savings!” became briefly, and perhaps unmercifully, ubiquitous in the Capitol. Kidan said he’d sold a queen size sleeper to the Clintons in 1993. He’d also founded the New York based Dial-A-Mattress franchiser. He also was general counsel to the St. Maarten Hotel Beach Club and Casino. He was a former partner of Duncan, Fish, Bergen & Kidan. However: the Dial-a-Mattress franchise opened in D.C. in 1994. He was not a founder of the franchiser. There is no St. Maarten Hotel Beach Club and Casino. There’s no evidence that a law firm called Duncan, Fish, Bergen & Kidan ever existed. Soon, Kidan would declare bankruptcy, sell his franchise, get sued for theft, and be disbarred. When Gus Boulis resisted selling SunCruz, congressman Bob Ney, Abramoff friend and associate, entered remarks into the congressional record taking issue with card cheating and corruption on the ships. When Kidan was put in charge, Bob Ney entered remarks in the congressional record praising Kidan as a solid individual and a respected member of the community, with a reputation for honesty and integrity. What better man to run a casino?73
Abramoff and Kidan got the money to buy SunCruz from Foothill Capital. Kidan said he was worth over twenty six million, but was only able to account for 800K. The rest, he said, was in closely held corporations. Foothill agreed to loan them $60 million to buy the boats, if the two would invest $23 million of their own money in the venture. Kidan faxed Foothill a document showing a wire transfer of $23 million to SunCruz. Foothill gave them the loan. The wire transfer was discovered only later to be a forgery74. The only connection this subplot has to Reed is here, small and incidental. Kidan, in the movie based on these events, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, is shown as the kind of guy who tosses two hookers out of his condo, then throws a few bills at them afterwards.
From Casino Jack: The United States of Money.
“Know what I majored in in high school?”, the movie’s Kidan (Jon Lovitz, in maybe the best performance in the movie) asks the movie’s Abramoff (Kevin Spacey). Abramoff: “Pool?” Kidan: “No. Fucking.” Abramoff: “Really…how does it feel to get a C in that class?” Reed decided to set up his spokeswoman, Lisa Baron, on a blind date with this man. During the evening, Kidan told her he needed to go back to his hotel room to make a phone call. After they got there, Kidan stripped naked and lunged for her75.
From Casino Jack: The United States of Money.
Kidan would buy a thirty foot boat, a Mercedes S500, and rent a four thousand a month condo in the expectation of future success, but things were soon falling apart. In order to make the deal, Kidan and Abramoff had given Boulis IOUs for $20 million in exchange for Boulis remaining a silent partner – a violation of the very shipping codes that had required Boulis to sell the boat. Boulis now asked for the money, and got nothing. Boulis had brought in family members to work on the boat. Kidan fired many of them. Boulis and Kidan soon stopped speaking to each other. When a meet was set up to try to resolve things, it ended in a 911 call and Kidan filing a police report alleging that Boulis had stabbed him in the neck76.
From Casino Jack: The United States of Money.
Kidan suggested to Abramoff a “concerted press effort” to paint Boulis as a criminal. Abramoff agreed, completely. Kidan bought an armor plated Mercedes, hired bodyguards, got a restraining order, and spoke to a reporter of how scared he was of Boulis. He also put Anthony Moscatiello on the SunCruz payroll, authorizing over $160K in cheques to Moscatiello and his immediate family. He sent over $130K in cheques to Moon Over Miami, a company incorporated by Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari, a man who liked to brag that he was John Gotti’s cousin. Kidan said the cheques to Moscatiello were for food and beverage services. The cheques to Moon Over Miami, said Kidan, were for security operations77.
On February 6, 2001, 9:15pm, Gus Boulis drove away from a late meeting, when a car suddenly pulled in front, and blocked his path. The night was cool, so Boulis had rolled down his window. A black mustang drove past, and fired multiple times into Boulis’s vehicle. The car in front was now gone. The former owner of SunCruz casinos, a man who had built two fortunes through fierce will, managed to drive his car a few blocks before crashing it into a tree. Boulis was in cardiac arrest in the ambulance that picked him up, and a little over an hour after he left his meeting, he died on the operating table. None of this kept Kidan from losing SunCruz anyway. The Boulis estate sued Kidan for ownership of SunCruz and for conspiring to kill Gus Boulis. SunCruz declared bankruptcy, and Kidan sold his stake in exchange for an end to the civil suit78.
No one was arrested in the murder of Gus Boulis for years. Only when the other, main Abramoff plot had come to a close was anybody indicted. After Abramoff and Scanlon overthrew the Saginaw Chippewa leadership, these tribal leaders in turn were ousted from power. Abramoff’s contract was terminated, and the new sub-chief, Bernie Sprague, contacted another lobbyist, Tom Rogers. “Tom, we’re being threatened by our lobbyist,” Sprague told Rogers. He said Abramoff would sue them if his invoices were questioned, or if he was asked what he’d done to justify his huge fees. Rogers, a man of mixed Irish and Blackfoot ancestry, believed that the national media didn’t care a thing about native stories. He told Sprague and David Sickey, a member of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, to collect the internal invoices and necessary documents, then first relate what happened to their local papers. Sprague then passed on these news stories, along with the relevant documents, to Susan Schmidt, a Washington Post reporter he chose to contact because of her past work on Native American clients being overbilled by Democratic lobbyists. When the Indian Affairs Committee would have their hearings, Rogers contacted them with the archive of invoices and documents he’d amassed79.
If we were to give this story the texture of melodrama, then Ralph Reed might have a moment here where his mask fell and he took a sudden fearful intake of breath. Because the head of the Indian Affairs Committee was, of course, John McCain. An ancient and warlike people once said that revenge is a dish best served cold; it is sometimes very, very cold in Washington, D.C.
Maybe the most notable testimony of the hearings was its most ridiculous, when David Grosh testified on being a director of AIC. It is listed on youtube as “Greatest Congressional Testimony Ever”:
A brief excerpt (runs from 6:20-6:33):
CHAIRMAN MCCAIN: [Michael Scanlon] approached you in some way?
MR.GROSH: A phone call.
CHAIRMAN MCCAIN: And said?
MR.GROSH: Do you want to be head of an international corporation. [Laughter] It is a hard one to turn down.
Reed was never called to testify, but it didn’t matter. Everyone fell like dominos. Scanlon co-operated in the case against Abramoff and got twenty months. Bob Ney served seventeen months in jail, sharing a prison with former “Survivor” contest-winner Richard Hatch, who’d failed to pay taxes on his TV prize. Abramoff served forty three months, and now owes over twenty million dollars in restitution to his victims. Kidan served three years for fraud related to the SunCruz purchase80. In 2005, the year of Abramoff’s fraud trial, James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, and Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari were arrested for the killing of Gus Boulis. Fiorillo pled guilty to conspiracy, and will testify against Moscatiello and Ferrari in a trial now scheduled for August, 2013. No one has accused Kidan or Abramoff of any involvement in the Boulis murder81.
Reed heard about the Abramoff investigation during his run for lieutenant governor, and he warned his spokeswoman, Lisa Baron, that things might get a little rough. He had no inkling of how bad things would get, but she did, and started a back-up career as a sex and lifestyle columnist, describing the maneuver with her own inimitable metaphor.
From an interview on “Conversations With David Lewis”:
Jack and Ralph were best friends. I don’t know if guys do that BFF thing, but they were as close to BFFs as you can get. He said, you know Jack’s under investigation for taking money from Indian tribes and funneling it around, all this kind of stuff…I’m a tangential figure in this. My name’s come up because they – they being the FBI and a United States Senate committee – have requested all of Jack’s emails from all over the years, and Jack and Ralph have a lot of emails together. I heard that, I heard: Ralph Reed. Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Indian tribes, which equals gambling. And I thought to myself: oh, Ralph. This is not going away in four months.
So, I had to make a different plan. I had to take responsibility for my own career. I made a decision to keep working with Ralph. And be loyal, and give back, because he had given so much to me, but sort of get myself into a lifeboat. As I say, my vagina was my liferaft.
Her column had the expected tone. Rather than looking at sex with the calm eye you might observe the aches and pleasures of athletics or food, its perspective was that of a giggly fourteen year old. She wrote, in a way that was a little too wide-eyed, about her fantasy of having sex with someone non-white before she got married, or the shame of having oversize ladyparts82. As for Jack and Ralph, if they used to be BFF-y, after the scandal they weren’t BFF-y no more. When Grover Norquist got married, Reed didn’t go near Abramoff’s table. The then head of the RNC, Ken Mehlman, said of Abramoff that he wasn’t someone he knew much about. The Bush White House would insist that Karl Rove barely knew the man. Mehlman had eaten Sabbath dinner at Abramoff’s house. Rove had been a guest in Abramoff’s box at an NCAA game83.
The lieutenant governor’s race was supposed to be an easy step towards a destined appointment in an oval office, but the Abramoff scandal broke the campaign. When Reed spoke to the Georgia College Republicans, the place was only half full. He had to offer twenty dollars and a free overnight room to fill up an event at the Georgia Christian Coaliton84. About Reed’s disreputable dealings and disreputable clients, a Georgia republican voter would say, “He’s either an awfully cheap whore, or he’s diabolical.”85 Reed lost the Republican primary.
There are always second acts in American lives, and Reed has had one as well. He was even a member of John McCain’s Victory 2008 Team, helping to raise money, and a guest at a fundraising dinner – until the Obama campaign pointed out Reed’s still radioactive ties to Abramoff and McCain disinvited him86. Reed’s Century Strategies helped put out a video calling for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, and Century Strategies was paid millions by cable companies to possibly set up ersatz grass roots groups to oppose net neutrality87. In 2009, Reed would create the Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC), a sequel to the earlier Christian Coaliton. “Even though I’ve been doing other things, this is kind of like Steve Jobs returning to Apple,” he said88. Despite the past scandals, Reed and the FFC were brought in for the 2012 election to organize evangelicals to vote for Mitt Romney. Perhaps coincidentally, the Republican convention that year had a plank calling for the abolishment of the minimum wage in the Marianas islands. During the election, it was just like old times again, like that race against Max Heller, like that race against John McCain, as the Faith and Freedom Coalition put out a survey which push polled: “How much danger do you think liberty is in right now as a result of President Obama’s policies?” More serious than Nazi Germany, more serious than the Soviet Union, were the first two choices89.
We may live in forgetful times, but not as forgetful as that. A National Review cruise in 2012, guested by Reed and other stars of the right-wing firmament, was pre-scheduled as a post-election victory romp, but ended up a salve for the losers. It was a fin-de-siècle metaphor that would be ridiculously obvious in a book, but strikingly elegant in the clutter of the real; a wandering ship full of the dead who vainly argue that they’re still alive. A conservative luminary on board opined, “I like Ralph Reed, but he’s done.”90 Though perhaps not yet; the Faith and Freedom Coalition would be holding a convention in July, where it would convey the Nazarene’s message of humility and charity through guest speaker Donald Trump91. Ralph Reed would be around for a little while longer, and maybe if you’re one of the blessed, you’ll one day meet him, this man of god in ostrich skin boots, and gaze on his face. A friend of Reed’s has said that he thinks only two questions pass through the man’s mind when he meets someone, questions that are primeval and essential, irrespective of color, creed, or ethnic division. The questions that go through Ralph Reed’s head are: 1) Am I hungry? and, 2) Are you of a size that I can consume you?92.
(Small edits for clarity and aesthetics have been made since initial publication; the material on eLottery and Eric Cantor was added on May 5th, 2013.)
Robbins was born in 1974, in Plainview, Texas, but grew up mostly in Springfield, Missouri. His parents, Larry and Betty, met at a small Baptist church in Enid, Oklahoma, where Larry was a sometime pastor. Betty, a widowed nursing student with three children, attended services. Larry and Betty describe the birth of their son as “a miracle of the Lord.” As they tell it, Betty’s doctors discovered tumors in her uterus and warned that she would probably die giving birth, and that the child, if it survived, would likely be crippled and brain damaged. The doctors urged an abortion, but Larry and Betty refused. Larry told me, “I realized that God had a special purpose for my son.”
Robbins likes to say that he grew up in an oxymoron, with his pious father on one side and two larcenous half brothers on the other. His half brothers, who were in their teens by the time Robbins was born, learned the basics of shoplifting and picking pockets from an uncle and later graduated to more serious crimes. They passed their knowledge and their world view on to Robbins, who began shoplifting when he was in junior high (while also leading his church’s Bible Quiz team to the state championships). Once, after stealing a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store, he was confronted by the manager. Feigning innocence, he hid the pack under his arm while the manager searched him. Then he let the pack drop into his hand and, while the manager’s attention was distracted, slipped it into the pocket of the man’s apron. Around this time, he started running away from home and skipping school. Robbins recalls that his father, convinced that his son was possessed by Satan, held him down and tried to cast the Devil out.
He was born six weeks premature in 1961, in Portsmouth, Virginia, and to this day his frame is slight, his face preternaturally boyish.
Reed had been raised a Methodist, but he wasn’t particularly devout.
Although Reed has spent most of his adult life in Georgia, he did not move there until 1976, when his family settled in the small town of Toccoa, in the northeastern part of the state. Reed was in high school at the time. Georgia was the fifth state, and Toccoa the seventh town, he had called home.
From “The Devil Inside” by Bob Moser:
Reed also has to make himself look just as authentically Georgian as his opponent, which might be the toughest trick of all. At every campaign stop, in every piece of campaign literature, Reed repeats the new mantra of his embattled campaign: “Growing up in the North Georgia mountains, I learned the values that matter most–faith, family, freedom and hard work.”
But Reed did not grow up in the North Georgia mountains. As he writes in Active Faith, “It all began in Miami, where I grew up. My childhood was hardly spent in the Bible Belt.” Reed’s family didn’t move to Georgia until he was in his mid-teens. And when they did, as Nina Easton reports in Gang of Five, Reed was considered a “fast-talking Miami smart aleck” in Toccoa, the tiny mountain town where they settled. Even his best friend there, Donald Singer, remembered Reed showing “no demeanor of civility,” his abrasive personality constantly clashing with the native Southerners around him.
I finish introducing myself, mutter something about how I thought I should dress appropriately, this being an official Republican debate and all.
“Well,” Reed says, grinning for real now, because he’s just been lobbed a fat, slow pitch, “you just don’t know Republicans.”
He keeps smiling for a beat.
“And that’s because you’re part of that liberal elite New York media.”
Reed loved political organizing. He loved political theater. But in the fall of 1985 he gave it all up to pursue a doctorate in history at Emory University. His dissertation, finished in 1991, weighs in at 515 pages and is entitled “Fortresses of Faith: Design and Experience at Southern Evangelical Colleges, 1830-1900.” As the title indicates, Reed’s study examined the history of religious higher education in the South. Besides the fact that it was written at all, the dissertation is notable for the way in which Reed chastises the institutions of higher learning he writes about for their racism.
No, it wasn’t an American Indian that Reed chose to ridicule. Instead, on April 14, 1983, Reed attacked an Indian from India, Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Reed’s column carried an unforgettable headline: “Gandhi: Ninny of the 20th century.”
Reed was reacting to the Best Picture Oscar awarded the movie Gandhi. He started off by saying Gandhi, among other things, had urged the Jewish race to commit collective suicide and had rolled around in bed with naked teenage girls to test his celibacy.
Reed asked readers what they would say about such a man and then answered: “You’d probably say that such a man was a quack, a fake, an eccentric and an immoral and manifestly colossal boob whose basic teachings posed a threat to the survival of the human race.”
He said the Indian government helped finance the movie, which he contended should have had the disclaimer, “The following is a paid political announcement by the Indian government.”
William Reid Jr., a graduate student in political science, wrote a letter to the Red & Black pointing out the similarities between Reed’s column and “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” by Richard Grenier in the March 1983 issue of Commentary, a conservative Jewish intellectual magazine. “Every assertion of, every quote and several seemingly original Reed phrases may be found directly or in slightly modified form in Richard Grenier’s long review,” Reid wrote.
The claims about Gandhi urging Jews to kill themselves and about rolling around in bed with teenagers came from Grenier’s piece, Reid charged, as did the phrase about “a paid political announcement.”
The grad student compared a Reed statement about Jewish collective suicide with Grenier’s words.
Ralph Reed wrote, “By cutting their own throats or hurling themselves from cliffs, Gandhi asserted, millions of dead Jews would ‘arouse public opinion’ against Hitler.” On the same subject, Grenier wrote, “If only the Jews of Germany had the good sense to offer their throats willingly to the Nazi butchers’ knives and throw themselves into the sea from cliffs would they arouse world public opinion.”
Reid’s letter landed on the desk of the Red & Black‘s editor, a student named Chuck Reece.
“I looked it up and, sure enough, it was distressingly similar,” Reece says. “It was clearly, in my view and in the view of other people who held positions of responsibility on the Red & Black staff, enough to be considered plagiarism. Ralph argued that. We printed Ralph’s response. We had to discontinue his column. We never ran another one by him.”
Not all of the piece was plagiarized, however. The words “ninny,” “quack” and “boob” were Reed’s.
Reed’s response in the Red & Black was a harbinger of things to come from a new generation of Republicans. He attacked the student who exposed his plagiarism.”I sincerely apologize for not citing my sources, including the article in Commentary mentioned by Mr. Reid, in my column of April 14. However, my failure to cite fully each and every source was merely an oversight, not a deliberate attempt to deceive, as Mr. Reid implies,” Reed wrote in his response. “Mr. William Reid’s thinly veiled personal attacks on my character are a poor substitute for the truth.” To imply that he committed plagiarism, Reed wrote, “is the most shocking, profane form of personal attack I can imagine.”
Looking back at Reed’s response, Reece says, “I thought it was disingenuous at best. Honestly, I didn’t understand why Ralph wouldn’t admit that he was wrong. I didn’t think he would actually plagiarize somebody. I was surprised. I was absolutely surprised. I just wanted him to fess up. I never understood why he wouldn’t and that said something about his character.”
UGA is a much more conservative place today. The Red & Black interviewed Reed two months ago and didn’t mention the plagiarism scandal until the next to last paragraph, which said Reed “was banned from writing after not citing his sources in a column about the movie Gandhi.”
“It was a valuable learning experience,” Reed told the paper. “I became a better person because of it.”
The one thing everyone says about Ralph Reed is “You can’t question his faith.” People who like him say it, people who dislike him say it, and people who respect his political skills but otherwise don’t have an opinion one way or the other say it, too. It’s not exclusive to him, of course, but rather more of a general rule, a commandment by which polite (and even impolite) society has agreed to abide.
Fair enough. Private faith is a mysterious thing-much like marriage-and the republic would be better served if reporters kept their snouts out of both. A person’s true faith is impossible to know, anyway. If, to use a convenient example, a man repeatedly calls gambling immoral and then takes millions of dollars to work surreptitiously for the benefit of casinos, those are merely two conflicting actions that evidence hypocrisy. They prove nothing about what he believes. (Though they do suggest he suspects the Almighty is a forgiving deity.)
Reed had been raised a Methodist, but he wasn’t particularly devout. Then, one Saturday night, he was sitting in a bar on Capitol Hill called Bullfeathers when, as he wrote in his 1994 book, Politically Incorrect, he “felt a gentle tugging in my conscience that I should start attending a local church.” He went to a phone booth, opened the Yellow Pages, and picked a church at random. (That’s the sum total of pre-church introspection revealed in Politically Incorrect. In later interviews, the story would expand to include Reed’s being tired of partying and, even later, his witnessing a married congressman stepping out on his wife.)
The next morning, Reed attended services at Evangel Assembly of God church in Camp Springs, Maryland. As a random choice, it made sense: Randy Miller, who was an associate pastor at the time, remembers that Evangel had placed a display ad in the phone book, and Assembly of God would have been in one of the first church subcategories. After the sermon, pastor Jack Cain gave a call from the altar “for people I described as not walking with Christ” to come up and be saved.
From “The Devil Inside” by Bob Moser:
Reed’s bellicose comments and shady tactics stirred whispers about the sincerity of his Christian conversion. (Like Tom DeLay, he told a sketchy story of being “born again” in the mid-1980s, just in time for the rise of Christian right politics.)
At the Red & Black, [editor Chuck Reece] enjoyed arguing with Reed about the columns the young conservative contributed. This was at a time when most students were liberal.
“It was always entertaining to have Ralph writing for us,” Reece says. “Even though I didn’t agree with Ralph’s politics or his political views generally, I did not believe he would do something like this.”
Reed was born again in 1983, according to Time magazine. But Reece never had a discussion with Reed that involved religion – “To my recollection, his politics were not at the time driven by religion.”
This is vintage Reed, the incorrigibly boastful, smooth-talking operator who long dazzled–and blinded–evangelical Christians, big-money Republicans and mainstream journalists. Now 44, he still looks like a million bucks, his elfin face perma-tanned to a brick red, his pencil-thin body subtly bulked out by a well-tailored suit. Only one thing is missing: applause. Maybe some CRs [Congressional Republicans] know the real history of that 1980 mock election from Nina Easton’s book Gang of Five, in which Reed’s first big political triumph is revealed to have been rigged–his first notable act of mass deception. Maybe they’re just waiting for Reed to finally offer a satisfying explanation of his star turn in the Abramoff scandal. But his mea culpa smacks more of false piety than genuine gut-spilling.
In January 1989, at a Students for America dinner in Washington, D.C., Reed met Christian broadcasting magnate Pat Robertson, who had just run a failed presidential campaign the year before.
Robertson’s campaign wasn’t a total failure, actually–he came in second to Bob Dole in the 1988 Iowa caucuses, scaring the bejeezus out of the Republican establishment–and he wanted to start an organization devoted to bringing social conservatives into Republican politics. After dinner Robertson asked Reed if he wanted to run the group. At first Reed demurred; he returned to Georgia and his schoolwork, but soon found he couldn’t support a wife and child on a doctoral candidate’s income. In September he accepted Robertson’s offer and moved to southeastern Virginia, home of Robertson’s television evangelism empire.
The Christian Coalition was incorporated as a nonpartisan, tax-exempt nonprofit. But its political allegiance was always clear. In October 1990 the National Republican Senatorial Committee gave the Coalition $64,000 in what Reed would later call “seed money.” The seeds sprouted and grew like crazy.
Read press accounts from the Coalition’s early history, and you find that, when he spoke to the press, Reed would use the same language he had used a decade earlier at College Republicans. In 1991, in a quote that has been hung around his neck ever since, he bragged to Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot: “I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.” In 1992 he told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It’s better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night.”
Within a few years under Reed’s leadership the Coalition became, as Nina Easton describes in her book Gang of Five, “a $12 million-plus lobbying machine” that boasted “250,000 dues-paying members” and “1.6 million potential allies.”
And it was effective. After starting with a scant $3,000 and a mailing list of 134,325 names from Robertson’s failed presidential bid, Reed built the Coalition into a dominant force for conservative politics. It was never as large as he boasted-according to Nina J. Easton’s book Gang of Five, he once claimed the Coalition had up to 3 million followers, about five times the dues-paying members-but that was Reed’s gift, his magic: Through stagecraft and bluster, he made the Christian right appear to be the ascendant and inevitable future of American politics. In 1992 the Coalition, along with other religious and culturally conservative groups, shape-shifted the GOP convention, which was both impressive (they hijacked a convention, after all) and inept: The resulting circus scared the bejesus out of half of America. The 1994 Republican takeover of Congress was in part credited to Reed and the Coalition as well. By 1995, Reed was powerful enough, or perceived to be, to get his mug on the cover of Time.
18 This cover:
It was never as large as he boasted-according to Nina J. Easton’s book Gang of Five, he once claimed the Coalition had up to 3 million followers, about five times the dues-paying members-but that was Reed’s gift, his magic: Through stagecraft and bluster, he made the Christian right appear to be the ascendant and inevitable future of American politics.
From “The Devil Inside” by Bob Moser:
It was widely suspected that Reed grossly exaggerated both the coalition’s membership numbers (apparently closer to 600,000 at its peak, rather than the 1.7 million he claimed) and the distribution of its voter guides (often found discarded in bundles).
20 From “Hart Ache: Did Ralph Reed’s friend try to rip off the Christian Coalition?” by Sheryl Henderson:
When Benjamin Hart arrived at the Christian Coalition in 1992, he seemed an ideal fit for the upstart religious group, which was just beginning to flex its political muscle. With an almost perfect conservative background (co-founder of the Dartmouth Review, director of lectures and seminars at the Heritage Foundation, and executive director of Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance), Hart became Reed’s close confidant in the expansion of the coalition. And donations rose from $5.3 million in 1991 to $21.2 million in 1994.
Although technically an outside contractor, Hart quickly became known as Reed’s No. 2 man. “Any conflict that came up with Hart was going to go Hart’s way,” says one person who worked closely with Reed, “so we had to bend over backwards to make him happy.” Not only did Reed defer direct mail decisions to Hart, he also allowed Hart to coordinate the group’s telemarketing projects, print its voter guides, and oversee the bidding on its million-piece direct mail packages. “Things were handled loosely from the beginning,” says a coalition employee. “[But] Hart was always bringing money in. As long as he was bringing money in, everyone was happy.”
21 From “Hart Ache: Did Ralph Reed’s friend try to rip off the Christian Coalition?” by Sheryl Henderson:
Hart’s problems at the coalition began in the fall of 1995, when the coalition’s marketing director, Donald Black, discovered that Hart’s firm, Hart Conover, actually owned two of the vendors it was using to handle the coalition’s mailings: Universal Lists (which rented mailing lists to the coalition) and Federal Printing & Mailing (which handled the group’s direct mail solicitations). In a memo to coalition CFO Judy Liebert, Black wrote, “This ‘closed circle’ of business provides Hart Conover with an extraordinary income stream. It doesn’t give us the benefit of a competitive bidding environment. Consequently, our ‘above the line’ cost for direct mail fundraising is astronomical (somewhere in the 50 to 70 percent bracket). Even if this relationship is legally justifiable, it reflects an appearance of impropriety.”
22 From “Hart Ache: Did Ralph Reed’s friend try to rip off the Christian Coalition?” by Sheryl Henderson:
According to a memo Liebert wrote to the Christian Coalition board, when she approached Reed with this information in the fall of 1995, he said he knew Hart owned the firms and assured her that Hart had sought out competitive bids. However, when Liebert asked Hart for copies of the bids, he refused to supply them.
23 From “Hart Ache: Did Ralph Reed’s friend try to rip off the Christian Coalition?” by Sheryl Henderson:
Then in late May, Liebert approached a coalition board member with her concerns about Hart and informed him that she had spoken with a U.S. attorney in order to determine whether the apparent markups might be unethical or even criminal. A special board meeting was called, at which Liebert presented evidence suggesting Hart had been ripping off the coalition. Liebert’s case, fleshed out in her memo, was that Federal Printing “appeared to be, for all practical purposes, a ‘paper’ company that Hart Conover used for contracting out our printing and through which we were billed for printing and mailing services. Federal Printing apparently did no actual printing and was co-located with Hart Conover and Universal Lists in the same small suite of offices.” Overall, Liebert estimated, Hart may have bagged the coalition for a total of “a million or more dollars” since 1994.
The coalition’s leadership sprang into action — but not against Hart. On May 30, two days after the board meeting, a coalition security guard showed up at Liebert’s house with a sharply worded letter from board member Richard Weinhold. The letter stated that Liebert’s documents were “insufficient” to support her claim of improper billing, reprimanded her for contacting outside authorities, and informed her that she was suspended with pay “effective immediately.” She was asked to turn over any coalition property — including “files, documents, and all building keys” — immediately. After a six-month “vacation,” Liebert was officially fired in December.
24 From “Hart Ache: Did Ralph Reed’s friend try to rip off the Christian Coalition?” by Sheryl Henderson:
Hart’s fate has been less clear. Following Liebert’s accusations, the coalition hired the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand to undertake a specific audit of Hart’s operation — but both he and the coalition have insisted on keeping its results secret. Hart’s lawyer, Steven Chameides, would only say that “the audit found nothing more serious than some keypunch and arithmetic errors in billing.” As a result, Hart Conover agreed on a “payment adjustment” with the coalition in December, the specific terms of which Chameides and the coalition have also refused to disclose — except to describe the payment as “minor.”
In April, Reed announced he would leave the coalition to open a political consulting firm. Hart, meanwhile, faces allegations of unethical billing practices and of marking up the coalition’s invoices. As a result, he has been targeted by federal investigators for possible mail fraud.
Widely regarded as instrumental in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and the White House in 2000-and a vehement backer of anti-choice legislation-the conservative lobby group founded in 1989 by televangelist Pat Robertson is but a shadow of its former self. According to its 2004 tax return, the most recent available, the group’s annual revenue has shrunk twentyfold, from a peak of $26 million in 1996 to 1.3 million. It reported a negative net worth of $2.3 million, and has faced at least a dozen lawsuits since 2001 from landlords, lawyers and other creditors trying to collect unpaid bills.
Now its state chapters are starting to abandon the sinking mother ship. The Iowa chapter disassociated itself from the national organization in March and the Maryland chapter followed suit in April. The Iowa chapter described the Coalition’s national leadership as “mired with dissent and distrust,” “riddled with lawsuits and unpaid bills” and “more interested in ‘looking good’ than ‘being good.'”
After Reed’s departure, the coalition became enmeshed in a whole new series of legal problems. In 2001, 10 African American employees filed a racial-discrimination lawsuit alleging that they were forced to enter the office by the back door and at lunch in a segregated area. The suit was settled for about $300,000, according to several published reports.
That same year, Pat Robertson resigned from the Coalition, saying he had decided to get out of politics. He was succeeded as president by Roberta Combs, head of Robertson’s South Carolina campaign, who closed the Washington office and now runs the organization from a small office in Charleston.
“Once Powerful Christian Coalition Teeters on Insolvency” by Bill Sizemore:
The Christian Coalition, the onetime powerhouse of the religious right founded by Pat Robertson, is struggling to stay afloat.
The group’s annual revenue has shrunk to one- twentieth of what it was a decade ago – from a peak of $26 million in 1996 to $1.3 million in 2004 – and it has left a trail of unpaid bills from Texas to Virginia. Among the creditors who have sued the coalition for nonpayment are landlords, direct-mail companies, lawyers and at least one former employee seeking back pay.
According to its website, http://www.censtrat.com, Century Strategies is “a full-service firm providing Strategic Business Development Assistance, Organizational Development, Direct Mail and Voter Contact Services, Fundraising Management, Research and Analysis, Creative Media Planning, Public and Media Relations, and List Management and Procurement.” The firm has two offices–one in Atlanta and another in Washington–it has 10 employees, and it has, according to a spokeswoman, “around” two dozen clients. As “one of the nation’s leading public affairs and public relations firms,” i.e., not a lobbying firm, Century Strategies does not have to disclose its clients or its fees. But the names of some of those clients have surfaced over the years.
While the Abramoff scandals are plenty damning on their own, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has uncovered a pattern of similar instances in which Reed “tapped into his vast network of conservative religious activists” to do the bidding of big-money clients. In one example from 1998 Reed concocted the Alliance of Christian Ministries in China, a group of missionary organizations supporting favorable trade status for China purportedly to benefit efforts to spread the Gospel there. But the alliance turned out to be an empty shell, serving the interests of Reed clients, including Boeing, which hoped to sell $120 billion worth of airplanes to China. Like his efforts on behalf of the Indian casinos, Reed’s pro-China lobbying was not just dishonest but hypocritical to boot. Just as he often preached against the “nationwide scourge” of gambling, Reed had spoken out consistently against favorable trade status for China. “We believe that human and civil rights and religious freedom and liberty should be at the center of our foreign policy,” he piously declared at a 1997 Christian Coalition press conference, just one year before setting up the phony alliance. “We believe that if the United States makes the center of its foreign policy profits rather than people, and money rather than human rights, then we will have lost our soul as a nation.”
From “Ralph Reed’s Other Cheek” by Peter Stone:
Reed also helped a powerful coalition of business groups, including Boeing and the Business Roundtable, to convince Congress to normalize trade relations with China — over the objections of many conservatives, who criticize China’s dismal record on religious freedom. Brian Lunde, a public relations executive who worked with Reed on the China issue in 2000, recalls that Reed was instrumental in persuading conservative members of Congress to support permanent normal trade relations with China, and that he helped write ads aimed at conservatives arguing that a closer economic relationship with China could improve human rights
Among Reed’s clients is Channel One, a company that provides television equipment to schools in exchange for airing 10 minutes of news and 2 minutes of commercials daily. Prominent conservatives have blasted the company for exposing children to junk-food ads and explicit movie promos. In response, Channel One turned to Reed, who in 2002 helped the company deflect a proposed Texas Board of Education resolution that would have urged schools to jettison Channel One. Reed, who points out that Channel One also runs ads promoting abstinence and anti-alcohol messages, phoned several board members and dissuaded them from voting for the resolution, much to the dismay of conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, a longtime critic of Channel One. “I’m surprised that any conservative would work for it,” Schlafly said. “They’re all advertising things that I wouldn’t want my children to buy.”
29 From “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists” by Rebecca Clarren:
The whir of hundreds of sewing machines reverberates in the thick, dusty air at the RIFU garment factory. Inside this large warehouse, behind a guarded metal fence, 300 employees-most of them Chinese women-cut, sew, iron and fold blouses with such efficiency and focus that they seem like machinery themselves. From piles of orange and pink fabric, the workers will produce over 15,000 garments today for J. Jill, Elie Tahari and Ann Taylor. These name brand companies don’t own the factory; like Liz Claiborne, The Gap, Ralph Lauren and others, they subcontract production to factories like this, scattered around the tiny Micronesian island of Saipan.
Counters above the sewing machines indicate how many pieces the women have completed. According to workers, if they can’t finish a set quota of garments in a day, they may have to stay later and work for free, or they won’t be eligible for future overtime opportunities-which they desperately need.
Coming from rural villages and the big city slums of poor Asian countries, these garment workers began their sojourn in the Marianas with a huge financial deficit, having paid recruiters as much as $7,000 to obtain a one-year contract job (renewable at the employer’s discretion). Many of them borrow the money-a small fortune in China, where most are recruited-from lenders who charge as much as 20 percent interest.
In a situation akin to indentured servitude, workers cannot earn back their recruitment fee and pay annual company supplied housing and food expenses of about $2,100 without working tremendous hours of overtime. Before being able to save her first dollar, a worker who owes, say, $5,000 to her recruiter has to work nearly 2,500 hours at Saipan’s current minimum wage-which equals six more 40-hour workweeks than exist in a year.
And that’s assuming she gets paid. Increasingly, workers are filing formal complaints that they have not received their wages, with some women going without paychecks for over five months. Still, workers at RIFU and other Saipan garment factories labor six days a week, sometimes up to 20 hours a day.
The American consumers who wear the clothes these women produce probably have never heard of Saipan or the 13 other islands that comprise the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Located just north of the U.S. territory of Guam, the islands were seized from the Japanese by U.S. military forces during World War II and served as the base for sending atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war, the islands became a United Nations territory, administered by the United States.
Then, in 1975, the islands’ indigenous population of subsistence farmers and fishermen voted to become a commonwealth of the United States-a legal designation that made them U.S. citizens and subject to most U.S. laws. There were two critical exceptions, however: The U.S. agreed to exempt the islands from the minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (allowing the islands to set their own lower minimum wage, currently $3.05, compared to $5.15 in the U.S.) and from most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This has allowed garment manufacturers to import thousands of foreign contract guest workers who, ironically, stitch onto the garments they make the labels “Made in Saipan (USA),” Made in Northern Marianas (USA)” or simply “Made in USA.”
Despite the squalid living conditions, the young guest workers want to stay at their jobs long enough to make their sacrifices worthwhile. But if they happen to get pregnant while working in Saipan, they’re faced with a new nightmare. According to a 1998 investigation by the Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs, a number of Chinese garment workers reported that if they became pregnant, they were “forced to return to China to have an abortion or forced to have an illegal abortion” in the Marianas.
These days, pregnancy is still highly problematic for guest workers. Many believe that if they get pregnant their employers will not renew their contracts for another year. That’s essentially what happened to Chen Xiaoyan, the former RIFU worker. Two years ago, she became pregnant while visiting her boyfriend back in China. RIFU, although ostensibly responsible for workers’ medical care, told her they would not renew her contract unless she provided them an affidavit saying she would pay for all pregnancy-related medical expenses. When she refused, Chen was fired.
With few economic options, pregnant workers often feel they have no choice but to visit one of Saipan’s underground abortion providers. At least four acupuncture clinics offer pills to induce abortions, according to a local translator and former garment worker.
“I’ve driven four Chinese women to get abortions here,” he says, pointing to an inconspicuous cement building with red Chinese lettering and an English sign that reads “Acupuncture, Herbs, Massage Oils.” “I see girls whose bleeding did not stop, and on two incidents I had to take the girls to the hospital.”
Teeming with strip clubs and massage parlors, the red-light district of Saipan has a magnetic draw for Asian businessmen, and for U.S. Navy sailors on three-day furloughs from duty stations in the Pacific and beyond. “Every time a ship arrives, they want women,” says a local taxi driver. “They say, ‘I want a nice fuck tonight. Give me a nice lady.'”
There are no reliable statistics, but an estimated 90 percent of the island’s prostitutes are former Chinese garment workers, who sell sexual favors for about $50 a night. Women recruited to work in Saipan as waitresses, or in other legitimate jobs, often end up being forced to become strippers or prostitutes, according to Timothy Riera, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Honolulu office.
“I thought I was coming to work as a dancer,” says a young Filipina woman, her voice barely a whisper as she speaks behind a curtain of her hair. “I was so surprised on the first night in the club when they told me I had to strip. The only way to get tips was by picking up the money with your breasts and your vagina. And there was a VIP room in the back where people could have sex.”
The guest worker system inherently denies rights to foreign employees, and this, paired with a lack of government intervention, creates a “breeding ground for slavery,” says Jolene Smith, executive director of Free the Slaves and an expert on human trafficking.
30 From “Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists” by Rebecca Clarren:
Beginning in 1995 and continuing to the present day, at least 29 different bills-some to raise the minimum wage, some to close off the immigration exemption, and some to deny use of the “Made in USA” label on products of the CNMI-were introduced by Sens. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and David Bonier (D-Mich.). Twice-in 1995 and again in 2000-the U.S. Senate voted unanimously for Murkowski’s wage and immigration reforms only to have the bills die in the House Resources Committee.
31 From “Another Stumble for Ralph Reed’s Beleaguered Campaign” by Thomas B. Edsall:
In August 1999, political organizer Ralph Reed’s firm sent out a mailer to Alabama conservative Christians asking them to call then-Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.) and tell him to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands subject to federal wage and worker safety laws.
Now those seven-year-old words are coming back to haunt Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and a candidate for the Republican nomination to be Georgia’s lieutenant governor.
“The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands,” the mailer from Reed’s firm said. The Chinese workers, it added, “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ” while on the islands, and many “are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.”
From “Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches” by Bill Moyers:
Corrupt local officials hired the firm of infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff — for more than four million dollars — to try to stop the reforms proposed back in Washington. Abramoff, in turn, hired Ralph Reed and his political direct mail company, Millennium Marketing, to conduct a phony grass roots campaign urging Alabama Christians to write their local congressman to oppose the reforms.
Of course, Reed didn’t tell those Christians he was being paid to help keep running sweatshops that exploited women. Instead, he told them the reforms were a trick orchestrated by the left and organized labor. Limits on Chinese workers would keep them from being “exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” His company explained it was just trying to encourage “grass roots citizens to promote the propagation of the Gospel” and that many of the workers were “converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.”
32 From “Microsoft Hires Bush Adviser Ralph Reed To Lobby Bush” by Joel Brinkley:
The Microsoft Corporation has quietly hired Ralph Reed, a senior consultant to Gov. George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, to lobby Mr. Bush in opposition to the government’s antitrust case against the software giant.
Microsoft’s aim, the company says, is to curry favor with the apparent Republican presidential nominee, hoping he will speak out against the government’s case — and, perhaps, take a softer approach toward the company if he is elected president.
Today, Mr. Reed declined to talk about his company’s contract with Microsoft, saying, “We have a policy of not discussing our clients.” Another executive of his company, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Microsoft had hired Century Strategies to lobby other political candidates as well.
One obvious goal, while the antitrust case drags through a year or more of appeals, is to convince the next president, Congress and the public that the case should be abandoned. But the current campaign by Mr. Reed’s company is much more closely aimed at the Bush campaign.
A series of e-mail messages from John Pudner, senior project manager for Century Strategies, laid out a detailed plan by Mr. Reed’s staff and his contractors to recruit senior Bush supporters from around the country in an effort to undermine the government’s suit.
The Bush supporters — and the e-mail showed that Mr. Pudner is screening them carefully to make sure they are influential within the campaign — are being asked to write letters to Mr. Bush saying they believe the government’s case is misguided, and that the American people oppose it.
Mr. Pudner’s e-mail messages instruct “state operatives” of the firm to send him biographical information about Bush supporters who could help influence the Bush campaign.
Only after he has verified that the supporters are sufficiently influential are the regional lobbyists, working on contract for Century Strategies, authorized to solicit more letters.
He said that the company intended to gather the letters through the end of this month. “We will reject letters that are not from someone” the company counts as influential, he wrote.
33 From “Microsoft Hires Bush Adviser Ralph Reed To Lobby Bush” by Joel Brinkley:
The e-mails were made available to The New York Times by a recipient who did not agree with the goals of the campaign. One lobbyist said Century Strategies was offering the regional contractors $300 a letter — a high price for this sort of work.
From “Microsoft Consultant Ralph Reed Hands Embarrassment To Client Bush” by Mark Shields:
According to the Reed company’s internal documents, the mission was to identify and recruit prominent Bush supporters to personally write and lobby Bush to back Microsoft, the losing defendant in an antitrust suit brought by the Justice Department. It’s not a bad deal if you’re Reed. First, you get paid to develop the no-holds-barred — and winning — South Carolina primary campaign strategy for Bush against Sen. John McCain, which included phone banks branding McCain as untrustworthy on abortion and for being a little too cozy with gays. And second, Microsoft compensates you handsomely for conducting a secret lobbying campaign with your own candidate. Double dipping for a double agent.
When this conflict of interest was exposed and Reed was embarrassed by The New York Times, the former Christian Coalition director’s consulting company said in a statement, “We should have been more sensitive to possible misperceptions, and it is an error that we regret.”
Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClelland reported that neither Bush nor anyone else in his campaign had been lobbied on Microsoft by Reed or any of his company employees (which, of course, was not the company’s stated mission) and that Reed would remain with the campaign, adding, “The matter is closed.” McClelland told me: Reed’s Microsoft contract “was an unpleasant surprise for us.”
That Ralph Reed was not immediately dropped like a bad habit for compromising the campaign of the presidential candidate by whom he was paid is further evidence of the moral numbness that has polluted our money-besotted politics. Can anyone seriously imagine a Robert Kennedy showing mercy to a “fifth columnist” on his campaign who was being overcompensated to lobby RFK’s position on an issue? Not for a New York minute would such an individual have been stomached. Where is the moral outrage of the Reformer with Results?
Eventually, in 2006, Microsoft would drop Reed’s firm as a lobbyist.
From “Microsoft Cuts Ties to Lobbyist” by the Associated Press:
The Microsoft Corporation said on Friday that it had severed ties with Ralph Reed, a Republican lobbyist and former leader of the Christian Coalition who is running for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
“Ralph Reed is no longer on retainer with Microsoft,” said a company spokeswoman, Ginny Terzano.
The move came a month after liberals, upset that Microsoft had withdrawn its support for a gay rights bill here, urged the company to stop using Mr. Reed as a political consultant.
34 From “Associates of Bush Aide Say He Helped Win Contract” by Richard L. Berke:
Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, recommended the Republican strategist Ralph Reed to the Enron Corporation for a lucrative consulting contract as Mr. Bush was weighing whether to run for president, close associates of Mr. Rove say.
The Rove associates say the recommendation, which Enron accepted, was intended to keep Mr. Reed’s allegiance to the Bush campaign without putting him on the Bush payroll. Mr. Bush, they say, was then developing his “compassionate conservativism” message and did not want to be linked too closely to Mr. Reed, who had just stepped down as executive director of the Christian Coalition, an organization of committed religious conservatives.
At the same time, they say, the contract discouraged Mr. Reed, a prominent operative who was being courted by several other campaigns, from backing anyone other than Mr. Bush.
Enron paid Mr. Reed $10,000 to $20,000 a month, the amount varying by year and the particular work, people familiar with the arrangement say. He was hired in September 1997 and worked intermittently for Enron until the company collapsed.
35 From “Associates of Bush Aide Say He Helped Win Contract” by Richard L. Berke:
In interviews today, both Mr. Rove and Mr. Reed said the contract with Enron had had nothing to do with the Bush campaign. But Mr. Rove said he had praised Mr. Reed’s qualifications in a conversation about the job with an Enron lobbyist in Texas.
“I think I talked to someone before Ralph got hired,” Mr. Rove said. “But I may have talked to him afterward.”
“I’m a big fan of Ralph’s,” Mr. Rove said, “so I’m constantly saying positive things.”
Mr. Reed said he had been hired mostly to help with an Enron campaign in Pennsylvania to win a central role in the state’s electricity market, which was being restructured. He said he had had no idea that Mr. Rove or anyone else had spoken on his behalf.
Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, recommended the Republican strategist Ralph Reed to the Enron
Corporation for a lucrative consulting contract as Mr. Bush was weighing whether to run for president, close associates of Mr. Rove say.
But a friend of Mr. Bush recalled a discussion in July 1997 in which Mr. Rove took credit for arranging an Enron job for Mr. Reed. “Karl told me explicitly of his concerns to take care of Ralph,” this person said. “It was important for Karl’s power position to be the guy who put this together for Ralph. And Bush wanted Ralph available to him during the presidential campaign.”
Mr. Rove was concerned, this person also said, that Mr. Reed not have a prominent public role in the campaign because “Ralph was so
evangelical and hard right, and Karl thought it sent the wrong signal.” Another Republican said: “It was basically accepted that Enron took care of Ralph. It’s a smart way to cut campaign costs and tie people up” so they do not work for other candidates.
36 From “Associates of Bush Aide Say He Helped Win Contract” by Richard L. Berke:
“If Karl Rove was partly responsible for him getting the job at Enron, it illustrates the close relations between the Bush political world and Enron,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican who is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “If it was done for the avowed reason to keep Reed satisfied and out of someone else’s political camp, it illustrates what everyone in the Republican world has known for years: Enron has been an important source of political power in the party.”
Mr. Potter said Mr. Reed’s hiring could have been a violation of federal election law if it turned out that “it was a backdoor way of getting him extra compensation for the time he was spending on Bush activity.”
37 From “Associates of Bush Aide Say He Helped Win Contract” by Richard L. Berke:
Around the time that Mr. Reed worked out his deal with Enron, he made clear to the Bush team that he was supporting Mr. Bush for president. Mr. Reed once recalled that at a meeting in 1997, he told Mr. Bush, then the governor of Texas: “I hope you go. I hope you run. And if you run, I’ll do everything I can to help get you elected.”
From then on, Mr. Reed was an unpaid consultant to the Bush organization, though after the race was well under way his firm was paid by the campaign for direct mail and phone banks.
On February 2, 2000, John McCain arrived in South Carolina red-hot, a 19-point-upset victor in New Hampshire over George Bush. In the final days there, some of Bush’s aides had pressed him to turn aggressively negative. Bush had resisted. His political guru, Karl Rove, overconfident for too long, had agreed.
Now, in South Carolina, Bush had lost close to a 50-point lead. With just 17 days before the vote, his back was firmly against the wall.
“Desperate people do desperate things,” Warren Rudman, the 74-year-old former New Hampshire senator and one of McCain’s national chairmen, told me. “When you look at a lot of campaigns, not just that one, when front-runners suddenly fall behind, their campaign consultants just go off the deep end…People going down for the third time, they grab on for anything they can get ahold of, and if it happens to be something nasty, rotten, and false, that doesn’t make much difference.”
At a meeting of Bush’s top staff that first day, the signal went out “to take the gloves off,” Time magazine reported at the time.
In 2000, George W. Bush was the clear choice of the state’s bosses-known as “the Campbell machine,” after Carroll Campbell, governor from 1987 to ’95 and still popular. It could as easily have been “the Atwater mafia,” since Atwater and Campbell, as a team and starting virtually from scratch, had all but achieved one-party rule for the G.O.P. in South Carolina.
Besides Campbell himself, the Bush team was chockablock with Atwater debtors: Senator Strom Thurmond, who owed him his tough 1978 re-election; local strategist Warren Tompkins, who had been friends with him since the fourth grade; and communications czar Tucker Eskew, who’d apprenticed under him. From the religious right there was Robertson, who’d gone to Atwater’s hospital bedside shortly before his death in 1991 to try to clear up any bitterness left by the ’88 race. (He believed Atwater had been behind the leak of the sex scandal involving fellow TV preacher Jimmy Swaggart; it broke days before the South Carolina vote and damaged Robertson by association.) And there was Coalition executive vice president Roberta Combs, an old South Carolina pal, and Reed, who used to say that all he ever really wanted to be was a “Christian Lee Atwater.” In 1997, Reed left the Coalition for Enron. (It’s been alleged that Rove arranged it, to keep him loyal to Bush; both Reed and Rove deny this.) He then set up his own political-and-corporate-consulting firm in Atlanta, which in 2000 had a multi-million-dollar contract to mobilize voters for the G.O.P. (Reed declined repeated requests to be interviewed.)
“I always knew that if Bush got in trouble he’d push the doomsday button,” a respected Washington figure with solid ties to the religious right told me, asking that his name not be used. He said he’d been told the strategy called for an “underground campaign” by all the heavyweight groups of the Republican and Christian right, a campaign that would be modeled on Ralph Reed’s infamous, Atwater-like boast about his Christian Coalition work: “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until Election Night.” Luckily for Bush, the source said, the showdown was in South Carolina, where the Christian Coalition had its greatest strength. They’d work through word of mouth in the evangelical community, and it’d never be picked up by the media. “Reed had pledged to Rove that he could deliver. Ultimately, it was all about power. They were all attaching their fates to Bush.”
Nancy Snow drove all night from New Hampshire to volunteer in McCain’s office in her old hometown of Greenville. Then an assistant professor of political science at New England College (she’s now at Cal State Fullerton), Snow had invited John and Cindy McCain to speak at her school and was sold.
“We were starting to get wind that this was going to be a very different campaign,” she said from her parents’ home in Birmingham, Alabama. “There was this sense that everything was turning negative. People were walking into the office with copies of this particular e-mail and asking us about it…It was so revolting.”
The “revolting” e-mail-alleging that “McCain chose to sire children without marriage”-was from Richard Hand, a professor of the Bible at Greenville’s Christian-fundamentalist Bob Jones University, Bush’s very first campaign stop, on February 2.
“This whole thing, it was orchestrated by Rove, it was all Bush’s deal.… It was pretty rank,” said Fletcher, “and they had an institution that was peddling all that shit, and it was a university, Bob Jones University. I’m telling you, if there was a campaign headquarters in South Carolina, there it was. Hand was part of it, but Hand wasn’t the only one.”
Mark Carman, who owns the Capitol City News & Maps store, told me of going to a candidates’ debate in Columbia, “and when we got back to our car, there was a flyer under the windshield wiper saying something about McCain having a Negro child. My wife is African-American-she just tore it up.”
Kevin Geddings, a prominent South Carolina Democratic consultant now based in North Carolina, told me someone had faxed him “a kind of cheesy Kinko’s pamphlet” with a photograph of the McCain family. “It was just so obvious,” he said. “It was one of the few shots you’ve ever seen of the McCains that so prominently featured that particular girl.”
McCain’s closest aides were so stunned by the angle of the attack that at first they tried to shield him from it. “We expected one thing, and it was quite the opposite,” said [deputy campaign manager Roy Fletcher], who personally saw the “Negro child” flyers “all over every car” at the debate. “We figured they would go after him on some sort of philandering issue. McCain had pretty well knocked all that down [by admitting in his 1999 autobiography that, at some point after his five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison, he’d been unfaithful to his first wife], but I always figured that would sort of be the underground thing there. But, man, the child thing…I’ve seen the worst form of racist sons of bitches in the world in David Duke, but this was unbelievable.”
The girl in question is Bridget. In 1991, when Cindy McCain was on a relief mission to Bangladesh, she was asked by one of Mother Teresa’s nuns to help a young orphan with a cleft palate. Flying her to the U.S. for surgery, Cindy realized she couldn’t give her up. At the Phoenix airport, she broke it to her husband, and they eventually adopted the child. But few people knew that story. In the words of McCain’s national campaign manager, Rick Davis, a smear doesn’t have “to be true to be effective.”
[Max] Heller was about to turn 85 when I met him. Stately and gracious, he told me how he had fled Austria in 1938 and that he and his wife had lost 90 relatives in the Holocaust. By 1946, he had started his own clothing business in Greenville.
“Here’s a guy,” [Mark Shields, Heller’s campaign manager] told me, “who had been enormously popular, enormously successful as mayor, but beyond that he had just been the ultimate employer. When he sold his factory, he spent all his time making sure that all his employees were placed…I was doing several other races that year, [but] there was nothing that engaged both my heart and my spirit as much as Max.”
His opponent was Carroll Campbell, a young state senator who’d earlier led an anti-busing march but whose blow-dried looks reminded Atwater of Robert Redford in The Candidate. Although his main task that year was getting Strom Thurmond re-elected, Atwater was there as an informal adviser; an ex-partner, Sam Dawson (who in the 90s served as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee), was the campaign manager. Tompkins was also involved.
Early on, Campbell commissioned a poll (one that remained secret for years): Are you more or less likely to vote for, among other choices, “a native South Carolinian” or “a Jewish immigrant”? And which characteristics best describe the two candidates: “a. Honest; b. A Christian man; c. Concern for the people; d. A hard worker; e. Experienced in Government; f. Jewish.”
“Max started to pick it up at plant gates as he was campaigning,” Shields recalled. “?’Gee, Max, I didn’t know you didn’t believe in Jesus.’ That was the tip-off. The best we could reconstruct, it was push-polling.”
When people find out that I worked for Ralph Reed, during the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, they always ask the same thing: was it true that Ralph told voters that Senator John McCain fathered a black child? My answer is always the same thing: “How would I know? I was in a Greenville hotel room giving Ari Fleischer a blow job. Now, oral sex with anyone, particularly the aforementioned former George W. Bush White House press secretary is typically not the sort of physical activity one brags about. Or broadcasts. Or, for that matter, inserts into the opening pages of her first book. In fact, some girls are loathe to admit to hovering over a man’s shaft for any extended period of time. An activity, from an aerial view, looks like you’re bobbing for apples…and losing.
So, why then would I accept one-eyed flesh monster in my mouth during a road trip through the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary, with the former director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed? Because back in those days I was a fearless, frisky, and tenacious twenty-six year old press tart with starry eyes, a short skirt, and a passion for civics. To be able to say “I’m with the such-and-such campaign,” or “I worked with Senator so-and-so” is to us political junkies what I’m With The Band is to Pamela Des Barres.
My remarkable encounter with Ari, in that unremarkable hotel room perfectly summed up my groupie like relationship to politics at that time. I wanted it, I worshipped it, and I went for it.
The 2000 South Carolina Republican primary would provide the backdrop for my third meeting with Ari. Tensions were running high in the two horse race between Bush and United States Senator John McCain. The primary war in the South had become civil. And when you pit brother against brother, things can get downright ugly. Rumors had begun to circulate about McCain’s adopted child, suggesting that the kid was conceived a la Strom Thrumond style, with a black woman. No one is sure where the rumors came from, and more than once I’ve had to remind people that no, I don’t know if it was Ralph who had planted the seed, because at the time I was too busy helping Ari Fleischer spread his seed.
When he wasn’t smiling and shaking hands, Ralph was taking emails and calls from Karl Rove. And I’d be taking calls from Ari. Turns out we were all staying at the same hotel. By further coincidence, Ari’s room was right next to Ralph’s. Come knock on my door when you get back, said Ari. As soon as I was sure that Ralph and his wife were in their room for the night, I tapped on Ari’s door. I had had a cocktail, or maybe three? Sometimes it’s the only way to wind down after a long day on the campaign trail. Ari and I started kissing, and I think I felt giddy. Giddy about the primary race, and high on the inappropriateness of the moment. I will say this: I was not keen on getting that room-a-rockin’ as I did not want Ralph or his wife to come-a-knockin’.
As much as I knew politics could be a rough and tumble business, Ralph and his wife were right next door, and, well, Ralph had always been so good to me. Even though I didn’t share his beliefs, I respected him, as an upholder of family values, as a brilliant speaker and academic, and as a boss I trusted to take my career where it needed to go. Since audible sex was clearly out of the question, I immediately headed south and took care of business. With each bob of my head, I considered my future options. I won’t sleep over, I said to myself, as my head descended. Okay, I will sleep over, but I’ll leave before Ari wakes up, I said on the ascent. But I will leave, while Ari is asleep , I promised, on a more rapid decline. When it was clear that my job was done, if you know what I mean, and I think you know what I mean, I fell asleep and awoke as early as I’ve ever gotten up, around 5:30 am, only to find Ari already up out of bed scanning the day’s newspapers to prepare himself and his candidate, the future president of the United States, for the day.
45 From January 1st of this year:
Word that Ralph Reed plans to seek the lieutenant governorship of Georgia signals what friends say is the former Christian Coalition executive director’s ultimate ambition — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
A Bush White House favorite, Mr. Reed would have to give up his lucrative campaign-consulting business in order to run for a relatively minor office in his home state.
Associates say Mr. Reed, 43, whose picture first appeared on the cover of Time magazine nearly 10 years ago, hopes to use the lieutenant governor’s job to position himself to run for Georgia governor. Friends also say the Atlanta-based consultant’s long-held ambition is ultimately to win for himself the Republican presidential nomination that, as a campaign adviser, he has helped others to seek.
“First, he’s got to get his foot in the door” of electoral politics, a Republican friend of Mr. Reed’s confided, adding that the political calendar in Georgia dictates that “his move has to be next year.”
If Mr. Reed can win the No. 2 spot next year, by 2010 he would already have a campaign organization, a donors list, a campaign kitty and four years of statewide elected office experience.
From “The Sins of Ralph Reed” by Sean Flynn:
His own mother – his mother! – once told USA Today, “I used to tell people he was going to be either President of the United States or Al Capone.”
47 From “THE 2002 ELECTIONS: GEORGIA; Senator Cleland Loses in an Upset To Republican Emphasizing Defense” by Jeffrey Gettleman:
As in many other races, national security was a central issue. Mr. [Saxby] Chambliss, 58, went straight for the jugular, accusing his opponent — who lost two legs and his right arm during a mission in Khe Sanh, Vietnam — as soft on defense.
One of the most provocative commercials flashed pictures of Osama bin Laden and then blasted Mr. [Max] Cleland, 60, for voting against the president 11 times on domestic security.
Democrats called the bin Laden advertisements shameless. A Republican strategist, Ralph Reed, said the issue ”was not Max’s war record but his voting record.”
From “Deviously Ineffective” by Ed Kilgore:
Reed’s next move was to get himself elected Republican chairman in Georgia, just in time to get the keys to test-drive a high-tech, state-of-the-art GOP voter-targeting and mobilization system–piloted in Georgia in 2002 and deployed to marvelous effect nationally two years later–and to preside over the best Republican election year since Reconstruction.
From “Second Coming” by Joshua Green:
Nevertheless, over the next four years Reed helped do for the Georgia Republican Party something much like what he’d done for the Coalition-organizing and rebuilding it from the ground up. He was elected state party chairman in 2001, and in 2002 the Georgia Republicans won a historic upset. Sonny Perdue became the first Republican in thirty-nine gubernatorial elections to win, and a Republican congressman, Saxby Chambliss, defeated the Democratic senator Max Cleland. Georgia’s other senator, Zell Miller, is a Democrat in name only, who has already endorsed George W. Bush-so in practical terms Georgia was fully Republican. “What happened in Georgia in 2002 was a once-in-a-decade performance,” says the political analyst Charlie Cook.
Even if it had many causes (not least the tremendous appeal of the President, whose visits in behalf of Republican candidates Reed leveraged to maximum effect), this startling success testified to Reed’s enduring skill as a political strategist.
In June 1997, Ralph Reed left the Christian Coalition to open his own consulting shop, Century Strategies, just outside Atlanta. His plan was to get “pro-family” candidates elected across the country-congressmen, governors, senators, state representatives, lieutenant governors, even Georgia’s labor commissioner-and he started rounding up clients. Former associates say he was “a fantastic salesman,” promising neophyte candidates that he’d raise three times more money for them than he’d charge in fees, that he’d leverage his celebrity contacts, that he’d rake the grass roots for votes. That was the appeal, Reed’s political juice. But those same associates say he didn’t provide much beyond the salesmanship part. “He’d say, ‘We’re gonna sign up 10,000 people and make 25,000 phone calls,’ “says one, “but he knew nobody’s going to go back and count how many phone calls we actually made. That was Ralph all the way.”
Three of Century’s candidates lost their primaries (though one had dismissed the firm before voting day), and a fourth dropped out of a California race. In November, Century lost at least six more races. In an e-mail to Abramoff six days after the election, Reed noted that he’d lost Governor Fob James’s reelection bid in Alabama, Kentuckian Gex “Jay” Williams’s run for a U.S. House seat, and Gary Hofmeister’s campaign in Indiana’s Tenth Congressional District. Given the national tide, those were probably not in the cards, he wrote, but we fought like dogs.
Hofmeister, who still considers Reed a friend, doesn’t quite remember it that way. Four months before the general election, he wrote a letter to Tim Phillips, Reed’s partner at the time, wondering when the cavalry would be coming. “Even apart from my friendship with Ralph, I was rather amazed that I received no congratulatory call from Ralph after the primary nor on anything else,” he wrote. “My point is definitely not that I want to change horses…but only that as the president of the firm, I would think he should have at least a bit of contact with his clients.” After the letter, Hofmeister says now, “I pretty much got back zero.”
That was a pattern, former associates say. “We lost nearly every big-ticket race,” one says, “except for [Georgia senator Paul] Coverdell and [Alabama senator] Richard Shelby, who weren’t going to lose anyway, but we claimed them as victories. The fact is, across the board, if the races weren’t premier, Ralph simply wasn’t there.”
In the autumn of 1998, Georgians were jolted from their armchairs by television ads run by a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor with the nicely onomatopoeic name of Mitch Skandalakis. One commercial played what political writer Josh Marshall later described as “the D.W. Griffith card,” charging gross incompetence on the part of Atlanta’s predominantly black political leadership. Another featured an actor who resembled Skandalakis’s opponent, state senator Mark Taylor, shuffling down a hallway at a well-known psychiatric and drug treatment facility near Atlanta. The ads were arresting, but they backfired. Skandalakis got stomped by Taylor, while a surprisingly high turnout among African Americans helped produce a victory for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes and other Democrats running statewide.
The Skandalakis campaign’s top consultant was one of Georgia’s most famous living sons–Ralph Reed. The former executive director of the Christian Coalition had left the financially troubled organization the previous year and launched a much-ballyhooed political consulting firm based in Atlanta called Century Strategies. The 1998 election cycle was supposed to be Reed’s chance to prove that his political skills could stand on their own. But the reputation he developed wasn’t the one he had hoped for. Republicans grumbled that his dirty tactics in the Skandalakis campaign were responsible for bringing down the party’s entire state ticket. What’s more, that campaign didn’t seem to be the exception to Reed’s modus operandi, but the rule. “Most [of Reed’s clients] started out strong,” wrote Marshall after the election, “with heavy appeals on moral issues (something Reed strongly advocated), faltered in the stretch, and, finally, resorted to a blizzard of low-ball (sometimes racially tinged) tactics before stumbling toward defeat.”
With Citizens for America disbanded, and law school done, Abramoff moved to Los Angeles. He came up with the premise for “Red Scorpion” and hired Arne Olsen, a young screenwriter with no credits to his name, to write it. The Abramoffs told Olson they wanted to base the fictional African country in the film, Mombaka, directly on Angola, and the rebel leader on [ostensibly anti-communist Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi]. Olsen said he churned out a baldly propagandistic script.
Initially, the movie was set to shoot in Swaziland, but at the last minute Abramoff moved the production to Namibia, which was occupied by South Africa’s apartheid government. Congress had passed (over Reagan’s veto) the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, making it very frowned-upon, when not illegal, to do business with South Africa or its proxies. This did not seem to bother Abramoff, who planned to use South African Defense Force vehicles and equipment on the set and soldiers as extras. By 1988, when shooting started on the film, Abramoff likely had connections in the South African government.
The movie seemed like an opportunity to turn a buck – if not win any awards. “There’s some fish for eating and some fish for buying and selling,” Glickenhaus said. “This was a fish for buying and selling.” In typical Hollywood tradition, Glickenhaus threw a party for the film at Cannes, his feelings about its quality notwithstanding. The Abramoff brothers came, but, he said, they “looked totally out of place.”
The actor Carmen Argenziano, who played the villainous Cuban colonel, said he knew that many of the men playing Russian and Cuban soldiers were actual SADF soldiers. There were also rumors going around the set that some of the funding for the film, not just props and extras, was coming from South Africa.
In the late 1980s, some conservatives in Washington saw P.W. Botha’s apartheid government in Pretoria as the last bulwark against communism in Africa. Certain Reagan domestiques had even gone to work for it. “The South African government was the only one that was, shall we say, anti-communist,” said Stuart Spencer, who’d help run Reagan’s 1980 and ’84 campaigns and later became a lobbyist for Pretoria.
Abramoff seems to have shared the sentiment. In 1986, he founded the International Freedom Foundation, whose stated goal was “to foster individual freedom throughout the world by engaging in activities which promote the development of free and open societies based on the principles of free enterprise.” More specifically, among the IFF’s aims were to oppose the Anti-Apartheid Act and other sanctions and to urge greater support in Washington for Pretoria and less support for the African National Congress, the party that would come to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela. At its height, around the time “Red Scorpion” was released, the IFF employed about 30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels. Churning out reports and presentations (for one such presentation on the Contras, it borrowed the slide show that North had used to raise money for his arms-deal network, according to Pandin), the IFF attracted notable members such as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.
The IFF, however, could not claim impartiality on the subject. It was, in fact, clandestinely funded by the SADF’s military intelligence arm, according to former U.S. officials, ANC documents, and reports published in U.S. and U.K. According to a 1995 Newsday report, the IFF received up to $1.5 million a year from the SADF from 1986 through 1992, as a part of Operation Babushka, a smear campaign meant to discredit Mandela and the ANC by portraying them as allied with communist regimes. An SADF intelligence chief also told the Newsday reporters that the SADF helped fund “Red Scorpion.”
“We knew that the IFF was funded by the South African government,” Herman Cohen, who ran Africa operations for the National Security Council, told Salon. “It was one of a number of front organizations.”
The attempt to block Namibian independence through a false chemical weapons scare was given an excellent investigation by David Aronson and David Kamp in “Fooled on the Hill: How some die-hard Cold Warriors and a Belgian con artist tried to change U.S. policy in Africa”; I go through some of the threads of the IFF and Jack Abramoff in “Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and a Tea Party Leader”.
“Can you smell money?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff wrote.
It was December 2001, and he was a kingpin of Republican Washington, one of the city’s richest and best-connected lobbyists. His former personal assistant had gone to work for Karl Rove, the new president’s top political adviser; he was close friends with the powerful Republican congressman from Texas, Tom DeLay, a relationship most of his competitors would kill to boast of. He was making millions on fees of up to $750 per hour; he was the proprietor of two city restaurants; and he was even a man of good works — a charitable giver and the founder of a private religious school in the Maryland suburbs. Dressed in expensive suits, he moved around the capital in a BMW outfitted with a computer screen, often headed to one of the countless fund-raisers he gave for Republican congressmen and senators at Redskins and Orioles and Wizards games in his private sky boxes. Jack Abramoff was a man in full.
In Beltway lobbying, as elsewhere, diversification is the key to success. It is essential for a lobbyist like Abramoff–who boasts of his passion for ideology–to stretch his conservative arguments over as wide a variety of clients as possible. Channel One, the for-profit TV channel that pumps commercial-laden programming into public school classrooms, hired both Reed and Abramoff in the late 1990s to defend it against conservative criticism. Abramoff dismissed the channel’s right-wing opponents for pursuing “an anti-free-market, anticommercial agenda.” The textile industry in the Marianas islands, a U.S. protectorate, hired Abramoff when congressional Democrats tried to impose U.S. labor regulations on its sweatshops, where low-wage workers imported from China and the Philippines produced garments marked “Made in the USA.” Abramoff arranged trips to the islands, where there was also a nice golf course. Among other congressional Republicans and Democrats, DeLay toured the sweatshops and pronounced the islands “a perfect Petri dish of capitalism.” Before 9/11, Abramoff lobbied for the dictatorships in Pakistan and Malaysia. After 9/11, according to National Journal, he signed up as lobbyist for the General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions, a consortium of banks that operate according to sharia, or Islamic law.
From “Washington’s Invisible Man” by David Margolick:
Abramoff quickly brought in clients such as the government of Pakistan and, most important, the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory in the Pacific whose exemption from certain American labor laws-factories there could pay their workers a pittance but still label their products “Made in the U.S.A.”-was for Abramoff a classic case of free enterprise at work.
After (or at the same time when) several Tribes hired Abramoff as their federal lobbyist, Abramoff urged some of them to hire Scanlon to provide grassroots support. Abramoff, however, failed to disclose that he and Scanlon were partners. Evidence obtained over the course of a two-year investigation indicates that Abramoff and Scanlon had agreed to secretly split, between themselves, fees that the Tribes paid Scanlon from 2001 through 2003. Abramoff and Scanlon referred to this arrangement as “gimme five.”
As a general proposition, the scheme involved the following: getting each of the Tribes to hire Scanlon as their grassroots specialist; dramatically overcharging them for grassroots and related activities; setting aside for themselves an unconscionable percentage of what the Tribes paid at a grossly inflated rate-a rate wholly unrelated to the actual cost of services provided; and using the remaining fraction to reimburse scores of vendors that could help them maintain vis-a-vis the Tribes a continuing appearance of competence. One example of this fee-splitting arrangement arises from a payment of $1,900,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan. On or about July 9, 2002, Scanlon assured Abramoff, “800 for you[,] 800 for me[,] 250 for the effort the other 50 went to the plane and misc expenses. We both have an additional 500 coming when they pay the next phasem [sic].” Indeed, on July 12, 2002, after that payment arrived, Scanlon made three payments to Abramoff, including a payment of $800,000.
Typically, the most expensive element of Scanlon’s proposals to the Tribes related to a purportedly elaborate political database. But, in all cases, it appears that the degree to which Scanlon marked-up his actual costs was unconscionable. For example, while Scanlon told the
Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana that their “political” database would cost $1,345,000, he ended up paying the vendor that actually developed, operated and maintained that database about $104,560. The dramatic mark-ups were intended to accommodate Scanlon’s secret 50/50 split with Abramoff.
Scanlon’s proposed use of elaborate databases was also prominent in political programs that he proposed to the Saginaw Chippewa, called “Operation Redwing.” According to drafts of this proposal that he likely presented to the Tribe, “Our first step [to developing a successful political strategy] is to tap into your natural political resources and integrate them into a custombuilt political database.” The proposal went on to describe a “grassroots database”: [CCS] will gather lists of your vendors, employees, tribal members etc. (if you approve, customer lists), and we will import those lists into your new database. Our computer program will match the individuals or businesses with addresses, phone numbers, political registrations and e-mail addresses, and then sort them by election districts. The districts run from U.S. Senator down to school board and once completed, you can tap into this database and mobilize your supporters in ANY election, or on any issue of your choosing. Regarding a “Qualitative [that is, opposition] Research Database,” the proposal stated the following:
This custom built database acts as the information center of Operation Red Wing. [sic] Over the next six weeks, our team will gather
qualitative information on any entity who can be classified as opposition and enter it into this database. The research will include
nearly every piece of information on the opposition as you can imagine. Once gathered, it is then sorted by subject matter and made
retrievable by a phrase search. The information can then be instantly disseminated to any audience we choose such as our universe of
supporters, the press, third party [sic] interest groups or other interested parties.
Scanlon apparently designated his “right-hand man,” Christopher Cathcart to serve as his point of contract with the Tribe. Working with Cathcart on the Tribe’s [Saginaw Chippewa] behalf was Tribal spokesperson Marc Schwartz. Schwartz believed that he may have had as many as 20 to 25 conversations with Cathcart. In his interview with Committee staff, Schwartz recalled Cathcart had described the database as “very customized.” He also recalled that Cathcart had said that Scanlon had “six people working day-and-night to get the system up-and-running” and a “stable” of graphics artists. Schwartz also remembered asking Cathcart how many people were working for Scanlon’s company. In response, Schwartz recalled, Cathcart said “dozens” and described Scanlon’s company to Schwartz as “absolute studs.”
After having seen the database subsequently, Schwartz considered it “extremely unremarkable.” In his view, there was “no way” that the database required “six people working day-and-night” or that “the database was worth millions.” But, the Tribe had already paid CCS $4,200,000.
In truth, Scanlon’s company neither built nor designed these databases. In fact, Scanlon merely licensed a database actually created by a vendor named Democracy Data & Communications (“DDC”). In instances where CCS charged Tribes for DDC’s databases, DDC developed them to help CCS conduct grassroots campaigns on the Tribes’ behalf. In these cases, CCS supplied DDC with information, such as membership rosters and vendor information, that CCS obtained from its Tribal clients.268 Then, using its own proprietary software and network design, DDC helped CCS use that information for grassroots purposes-to create mass emails, letters, faxes, etc.
In other words, DDC, rather than CCS, built, updated and maintained those databases, for which CCS charged its tribal clients millions of dollars. Typically, Scanlon charged each of the Tribes at least $1,000,000 just for putting the database together; this was called the
“organizational phase.” But, in truth, all the work that DDC did on each of the databases it developed, cost Scanlon a fraction of that amount. For example, all the work that DDC did for the Louisiana Coushatta’s database (from May 2001 through December 2003) cost CCS only $104,000. Notably, in his interview with Committee staff on the Tigua, Scanlon’s right-hand man, Christopher Cathcart, admitted that the Tribe “got nowhere near [the] $1.8 million [it paid] for the organizational phase.” He also conceded that the Tigua’s database was not customized.
DDC President B.R. McConnon testified that, when compared with DDC’s other clients paying similar prices and using similar services, there was actually “a very low level of activity” on the CCS account that were maintained for CCS’ tribal clients. Generally, McConnon observed, customers who have such a low level of usage tend to shut off the account. McConnon recalled that CCS used DDC’s services so sparingly, “it got to be a running joke in the office.”
In cases not involving DDC databases, it appears that CCS took DDC’s proprietary network design; provided that design to another vendor, Visual Impact Productions (“VIP”); and directed VIP to develop databases designed to mimic DDC’s product. And, in those cases, it
appears that CCS charged those Tribes millions of dollars for the development, maintenance, and use of those databases.
Having examined VIP’s database, McConnon opined that it was far less capable than his company’s. In particular, McConnon noted that the quality of the data contained in the VIP system seemed inferior to DDC’s; its searching capability was far less extensive than DDC’s; its
presentation of information was very limited; it seemed not to contain as much information as DDC’s, which is important to implement a more targeted, efficient grassroots program; and the quality of the keypunching seemed very inferior. McConnon agreed that someone at CCS apparently showed the other vendor the “access page” of his company’s database. McConnon confirmed that this would be a violation of the licensing agreement that Scanlon executed with DDC.
For a version of this database, the Pueblo of Sandia paid Scanlon $1,857,000. That amount corresponds to elements of a proposal drafted by Scanlon for the Tribe relating to “acquisition and design of hardware and software, data matching, grassroots development, online applications and political modifications.” However, in actuality, Scanlon never provided those services. In the ordinary course of business, those services would have been provided-at a far lesser cost-by one of Scanlon’s vendors. In this case, McConnon opined that this database, apparently produced by VIP, was worth nothing near $1,857,000; it was probably worth, at the very most, about $20,000. Whether the database came from DDC or VIP, it appears that the representation that CCS “constructed” a database was false.
After an intensive two-year investigation-consisting of five hearings, 70 formal requests for documents, including subpoenas, resulting in the production of about 750,000 pages; and about 60 depositions and witness interviews, the Committee found that, as Scanlon’s secret partner, Abramoff received about half of the profit that Scanlon collected from the $66 million in fees he obtained from six of his Tribal clients from 2001 through 2003.
When the new Council failed to vote on the project, Abramoff was unreserved in his contempt: “The f’ing troglodytes didn’t vote on you today. Dammit.” Scanlon asked, “What’s a troglodyte?”
Continuing their exchange, Abramoff explained the Saginaw Chippewa’s failure to vote on one of Scanlon’s proposals: “They spent the whole time discussing the firings of late. I like these guys, and truly believe they are going to do the program, but they are plain stupid. They should have had you on board first and then done the firings. Morons.”
Furthermore, in an e-mail bearing the subject line “SagChip idiots”, Abramoff wrote:
“Someone leaked out the Operation Red Wing memo to the enemy up there. Petras told me this tonight. The PR guy, Joe?, is the enemy and – I did not know this – is a Sagchip, and is now going to run for council!! These mofos are the stupidest idiots in the land for sure.”
To [Saginaw Chippewa spokesman Marc Schwartz], Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied “as far as the cash goes.” Abramoff also mentioned his representation of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (“Choctaw”) and his ability to get appropriations for them.
By mid-April, things were moving. In an e-mail entitled “Disbursement on behalf of Choctaw Indians,” Abramoff assured Reed that the money was on its way. Using the Choctaw’s money, Reed paid for grassroots activities including, telemarketing (patch-through, tape-recorded messages and call-to-action phone calls), targeted mail, legislative counsel and local management, rallies, petitions, “voter contact, television and radio production, the remainder of phones, the statewide fly-around, the pastor’s and activist rally, the church bulletin
inserts, and other items.”
Reed also claimed that he was leveraging his contacts within the Christian community for the Choctaw’s benefit. Reed reported to Abramoff that there would be “a saturation statewide radio buy with a new ad by Jim Dobson that he will record tomorrow.” Reed assured
Abramoff, “We are opening the bomb bay doors and holding nothing back. If victory is possible, we will achieve it,” and, one day later, again promised, “All systems are go on our end and nothing is being held back.”
According to one document in the Committee’s possession, Abramoff described ATR as “an effective conduit of support for other groups which have provided assistance to Indian gaming’s efforts to fight the tax proposal.” There were a number of anti-tax grassroots groups in various states, and “it was ATR’s job to make contacts with those groups, to assist them in making contacts with members of the Ways and Means Committee or other committee members.”
By May 10, 1999, the Choctaw had paid Reed $1,300,000 through Preston Gates, with another $50,000 outstanding. For reasons unclear to the Committee, in late 1999 the Tribe discontinued paying Reed through Preston Gates. Rogers recalled that there came a time when either Reed or Preston Gates (or both) became uneasy about money being passed through Preston Gates to Reed. Abramoff thus searched for another conduit.
Abramoff turned to his long-time friend Norquist to have his group ATR serve as a conduit for the Choctaw money. Earlier, on May 20, 1999, Norquist had asked Abramoff, “What is the status of the Choctaw stuff. I have a $75K hole in my budget from last year. ouch [sic].” Thus, in the fall of 1999, Abramoff reminded himself to “call Ralph re Grover doing pass through.” When Abramoff suggested the Choctaw start using ATR as a conduit, the Tribe agreed.
Early in 2001, Scanlon called his long-time friend and fellow lifeguard David Grosh and asked him whether he wanted to serve as a director of an “international corporation.”
Between February and July 2001, “AIC had no office; AIC’s business address was the beach house that [Grosh] and [yoga instructor Brian Mann] rented” in Rehoboth Beach. In response to a question posed during a Committee hearing about what AIC did, Grosh responded
that during the four or five months when he was “involved” with AIC, “we only rented the first floor of a house and installed some computers”.
Referring to AIC’s being held out as an international think tank, Grosh quipped, “If AIC was a think tank, I sure don’t know what we were thinking about.” Mann could only recall discussing Scanlon’s acquiring, and his own cleaning, office space for AIC, and Grosh’s departure from the organization.
After Grosh left AIC, Mann was, as far as he knew, its only employee. In fact, according to Mann, no one other than Grosh and himself was ever paid by AIC as an employee. Moreover, the only time Mann recalled Grosh “ever doing anything was helping me literally put a desk together.” Otherwise, he had “no idea” what Grosh did.
In its final form, the website set forth AIC’s mission statement. It described AIC as “a Delaware-based corporation with the global minded purpose of enhancing the methods of empowerment for territories, commonwealths, and sovereign nations in possession of and within the United States.” In each of their depositions and interviews with Committee staff, Grosh, Mann and Cathcart said they had no idea what this meant.
The website also touted AIC as (1) “a premiere international think tank”; (2) “determined to influence global paradigms in an increasingly complex world.”; (3) a “public policy foundation”; (4) founded “under the high powered directorship of David A. Grosh and Brian J. Mann”; (5 )”[w]hile only recently incorporated … striving to advance the cause of greater international empowerment for many years”; (6) “using 21st century technology and decades of experience to make the world a smaller place”; (7) “bringing great minds together from all over the globe”; (8) “seek[ing] to expand the parameters of international discourse in an effort to leverage the combined power of world intellect:”; and (9) comprised of an “expert team.”
With that, the Tribe discontinued using Abramoff as its lobbyist. Likely having realized that the only way he could resume representing the Tribe (and getting the Tribe to hire Scanlon) was through a change in Tribal leadership, Abramoff came up with an idea.
Abramoff laid out his plan: “They have their primary for tribal council on Tuesday, which should determine if they are going to take over (general elections in November). I told him that you are the greatest campaign expert since . . . (actually, I told him that there was no one like you in history!). He is going to come in after the primary with the guy who will be chief if they win (a big fan of ours already) and we are going to help him win.”
Using a phrase the two coined to describe their financial relationship, Abramoff concluded, “If he wins, they take over in January, and we have millions. I told him that you are already in national demand and we need to secure you for them. He is very excited. GIMME FIVE lives.”
Scanlon replied enthusiastically, “THE PRICE HAS JUST GONE UP TO 10 MIL! Sounds good on the strategy – We should be wrapped up with the other camapigns [sic] soon, so I could run his general election to make sure we get or [sic] give me five!”
Apparently resolved to help Abramoff and Scanlon oust the incumbent tribal council, Petras recommended to a group (comprised of, among others, Maynard Kahgegab and Robert Pego) that they meet with Scanlon about their election campaign. That group became known as the “Slate of Eight.”
At least two batches of mailings were sent out on behalf of the Slate of Eight.61 Among the documents obtained by the Committee from Scanlon’s company, Capitol Campaign Strategies (CCS), is an undated draft mailer, apparently drafted for the Slate of Eight. It notes
that “[t]he upcoming election may be the only chance for the disenfranchised, [sic] and beaten down members of this tribe to voice their disapproval with the way people on the council like XXXX [sic] Jackson have run our tribal government.” Likewise, an October 26, 2001, press release, also apparently drafted by CCS, announced that the “Slate of 8 Will Run on Platform of Reform.” According to that release, “The Slate of 8 represents honesty, integrity and vision-something that the Committee for Responsible Government unfortunately completely lacks.” It also stated falsely that “[w]e organized the Slate of 8 ourselves and are asking the tribal members to vote for us so that we can put the scandal plagued [sic] politics of this tribe [sic] in the past.” In laying the groundwork for the Tribe to ultimately hire Abramoff and Scanlon, the release also described, as an issue on the Slate of Eight’s platform, “developing stronger ties in Washington D.C. [sic] and at the state and local level to advance tribal concerns.”
Not only did CCS draft mailers and fliers, it put together a call list; devised a campaign strategy, calendars, and time-lines; helped organize at least one event-a “candidates night”; and apparently recorded a radio ad. Other than $200 that some members of the Slate of Eight paid for a “candidates night,” CCS paid for all out-of-pocket expenses. While the value of those expenses is unclear, the Tribe has seen some estimates as high as $100,000. Responding to the Tribe for Scanlon, Scanlon’s lawyer, Stephen Braga, explained that “[t]his $100,000 number was a value reflected estimate that included the time value of individuals working on the campaign” and that “actual dollars would be less.” He however agreed that, while “there is no way to tell exactly how much was spent,” CCS was never reimbursed for its costs.
Seemingly pleased, Abramoff replied: “Looks like you have it well in hand. I smell victory! I smell gimme five!!!”
On November 6, 2001, all but one member of the Slate of Eight prevailed. A draft mailer, apparently prepared by CCS, dated November 15, 2001, announced the victory: “The election on November 6 was an historic event for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe. It was the day the people of this tribe swept away the politics of the past, and started a new era of positive and responsible government.”
Abramoff and Scanlon’s mutual client the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (“Louisiana Coushatta”) long understood that legalized gaming in Texas would erode its casino’s customer base and revenue. The majority of the Louisiana Coushatta casino’s customers are from Texas, particularly the Houston area.
While the State of Texas was pursuing its case to close the Tigua’s Speaking Rock Casino, press reports indicated that another tribe, the Alabama-Coushatta, was considering opening its own casino in eastern Texas. Abramoff and Scanlon were insistent with the Louisiana Coushatta Tribal Council that Texas was on the verge of legalizing gaming. Abramoff and Scanlon said that if the Tigua succeeded in its efforts to keep open its casino, the State of Texas would have no choice but to allow the Alabama Coushatta to have a casino. The Tribe therefore authorized Abramoff and Scanlon to pursue anti-gaming efforts in Texas against the Tigua and the Alabama Coushatta.
While the trio worked to support the State’s legal efforts, evidence also suggests that Abramoff, Scanlon, and Reed worked behind the scenes in Texas to quash the Tigua’s attempts at a legislative solution. In 2003, Abramoff boasted to a colleague: A bill is moving (HB809) in the Texas state house which will enable the Indians in Texas to have totally unregulated casinos. It passed out of the house Criminal Jurisprudence Committee by a 6-2 vote. The current Republican Speaker Tom Craddick is a strong supporter. Last year we stopped this bill after it passed the house using the Lt. Governor (Bill ratcliff) [sic] to prevent it from being scheduled in the state senate.
In fact, former Texas Lt. Governor Ratliff did refuse to schedule the legislation for a floor vote in the previous session, the state’s legal efforts succeeded, and the Tigua officially closed its casino on February 12, 2002.
It was a low point for the Tigua. According to Tribal representatives, the revenue generated by the Speaking Rock Casino had helped the Tribe lift its members out of poverty, had enabled the Tribe to provide education for its children and health care for its elders. It created hope where there was none. Into their desperation and despair entered Abramoff and Scanlon.
Although Abramoff and Scanlon’s efforts on the Tigua’s behalf were failing, it apparently did not stop Abramoff from soliciting funds from Tigua for a golfing junket to Scotland. On May 15, 2002, Abramoff advised his close friend Ralph Reed that “[t]he package on the ground is $4K per person. that [sic] covers rooms, tee times and ground transportation. One idea is that we could use one of my foundations for the trip-Capital Athletic Foundation-and get and make contributions so this is easier. OK?”
Reed responded, “OK but we need to discuss. It is an election year.”
About a week later, Rudy informed Abramoff that “Ney may want to do Scotland.”
Almost two weeks later, as details of the trip were coming together, Abramoff told Rudy, “We need to lock. Try to nail 2 stars to go with us: ney [sic] for sure!”
66 The overview of the failed back and forth to get the casino provision into the Election Reform bill is in-depth and complicated in the Indian Affairs Report; I direct interested readers to pages 178-196 of the report.
An excerpt from “The Sins of Ralph Reed” by Sean Flynn gives cogent summary:
The Tiguas, who are more formally known as the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe of El Paso, had basically one source of income: the Speaking Rock casino. The state, through then attorney general John Cornyn, had been trying to close it down on general principles since 1999, arguing that casino gambling was illegal in Texas, and by late 2000 the matter was still crawling through the courts. The Louisiana Coushattas-clients of Abramoff and, by extension, Reed-also wanted Speaking Rock closed to eliminate the competition.
Reed’s job was to monitor Cornyn’s office, keep tabs on the legal timeline, and whip up support for the attorney general and opposition to the casino. Which he did for more than a year, both through contacts in Cornyn’s office and with the help of a megachurch preacher named Ed Young (incredibly engaged and excited, Reed wrote in one e-mail). The monitoring was important because Abramoff’s timing had to be perfect: When Reed e-mailed Abramoff that a judge would order Speaking Rock closed on February 11, Abramoff and Scanlon made sure they were in El Paso on February 12…promising the panicked Tiguas they could get their casino reopened for a fee of $4.2 million.
In layman’s terms, this is called a con. The idea was to buy off a congressman (Bob Ney) and a senator (Christopher Dodd), who would sneak language allowing Speaking Rock to reopen into a totally unrelated bill. No one would even notice.
Only Senator Dodd didn’t go along with the plan. In fact, he was mightily pissed his good name had gotten dragged into such a scam, a point he made quite clear during an Indian Affairs Committee hearing.
After the failed effort on Election Reform, Abramoff continued hounding the Tigua for more money. He proposed that the Tribe take out life insurance policies on its elders, with the proceeds to be paid to the Eshkol Academy, the all boys Jewish school that Abramoff had established. Abramoff intended the program, which he called the Elder Legacy Program, to generate lobbying funds to pay for Abramoff’s continued representation of the Tribe and provide funding for Eshkol. When Duane Gibson, an Abramoff associate at Greenberg Traurig
working on the Project, reminded Abramoff that he could not use the insurance proceeds to lobby, Abramoff’s solution was to have the school use other funds to pay the lobbying fees. Gibson told the Committee that the Elder Legacy Program was trying to leverage funds for Indian tribes, but mostly charities, by acquiring life insurance policies for the tribe or charity. The original pool of insureds were Indian tribes, Alaskan Natives, and black church elders.
Abramoff told Gibson that Ralph Reed was going to be the entree for the black churches, because Reed “knows the Southern Black Christian community.” Apparently, Abramoff pitched the idea to Reed, who thought it was viable.
According to Gibson, Abramoff said that the Tigua were “indebted to him because I [Abramoff] saved their asses and they want to do this for me.” Gibson believed “the whole Tigua thing was a perversion of the original purpose.”304 Although he was scheduled to meet with [tribal spokesman Marc Schwartz] in El Paso about the program, the meeting never took place. The reason: after initially, internally approving the idea, the Tribal Council decided not to move forward on it. [Tigua Lt. Governor Carlos Hisa] met with the Tribal elders, who rejected it.
From “The Sins of Ralph Reed” by Sean Flynn:
The failed con took more than a year to play out, by which time the Tiguas were pretty much broke. So Abramoff came up with a way for his marks to continue paying him: the Tigua Elder Legacy Project. Abramoff would arrange, at no cost to the tribe, a life-insurance policy for every Tigua 75 or older. When those elders died, the death benefits would be paid to Eshkol Academy, a private school Abramoff had founded near Washington. Eshkol, in turn, would then pay Abramoff’s fee to continue lobbying on behalf of the surviving Tiguas. Morbid opportunism disguised as charity: Each dead Tigua would be cash in the lobbyist’s pocket.
The Tiguas declined the offer. “It felt uncomfortable,” a Tigua official told the Senate committee last November.
The Tigua-death-fund offer had been made in March 2003. Four months later, Abramoff was pitching Reed-his connection to Christians-the Black Churches Insurance Program. There was only one difference: It would be huge, to use Abramoff’s word.
“Yeah,” a former associate of Reed’s says, “it sounds like Jack approached Reed about mortgaging old black people.”
During the Committee’s November 17, 2004, hearing, when asked how he felt upon learning that the Tribe had paid for a golf outing for the man who had worked to shut down the Tigua casino, Lt. Governor Hisa replied, “A rattlesnake will warn you before it strikes. We had no warning. They did everything behind our back.”
Like many Internet companies emerging from the overheated 1990s, eLottery’s money was drying up in the spring of 2000.
The company was founded in 1993 on the gamble that even a small fraction of the market for helping states and others put lotteries online could be worth a billion dollars a year. But the company faced many obstacles.
In 1998, the Justice Department had used existing gambling laws to force eLottery to shut down its first online lottery venture, with an Idaho Indian tribe. ELottery had not earned a dime since.
The Senate had passed the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act in late 1999, aiming to make it easier for authorities to stop online gambling sites. With a companion bill by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) advancing in the House in the spring of 2000, eLottery was desperate to ramp up its Washington lobbying. It had to sell off assets to stay afloat and raise cash.
In May, eLottery hired Abramoff’s firm, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, for $100,000 a month, according to lobbying reports. In the following months, Abramoff directed the company to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to various organizations, faxes, e-mails and court records show. The groups included Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform; Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition; companies affiliated with Reed; and a Seattle Orthodox Jewish foundation, Toward Tradition.
Arrayed against eLottery were many leading groups on the religious right who were pushing to ban Internet gambling, including the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. James Dobson, influential leader of Focus on the Family, praised the bill in an opinion piece for the New York Times.
Still, according to his strategy e-mails, Abramoff thought he could turn conservatives in the House against the bill. He seized on some compromise language in the bill making exceptions for jai alai and horse racing.
Abramoff’s plan: argue that the legislation and its exemptions would actually expand legalized gambling.
Still, the Abramoff team was worried about the vote. So the eLottery forces pressed the argument that the Internet bill was an unfair infringement of the right of individual states to sell lottery tickets online. Amid the frenzied lobbying, a potentially influential letter making that case began circulating on Capitol Hill. It was purportedly signed by Jeb Bush.
“While I am no fan of gambling, I see this bill as a violation of states’ rights and I am looking to prevent this encroachment,” the letter said.
A surprised Hill staffer called the Florida governor’s office, and the letter was exposed as a forgery.
Months later, a little-noted investigation by Florida authorities resulted in a confession from a Tampa man hired by a division of Shandwick Worldwide, a public affairs company. Shandwick was working on the eLottery account with Abramoff’s team. The Florida man, Matthew Blair, told authorities in a plea bargain agreement that he was hired to get letters opposing the bill from the governor and others. He said he created the forged letter on his own after he was unable to obtain one from Bush’s office.
Brian Berger, then a Shandwick official, said his firm had been hired to produce the letters by Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay press aide. Berger said in a recent interview that although he and Scanlon knew Blair, they did not sanction the forgery. “Essentially, we had a bad operative,” Berger said.
On July 17, the House debated for about 40 minutes. Rumors continued to fly about the Bush letter. Some members remained confused about the bill’s contents. About 30 did not vote. “There was a lot of misinformation,” said a congressional staff member who worked on the bill.
Still, Goodlatte had reason to be optimistic because nine out of 10 bills on the suspension calendar pass.
But Abramoff’s efforts had eroded just enough votes. The roll call — 245 in favor, 159 against — left Goodlatte 25 members short. The bill failed.
But Sheldon’s campaign in conservative districts had the desired chilling effect on GOP leaders. That became clear on Oct. 24, when House Republicans met to discuss their year-end strategy.
What happened at the meeting was relayed to Abramoff by a former associate, David H. Safavian, who was then a lobbyist for a coalition of online gambling companies and who this month was indicted for allegedly lying to federal investigators in the Abramoff probe.
DeLay, Safavian wrote in an e-mail, “spoke up and noted that the bill could cost as many as four House seats. At that point, there was silence. Not even Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) — our previous opponent — said a word.”
When Congress prepared to adjourn in 2000 without revisiting the gambling bill, Safavian was ecstatic. He sent his clients an e-mail, which was posted on the Web site of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
“Relax a bit,” Safavian wrote. “Policy beat politics once again. (Maybe the American system isn’t really that bad.) The good guys won.”
Louis Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition also make an appearance in my post, “Maureen Otis: A Mystery Inside A Mystery”.
Abramoff asked eLottery to write a check in June 2000 to Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). He also routed eLottery money to a Reed company, using two intermediaries, which had the effect of obscuring the source.
The eLottery money went first to Norquist’s foundation, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and then through a second group in Virginia Beach called the Faith and Family Alliance, before it reached Reed’s company, Century Strategies. Norquist’s group retained a share of the money as it passed through.
According to the e-mails, Reed provided the name and address where Norquist was supposed to send the money: to Robin Vanderwall at a location in Virginia Beach.
Vanderwall was director of the Faith and Family Alliance, a political advocacy group that was founded by two of Reed’s colleagues and then turned over to Vanderwall, Vanderwall said and records show.
Vanderwall, a former Regent University Law School student and Republican operative, was later convicted of soliciting sex with minors via the Internet and is serving a seven-year term in Virginia state prison.
In a telephone interview, Vanderwall said that in July 2000 he was called by Reed’s firm, Century Strategies, alerting him that he would be receiving a package. When it came, it contained a check payable to Vanderwall’s group for $150,000 from Americans for Tax Reform, signed by Norquist. Vanderwall said he followed the instructions from Reed’s firm — depositing the money and then writing a check to Reed’s firm for an identical amount.
“I was operating as a shell,” Vanderwall said, adding that he was never told how the money was spent. He said: “I regret having had anything to do with it.”
From “E-mails undermine Reed claim” by Jim Galloway:
Ralph Reed has said he didn’t know it until last year, but emails suggest he was informed that eLot – a firm then in the online lottery business – was behind his effort to fend off a ban against internet gambling in 2000.
The e-mails passed between Reed and Jack Abramoff, the now disgraced Washington lobbyist. Abramoff was lobbying for eLot Inc. of Connecticut, parent company of eLottery Inc., against a bill in Congress that would have banned most online betting. ELottery opposed the bill because it wanted to help states sell tickets online.
Reed, a lifelong opponent of gambling, said last year that he did not know in 2000 he was actually working on behalf of eLottery.
But e-mails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show Reed was offered the name of the company at the beginning of his involvement in the campaign, in May 2000. The e-mails emerged as dozens of federal investigators have increased their focus on events surrounding the defeat of the Internet gaming ban.
Abramoff included the company’s name – referring to “the elot project” – in an e-mail he forwarded to Reed, as the two worked out details of Reed’s contract for the campaign.
In the Jan. 30, 2001, e-mail, Reed teased Abramoff when the lobbyist asked about the White House’s choice for a new “technology czar.”
“Tell your elottery friends that the next czar will be an anti-gambling [Pentecostal] Christian whose main interest in life is banning smut from the Internet,” Reed wrote.
From “Cantor Survived Abramoff, Reed, Norquist” by John Batchelor:
The facts from the investigation by both the Washington Post and Hotline point to Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist as the major figures behind the scenes manipulating a shadow 527 named the Faith and Family Alliance of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Faith and Family Values used up to $100,000 to distribute pamphlets and make robo-calls to constituents to say that Eric Cantor did not represent “Virginia values” and that his opponent was the “only Christian in the contest.”
Cantor won by a few hundred votes in June 2000.
Cantor knew nothing of the generation of Faith and Family Values at the time. He especially did not know that Jack Abramoff used Faith and Family Values to launder internet gambling money (eLottery) to finance a cynical and successful lobbying effort to defeat a Congressional ban on internet gambling, and that the laundering process not only involved Reed and associates but also another major Republican op, Grover Norquist. The Black Hundreds character at Faith and Family Values who actually handled the checks in and out of the shell, Robin Vanderwall, is now serving a seven-year sentence for internet sex crime.
Cantor’s unnecessarily humble response when prompted how he felt about the smear at the time, how he feels now to learn that Abramoff , Reed, Norquist were responsible in a labyrinthine fashion for maintaining (and probably funding) the Faith and Family Alliance, was to say, “Politics is a very interesting business.”
Out of the Choctaw’s $325,000, ATR apparently kept $25,000 for its services. According to [Choctaw planner Nell Rogers], Norquist demanded that he receive a management fee for letting ATR be used as a conduit:
But I remember when we discussed needing a vehicle for doing the pass-through to Century Strategies that Jack had told me that Grover
would want a management fee. And we agreed to that, frankly didn’t know any other way to do it at that time.
On February 17, 2000, Abramoff advised Reed that “ATR will be sending a second $300K today.” This money, too, came from the Choctaw. Norquist kept another $25,000 from the second transfer, which apparently surprised Abramoff.
BILL MOYERS: Reed’s e-mails to Abramoff were insistent – he needed money and he needed it now. At one point, Abramoff responded:
JACK ABRAMOFF: Give me a number.
E-mail from JACK ABRAMOFF: Give me a number. RALPH REED: $225K a week for TV; $450K for two weeks of TV.
E-mail from RALPH REED: $225K a week for TV; $450K for two weeks of TV.
E-mail from JACK ABRAMOFF: Ralph, they are going to faint when they see these numbers.
BILL MOYERS: But Reed claimed he was worth it:
E-mail from RALPH REED: We have over 50 pastors mobilized, with a total membership in those churches of over 40,000…
MARVIN OLASKY: We have one of our reporters based in Dallas who did a lot of calling around and just asking pastors, “Well, were you involved in this?” And lo and behold, no one was.
BILL MOYERS: Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of WORLD, the leading national journal of the evangelical right. The magazine spent seven months investigating Reed’s involvement with Abramoff.
MARVIN OLASKY: There was a lot of fooling going on — that Abramoff, in a way, was manipulating Ralph Reed, Ralph Reed was manipulating others, but perhaps Ralph Reed was manipulating Abramoff and saying, “I’m accomplishing these things,” whereas he wasn’t. So, you know, there were millions of dollars changing hands, there were actually hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in this whole thing.
LOU DUBOSE: You know, there’s something ironic and amusing in all that, is that while Abramoff was shaking down these Indians, it’s quite possible that Ralph Reed was shaking down Jack Abramoff.
From “Houses of Cards” by Jamie Dean:
Mr. Abramoff wrote to his business partner, Michael Scanlon, saying: “He [Reed] wants a budget for radio in the state. I’m inclined to say yes, so we can get this Dobson ad up. He asked for $150K. . . .” Six days later, Mr. Abramoff asked Mr. Reed: “where are we with Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc.? we need to see some action in D.C. That’s what I sold them for $100K.”
Tom Minnery, a senior vice president at Focus on the Family, told WORLD it’s possible Mr. Reed asked Mr. Dobson to write a letter to Gale Norton, but he said Mr. Reed did not ask Focus on the Family to produce a radio ad in Louisiana. He added that he was “98 percent sure” Focus never produced a radio ad on the issue, though he was still searching his records at press time. He said Focus did produce radio “drop-ins” on the subject-non-commercial, short spots incorporated into Mr. Dobson’s daily show. Mr. Minnery said Focus had never taken money from Mr. Reed or Mr. Abramoff.
Mr. Minnery responded to the e-mails about Mr. Dobson by speculating that “it sounds like these guys were trying to take credit” for work Focus was already doing. He said Focus on the Family works on dozens of similar issues across the country each year, and that the organization had not become “an unwilling dupe of Jack Abramoff.” Though Mr. Minnery said Mr. Reed “did the wrong thing by taking gambling money to fight gambling,” he declined to comment specifically on Mr. Reed’s participation in the e-mails about Mr. Dobson.
70 The site Open Secrets lists the various donors to the 60 Plus Association, Top Organizations Disclosing Donations to 60 Plus Assn, 2012, as does Open Secrets, Top Organizations Disclosing Donations to 60 Plus Assn, 2012.
60 Plus is well-known in Republican and conservative circles. And like other corporate-funded P.R. operations, it often takes on causes that you wouldn’t logically connect to their stated purpose. The 60 Plus Association, which again, bills itself as a seniors advocacy group, they took on a subject they want us to believe is near and dear to the hearts of seniors.
Back in 2003, it was the issue of nuclear waste, urging Congress to, quote, “move forward and approve the safe storage of nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain.” Because seniors love nuclear waste being stored in Nevada. Old people love that.
From “High drug prices return as issue that stirs voters” by Thomas Edsall, originally published in the Washington Post:
In addition to lobbying, the drug industry spent more than $100 million in 1999 and 2000 to create a supposed grass-roots group called Citizens for Better Medicare. Led by PhRMA’s former marketing director, Tim Ryan, CBM flooded the airwaves with commercials accusing congressional Democrats of “playing politics” by backing legislation to reduce drug prices.
Also, the industry awarded unrestricted “educational grants” — declining to disclose the exact amounts — to two supportive groups, United Seniors and 60-Plus. In this election cycle, United Seniors has bought $12 million worth of ads, according to consultants working for the Democratic Party, while 60-Plus has spent $595,000 on radio ads in seven battleground congressional districts.
The 60 Plus Association is also discussed in an in-depth post on a woman involved in registering many such groups, “Maureen Otis: A Mystery Inside A Mystery”
Konstantinos Boulis was born in Kavala, Greece, in 1949. His father was a fisherman, and his family was poor. In 1968 the young Boulis joined the Merchant Marine. It was an escape route. Boulis jumped ship in Nova Scotia that year. He settled in Toronto, where he took a job as a dishwasher at a Mr. Submarine sandwich shop. Within five years he had bought the shop and had become Mr. Submarine’s CEO. Eventually, under Boulis’s leadership, the chain grew to over 200 stores. The sale of the company in the mid 1970s made Boulis a multimillionaire. He was 25.
In 1978 Boulis moved to Florida. At first he thought he was moving south to retire; but by 1983 he had started to put his fortune to work, buying another sandwich franchise, Miami Subs, and also buying property throughout south Florida, including apartment buildings and hotels and restaurants. Boulis started SunCruz in 1994, and sold Miami Subs–which had grown to over 150 franchises throughout the United States–to Nathan’s fast-food company in 1998. The price: $4.2 million. That sum probably seemed like small fry to Boulis, whose net worth then hovered around $40 million. His was, needless to say, a success story, an example of the plasticity of American life–Boulis could reinvent himself at will, from Greek to Canadian to American, from restaurateur to Ft. Lauderdale Donald Trump to casino impresario, rising from dishwasher to powerbroker in a few decades.
But there was a problem. Boulis was not a U.S. citizen. On August 3, 1998, he was indicted on charges of violating the U.S. shipping code, which forbids foreign nationals from owning American commercial vessels. Boulis had clashed with the authorities before. SunCruz boats had been raided by police, who argued that gambling had occurred in Florida waters. And community activists in Hollywood Beach, Florida–midway between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, where Boulis had a home–had fought the basing of a SunCruz boat in their community. Boulis had won those battles.
Not this time. It took over a year to reach settlement with the government, but Boulis was able to work out a deal in which he would pay a fine, sell his interest in SunCruz, and thereby escape a jail sentence. So that Boulis’s selling position would remain uncompromised, the deal with the feds would be kept a secret. It was January 2000. Boulis needed a buyer.
He discussed possibilities with his attorney, Art Dimopoulos. Dimopoulos worked at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a megafirm in Washington, D.C. One day in the winter of 2000, Dimopoulos discussed his client’s plight with the firm’s star lobbyist, the vice president for government affairs, Jack Abramoff. Abramoff mentioned to Dimopoulos that he might know someone who would be interested in purchasing the casino line.
That person was him. Abramoff had represented Indian gaming interests for some time; why not get in on both ends of the action? After all, casinos held a lot of profit for little work, and Abramoff had many contacts in the industry. Besides, his most recent venture, Potomac Outdoor Advertising, a small company that placed ads on Potomac River water taxis, had sunk like a rock. The casino line seemed much more promising.
But there was a catch. Preston Gates ethics rules prevented employees from entering into business deals with entities represented by the firm. SunCruz Casinos was such an entity. Abramoff’s solution was to not tell his employer about the deal. Instead he floated the idea to his partners on the water taxi scheme, Adam Kidan and Ben Waldman. Both had known Abramoff since his days as national chairman of the College Republicans, and both were enthusiastic.
[Adam Kidan] grew up in New York, and went to college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was a young conservative. At GW he joined the College Republicans, and got to know the group’s national chairman, Jack Abramoff, who was studying law at Georgetown. The two became friends.
After graduation, Kidan returned to New York, and began taking classes at Brooklyn Law School. He seems to have known exactly what he wanted to do in life: go to school, get good grades, work in politics, make a whole lot of money. He volunteered on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, got his law degree in 1989, and took a job as president of the Four Freedoms Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit or “private sector initiative” meant to “assist Eastern Europe and other democratically emerging nations around the world.” The foundation appears to have been a tax shelter disguised as an exercise in conservative benevolence. “Government cannot be expected to bear the financial burden of assisting countries that have chosen to adopt democratic principles,” Kidan said in the February 14, 1990, press release announcing the venture. “The private sector must assume some responsibility if these countries are expected to compete in today’s world market.”
Kidan’s association with the foundation was short-lived. In the early 1990s he went into business for himself, starting a chain of bagel joints in ritzy neighborhoods on Long Island. Kidan’s partner in the bagel business was one Michael Cavallo, now deceased. In October 2005, NYPD officials told the Miami Herald that Cavallo was “an associate” of known gangsters. In all probability one of those known gangsters was Anthony Moscatiello, aka Big Tony, who began to frequent Kidan’s bagel shops. “I had advice from him occasionally because I was in the food business,” Kidan told lawyers for the Boulis estate in a 2001 deposition. Moscatiello owned a catering company, Gran-Sons Inc., in Queens.
“This is someone I know who has experience in feeding large groups of people,” Kidan has said of Moscatiello. In fact some of the large groups of people that Moscatiello had experience feeding were members of the Gambino crime family, including legendary mob boss John Gotti, who would often hire Big Tony to cater family weddings. Moscatiello has a relationship with the Gambinos going back at least two decades. On August 23, 1983, he was indicted on charges of heroin trafficking, along with several others, including Gotti’s brother Gene. Gene went to jail. The charges against Moscatiello were dropped.
It was a stormy friendship. But the two persevered. In 1991 Moscatiello was photographed accompanying [Gene] Gotti into court.
On February 14, 1994, a few months before the Republicans took over Congress, Dial-a-Mattress announced the opening of its first Washington, D.C., franchise–Adam R. Kidan, proprietor. The press release marking the occasion is notable mainly for Kidan’s use of exclamation points and lame puns. “I went to school at the George Washington University and always dreamed of coming back to D.C. to work. Now, I’m actually helping other people dream a little easier with a good night’s sleep!” Kidan said. “We knew the D.C. area was a great choice. This was a decision we didn’t have to sleep on!”
Kidan did his best to become a local celebrity. He cut his own radio advertisements, 30-second-long exercises in commercial sadism in which Kidan would holler at potential customers and repeat, mantra-like, the Dial-a-Mattress slogan: “Leave off the last ‘S’–that’s for ‘Savings’!
That this story was in all likelihood apocryphal was beside the point. It satisfied a dual need: Kidan’s need for press, and the press’s need for stories that made the Clintons look cheap. He reappeared in McCaslin’s column on March 14, 1997, peddling another fiction:
Adam Kidan, the chairman and chief executive officer of Dial-A-Mattress, tells us that the queen-size Serta Perfect Sleeper his company sold to the White House in January 1993 for $549 is obviously holding up well for all the wear and tear.
“When the White House called our 800-number, they told us it was for the Lincoln Bedroom and Mr. Clinton’s mom would be sleeping on it,” Mr. Kidan reveals.
He quips: Dial-A-Mattress’ slogan “has always been ‘Leave off the last S, that’s for savings,’ but maybe it should be changed to ‘Leave off the last S, that’s for solicitations.”
Note the date. There was no Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington when the Clintons moved into the White House in 1993.
What may seem like a small error or a little white lie is in fact indicative of a broader truth: Kidan’s public demeanor was increasingly at odds with private reality. Behind the press mentions and charity drives, behind the appointments to the Greater Washington Urban League and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, behind the radio commercials and the speeches to undergraduates at George Washington and the rose-tinted business projections, by the end of the ’90s Kidan was mired in litigation, and his business was at risk.
In 1995 Kidan had filed a 29-count lawsuit against the Dial-a-Mattress franchiser in New York. He lost. In 1995 Kidan had declared personal bankruptcy. In 1999 he was forced to sell his Dial-a-Mattress franchise, and his online mattress company, eMattress.com, collapsed. The same year, Sami Shemtov sued Kidan for stealing $250,000 from a business deal as well as the $15,000 Shemtov had put up as reward money after Judy Shemtov was murdered. Kidan was forced to repay him. In 2000 New York state had Kidan disbarred.
Kidan told people that he had founded Dial-a-Mattress. He had not. Kidan told people that he had been a “principal” in and “general counsel” to the St. Maarten Hotel Beach Club and Casino. No such establishment exists. Kidan told people that he was a “former partner” at the law firm “Duncan, Fish, Bergen & Kidan.” I have found no evidence that there was ever such a firm. Kidan told people that his friend Anthony Moscatiello was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Moscatiello was not. Adam Kidan is a bold and unapologetic liar.
ONE DAY IN MARCH 2000, Michael Scanlon, who had moved on from his job in DeLay’s office to a job with Abramoff at Preston Gates, approached Ohio congressman Bob Ney. Would Ney mind inserting some comments into the Congressional Record, Scanlon asked? Ney agreed. This is what Ney entered into the Congressional Record on March 30, 2000:
One such example is the case of Suncruz casinos based out of Florida. Florida authorities, particularly Attorney General Butterworth, have repeatedly reprimanded Suncruz casinos and its owner Gus Boulis for taking illegal bets, not paying out their customers properly and has had to take steps to prevent Suncruz from conducting operations all together. In fact, a few years ago the Broward County Sheriffs Office, under the supervision of Mr. Butterworth, raided Suncruz ships, seizing their equipment.
There was more:
Mr. Speaker, how Suncruz Casinos and Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida laws is very unnerving. But the consumer rights issue is even more disheartening. On December 1, 1998, the Broward County Sheriffs department announced that they had uncovered evidence that dealers on SunCruz ships were “cheating passengers by using incomplete decks of cards.” This type of conduct gives the gaming industry a black eye and should not be tolerated.
But he did see, a few days later, the following statement, which Rep. Bob Ney entered into the Congressional Record on October 26:
Since my previous statement, I have come to learn that SunCruz Casino now finds itself under new ownership and, more importantly, that its new owner has a renowned reputation for honesty and integrity. The new owner, Mr. Adam Kidan, is most well known for his successful enterprise, Dial-a-Mattress, but he is also well known as a solid individual and a respected member of his community.
Kidan said that he was worth $26 million. But Kidan specifically accounted for only about $874,000, and said the rest of his money was in “closely held corporations.”
Such errors seem to have been intentional. The indictment alleges that Abramoff and Kidan repeatedly misled representatives from Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity. The indictment specifically mentions an August 8, 2000, meeting in New York City at which Abramoff told the bankers that he was a partner at Preston Gates (he was not) and Kidan claimed to have had experience in running a casino (he had none).
But none of the money lenders knew that. On September 18 there was another meeting in New York. There, Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity agreed to extend a $60 million loan if Abramoff and Kidan put up $23 million of their own money.
On September 26 Kidan drew up another “closing statement” that read, in part, “CASH FROM BUYERS in the amount of $23,000,000 . . . has been received by the Sellers,” which “closing statement” Kidan then faxed to New York City. And which “closing statement,” it now appears, was only one part of an elaborate fraud. The next day, according to the indictment of Abramoff and Kidan, “the defendants” forged a document purporting to show evidence of a $23 million wire transfer from an account at Chevy Chase Savings bank in suburban Maryland to Boulis’s account at Ocean Bank in Miami Beach, and faxed that forgery to Foothill representatives in Boston. The forgery was titled, clumsily, “Funds Transfer Notification.”
But no such transfer occurred. No such funds existed. Nothing had happened–nothing, that is, except the transmission of forgeries and two flimsy IOUs.
Upon receipt of the forged documents, Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity released a $60 million line of credit towards the purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Jack Abramoff was in the casino business.
Given this opening, one might expect that Baron’s book, which comes out later this month, will be a gossipy tell-all packed with Republican secrets. It’s timing seems perfect, given that the pace of sex scandals has lately picked up faster than that of natural disasters. In fact, though, there’s not all that much dirt here. We do learn that Ralph Reed set Baron up with Jack Abramoff crony Adam Kidan-here called Jason, but very thinly disguised-and that, under the pretext of having to make a business call, he lured her to his hotel room on the first date, then stripped naked and lunged at her. More significantly, there are hints that it really was Reed who spread miscegenation rumors about McCain-at one point, he fumes, “If John McCain thinks I did a number of him in South Carolina, he hasn’t seen anything yet!”
On September 22, in secret, Abramoff and Kidan convinced Boulis to accept IOUs for $20 million in exchange for a 10 percent interest in the newly reorganized SunCruz Casinos. The deal was doubly illegal: Abramoff and Kidan were violating the terms of their purchase agreement with their financiers, and Boulis was violating the terms of his settlement with the government, which required that he separate himself entirely from his company.
It is hard to say how much involvement Abramoff had in the day-to-day operations of SunCruz Casinos. We know that he remained in Washington while Kidan moved to Florida. We know that Abramoff and Kidan began to pay themselves salaries of $500,000 a year, that Kidan bought a 30-foot boat and a Mercedes S 500 and moved into a condo for which he paid $4,300 a month. We know that SunCruz quickly hired Michael Scanlon as its “public affairs specialist” and spokesman, and that the company began to pay for Abramoff’s $230,000-a-year skybox at FedEx Field. We know that Kidan soon fired many of Boulis’s hires, members of the Boulis family and the larger South Florida Greek community who depended on their benefactor’s largesse. “We fired his friends, we fired his family, and he wasn’t happy with it,” Kidan would later tell the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
We know that Boulis and Kidan did not get along. Boulis loudly voiced his opposition to his new partners’ way of managing the business, and on October 24, 2000, Boulis wrote a letter demanding those partners pay him the $20 million they had promised. The letter was a flop. Boulis never saw any money.
The SunCruz deal collapsed in the space of a few months. The company was fraught with infighting. By December 2000 Kidan and Boulis were no longer speaking. On December 5 Joan Wagner, Boulis’s lieutenant, called a meeting. All the principals attended except Abramoff, who was traveling overseas.
The meeting was a disaster. Witnesses later told police that Kidan began to scream, threatening and insulting Boulis and Wagner. Furious, Boulis assaulted Kidan. Someone called 911. Kidan filed a police report in which he accused Boulis of stabbing him in the neck with a pen.
From the movie Casino Jack:
After the December 5, 2000, meeting Kidan and Abramoff exchanged a flurry of emails. Kidan suggested a “concerted press effort” targeted at Boulis. “I was the victim of family violence before,” Kidan wrote. “Let’s use that in our favor (my mother wouldn’t mind) to show how we can’t tolerate violence and the likes of criminals. Let’s get the protective order. By painting the picture we box him. The negative is that his profile shows that he will retaliate against me.”
Abramoff replied: “I agree with this completely.”
Then Abramoff sent an email to Boulis’s attorney Anthony Damianakis: “It is my belief that Gus and Adam need to resolve the issue of what Gus is owed and Gus needs to move on out of the company.”
Kidan began to behave as though his life were in danger. He obtained the restraining order against Boulis that he had mentioned to Abramoff. He hired bodyguards. He purchased a $180,000 lease on an armor-plated Mercedes. And in his emails to Abramoff, Kidan began to refer to a “friend in NY,” who he said was “acting out of concern for my safety.” “By sending security I am afraid it will make things worse,” Kidan wrote Abramoff, somewhat cryptically. “And I will ask him today to remove them. I appreciate his efforts, but the situation is at a critical point.”
Meanwhile, Kidan’s media strategy took shape. When he obtained the restraining order against Boulis in January 2001, Kidan made sure to contact Jeff Shields, a reporter at the Sun Sentinel covering SunCruz. “This guy is violent–he’s sleazy,” Kidan said. Later, describing his December 5 fight with Boulis, Kidan would tell Shields, “If someone’s going to jump across at me in a business meeting, that’s when someone shows they’re violent–they don’t care. That’s when what happened with my mother hits home with me.”
Around this time Kidan put Anthony Moscatiello–presumably his “friend in NY”–on the SunCruz payroll. In December 2000 he sent $20,000 in checks to Jennifer Moscatiello, Big Tony’s daughter. Between December 13, 2000, and June 8, 2001, Kidan authorized $145,000 in checks to Anthony Moscatiello’s daughter and his company Gran-Sons Inc. Also in December 2000 Kidan sent $40,000 in checks to Moon Over Miami Beach, a mysterious company incorporated by one Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari, who was known around town for bragging that he was John Gotti’s “cousin.” Ferrari had been arrested several times, most recently in 1999 for attacking a lawyer who had brought suit against his business partners, Frank J. and Thomas L. Pepper. Between December 7, 2000, and March 29, 2001, Kidan authorized $95,000 in checks to Moon Over Miami Beach, which amount does not include the $10,000 in free poker chips Kidan provided Thomas Pepper and three associates on July 5, 2001.
Asked about the checks to Moscatiello in 2001, Kidan said they were for catering and “food and beverage” services that Moscatiello had provided. There is no evidence any such services were provided. Asked about the checks to Anthony Ferrari in 2001, Kidan said they were for security operations. There is no evidence that Kidan’s life was ever in danger.
The night it happened, February 6, 2001, Boulis had two meetings, one at 5 p.m., the other a few hours later. The first was in Hollywood Beach, where Boulis had a few business properties. This meeting was about acquiring one more. In Hollywood he sat and talked with Joe LaBarca inside LaBarca’s restaurant, Ruffy’s Restaurant and Marina. LaBarca wanted a buyer; Boulis wanted to bulldoze the restaurant and use the land as a parking lot for a hotel he was hoping to build. Noncommital, Boulis left Ruffy’s, right along the water, and drove to Ft. Lauderdale, to an office building he had purchased some time before. There he had his second meeting. It lasted a few hours.
By the time that meeting was over, around 9:15 p.m., night had fallen, and Boulis was ready to go home. He said goodbye to his business associate, left the office, and walked outside to where his BMW was parked. He took out his keys, unlocked the door, and got behind the wheel. He pulled out of the lot and turned south, heading home. It was a cool night, and there was a breeze off Lake Mabel, and Boulis rolled down his window.
A few blocks later, at the corner of Miami and 20th, a car pulled in front of Boulis, so he had to slow down, then stop. The car in front of Boulis didn’t budge.
He waited. And as he waited, another car–a black Mustang in the oncoming, northbound traffic–pulled alongside him without stopping or even slowing. The Mustang’s driver had opened his window, too. Boulis turned to look at the driver. Whereupon he made the grim discovery that the man in the Mustang was pointing a gun at him, and that raising your hand in front of you is not enough to stop three hollow-tip bullets–the man in the Mustang fired many more, forensic evidence shows–from burrowing deep into your chest.
Suddenly the car in front of Boulis sped away. The black Mustang was gone into the night. Bleeding and barely conscious, Boulis pressed the accelerator, headed south a few blocks, then turned a corner . . . and then, mid-blackout, lost control of his car–spinning across the median into oncoming traffic, and finally crashing into a tree next to a Burger King.
The first ambulances arrived in minutes. They took Boulis–who, the paramedics determined, was in cardiac arrest–to nearby Broward General Medical Center, where he died on an operating table. It was 10:20 p.m.
Boulis’s death did nothing to slow SunCruz’s unraveling. Lawsuits continued to multiply, with the Boulis estate first suing Kidan for ownership of SunCruz, then suing him for conspiring to kill Boulis. On June 22, 2001, SunCruz filed for bankruptcy. Abramoff and Waldman signed over their stake to the Boulis estate, making Boulis’s heirs the majority shareholders. Kidan was left with 20 percent. But not for long. On July 9, Kidan cut a deal in which he would give up his stake in exchange for $200,000 and an end to the civil suit against him. Almost as quickly as they had entered the casino industry, Abramoff and Kidan made their exit.
79 From “The man who blew the whistle on Jack Abramoff tells the story of how he did it” by Susan Crabtree:
In early January 2003 Rodgers was up past midnight, watching a recap of his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers playoff win when he got a fateful call that both startled and intrigued him.
“Tom, I was told I could trust you,” the voice on the phone said.
Rodgers listened intently as Bernie Sprague, the subchief of the Saginaw Chippewa of Mount Pleasant, Mich., told him about his tribe’s disturbing interactions with Abramoff.
“Tom, we’re being threatened by our lobbyist,” Rodgers was told.
Rodgers responded, “What do you mean, threatened?”
Sprague informed Rodgers that Abramoff was going to sue him because he was questioning the invoices and what he was doing to justify the millions of dollars in fees.
Sprague needed to know if Rodgers could help him.
In the months and years that followed these exchanges, Rodgers worked with members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, the Alabama Coushatta and their cousins the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana to gather internal invoices and documents and slowly and strategically leak them to the media after first contacting the BIA.
“We were told [by the BIA] that it was an internal affair,” Rodgers recalled. “I turned to [Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe David Sickey and Sprague] on a conference call one night and said, ‘Now we need to go another way. We’ve accumulated the data; we have all the information we need. We need to leak it.’ ”
Aware that the national media tended to give scant attention to Native American issues, Rodgers first advised Sprague and Sickey to contact their local press, the Mt. Pleasant Morning News, the Lake Charles American Press and the Alexandria Town Talk.
After these initial local articles appeared, Rodgers said he sent 14 manila folders with a one-inch packet of the articles, invoices and other documents to several good-government groups, as well as the National Journal and The Washington Post’s Susan Schmidt, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her series on the Abramoff scandal.
His ability to keep his identity secret for so many years is a testament to the insular world of Native Americans; Rodgers isn’t afraid to stand out in a crowd.
Usually clad in an all-black matching shirt and sport coat, his unusual combination of high cheekbones and deep-set green eyes illustrates his mixed Blackfoot Indian and Irish heritage.
Michael Scanlon, a business partner of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was sentenced today to 20 months in federal prison for his role in the scandal that helped bring down former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The prison sentence handed out by District Judge Ellen Huvelle marked the end of long fall from grace for Scanlon, a one-time DeLay aide who made enormous sums working with Abramoff, only to see it all fall apart.
From “Ney’s Sentence Ends Saturday” by Joselyn King:
This weekend former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney will be a free man after serving 17 months of a 30-month federal sentence.
WHAT ABOUT HIS FELLOW INMATE?
When Bob Ney arrived at the Federal Correction Institution in Morgantown, W.Va. on March 1, 2007, “Survivor” television game show winner Richard Hatch had already served seven months of a 51-month sentence in the Morgantown facility for failing to pay income tax on his $1 million prize.
Ney, who was sentenced to 30 months on federal corruption charges, served nearly a year in prison and was released in February into the custody of a halfway house.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Hatch is due to be released on Oct. 7, 2009.
“People ask me, ‘How can we believe you?’ And my answer to you is, first of all, I am a changed man,” says Abramoff, who served 43 months in the federal pen as the central figure in last decade’s Washington corruption scandal involving Indian tribal gaming establishments and influence peddling. “But I am not going to be able to convince you I am changed any more than somebody can convince you that they love you. You have to look at people’s actions.”
And, let’s not forget, also to make some money. Abramoff-who has little hope of paying the $23 million in court-ordered restitution to his victims, especially the Indian tribes that were his ill-treated clients-wants to generate income by giving paid speeches.
August 2005: Federal grand jury indicts Kidan and Abramoff for fraud related to the SunCruz purchase; they eventually plead guilty.
October 2006: Kidan begins serving a five-year prison sentence; he cooperates with prosecutors and is released in May 2009.
From “More delays expected in Gus Boulis murder trial” by Rafael A. Olmeda:
Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari and James Fiorillo, all of whom have been connected to the Gambino crime family, were arrested six years ago and face the death penalty if convicted. For now, Moscatiello is out on $500,000 bail. Bail was set for the other two defendants as well, but they were unable to post the amount and remain in the Broward Main Jail.
Neither Kidan nor Abramoff has been accused of involvement in Boulis’ murder. Kidan has maintained for years that he hired Moscatiello, now 71, for protection because of his mob connections and because Kidan feared Boulis would become violent. But Kidan says he never wanted his business rival killed.
An admitted conspirator in the 2001 slaying of a prominent South Florida businessman described Tuesday how he conducted surveillance before the mob-style hit and later helped dispose of a handgun and car used in the crime.
James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, 34, did not witness the Feb. 6, 2001 killing of Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, founder of the Miami Subs restaurant chain and onetime owner of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet. But Fiorillo said he was deeply involved in the plot and its aftermath, including a phone call made the night of the killing by suspect Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari after the two watched a television newscast.
“Trial off until August in Florida businessman killing” by Associated Press:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Trial is off until late summer in the 2001 mob-style slaying of the former owner of the Miami Subs restaurant chain and SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.
A defense attorney’s required knee surgery led a Broward County judge on Monday to delay the trial of two men until Aug. 12. The trial had been scheduled to start next week.
Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis was killed by a gunman who pulled alongside his car on a Fort Lauderdale street. Facing the death penalty if convicted are Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello and Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari. Both have pleaded not guilty.
82 The Sunday Paper which used to host Baron’s column has gone south, if you know what I mean and I think you know what I mean: it’s defunct, like Buffalo Bill, so it can only be found on the wayback machine web archive (a grateful hat tip to the blog, Chamblee54).
My big cavernous pit of love
By Lisa Baron
I swear I don’t have a big vagina, but over the Thanksgiving holiday, I told my father-in-law I did.
That’s right, I told him right to his face that his daughter-in-law, the woman his beloved first born son chose for a wife comes with a big cavernous pit of love.
I’m not frickin’ kidding either. And I committed this transgression against myself without even saying a word, I signed it. I held up my hands, connected the fleshy base of my palms together and separated them to form the letter V. Then I turned, smiled and showed it to my father-in-law. I wish it weren’t true, oh do I wish it weren’t true.
And it’s not like I go around talking about my vagina either. The only people I talk about my whoo-ha with are my best friends and Debbie, the bikini waxer. And as far as Debbie goes, we only discussed it once-to decide on what was to be eliminated. And I’ve only ever mentioned my netherworld to my own dad-and mom-once.
The princess and the prostitute
By Lisa Baron
I’m downloading gangsta rap into my iPod-a gift from Jimmy’s boss. Strange gift from the general manager of a radio station. Sort of. He gave one to me, Fred’s wife, Fat Kid’s wife and Wally’s wife. He wants us to listen to our iPods instead of the station’s morning show. If we’re not listening to the morning show, then we don’t hear our husbands clamoring on about the desperate state of affairs in their homes. And if we don’t hear them whining, they are spared the shrill squawks of done-wrong housewives. So now I have an iPod and Jimmy gets to complain without retaliation and everyone is happy. Sort of.
“My inner slut was snuffed out well before her time.”
Anyway, I’m shoving Eazy-E and the 2 Live Crew into the spores of my iPod and somewhere between “Eazy-Duz-It” and “Me So Horny,” a prickly heat rises through my body, finally breaking into a cool, mellow mourn over the lost chance of ever being with a black man. Or a yellow man, for that matter, or the golden hue of the honey-brown Italian or his first cousin, the dreamy Spaniard. In my monomaniacal pursuit of finding “the one,” I selflessly worried about keeping my numbers low before marriage; totally screwing myself in the process. This insane logic (everyone lies about their numbers, anyway) has left me mentally and numerically low.
Ralph Reed’s race for lieutenant governor of Georgia has foundered since it was disclosed that Reed, who says he opposes gambling, accepted gambling money from Abramoff on a lobbying job, then insisted he hadn’t known about it. The two are now estranged; when Norquist got married last year, Reed steered clumsily clear of Abramoff’s table.
Just to cite one typical example, the head of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, said in an interview, “Abramoff is someone who we don’t know a lot about. We know what we read in the paper,” even though, according to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged e-mail with Abramoff, did him political favors (such as blocking Clinton-administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at his house, and offered to pick up his tab at Signatures. (According to a spokesperson, Mehlman does not recall the e-mail exchange, “because he was often contacted by political supporters with suggestions and ideas,” or the Sabbath dinner.)
Then there’s presidential adviser Karl Rove. He has not spoken of his relationship with Abramoff, but the White House insists Rove, too, barely knew him, acknowledging only that they met at a political event in the 1990s. “He would describe him as a casual acquaintance,” a White House spokesman said. But Abramoff was Rove’s spiritual heir at the College Republicans in the 1980s; both men headed the group, and the two met from time to time in connection with it. After George W. Bush took office, Susan Ralston, Abramoff’s administrative assistant, took the same position with Rove at the White House, where Abramoff met with Rove at least once. (An eyewitness also recalls seeing Abramoff emerge from a car near the White House and have what looked like a pre-arranged, street-corner meeting with Rove; Abramoff says he can’t recall that.) Rove dined several times at Signatures and was Abramoff’s guest in the owner’s box at the N.C.A.A. basketball playoffs a few years ago, sitting for much of the game by Abramoff’s side. Recently, three former associates of Abramoff’s have told how he frequently mentioned his strong ties to Rove, and one described being present when Abramoff took a phone call from Rove’s office.
Ralph Reed is going to own this room. Granted, it’s only a standard-issue campus auditorium at Emory University, half filled at best for the annual Georgia College Republicans convention. But to the former boy wonder of evangelical politics, it looks like heavenly shelter on this drizzly February morning. The Christian Coalition co-founder’s first campaign for public office–lieutenant governor of Georgia, a position Reed and his fans envision as a stepping stone to bigger things–has turned into a waking nightmare. Every week brings a new revelation about the millions in dirty money Reed earned by duping his fellow evangelicals into putting their political muscle behind “Casino Jack” Abramoff’s gambling clients. Reed’s huge leads in both popularity polls and fundraising have almost disappeared. Instead of making his triumphant debut as a politician, the man Time magazine called “The Right Hand of God” is fast becoming the new poster boy for Christian-right corruption.
The Georgia CRs finally give Reed a polite hand for his creative stab at self-redemption. A few awkward minutes later, Reed is climbing the steps toward the exit, wearing an iron-willed smile while making an elaborate show of “gripping and grinning,” even though only a few hands reach out to him. It’s one more sign of his mounting desperation to project the air of a winner–a desperation that led to embarrassment in January, when Reed’s campaign offered $20 and a free hotel stay to supporters who would attend the Georgia Christian Coalition’s annual convention and cheer for the man who invented the coalition.
Maurice Atkinson says he will not question Reed’s faith, because Atkinson is a Christian, and Christians don’t do that. He believes in grace, believes that all men fall short of the glory of God, believes he shouldn’t be picking specks from another man’s eye when he surely has a timber in his own.
Reed could have worked for anyone he wanted to, could have lent his considerable talents to any number of Christian organizations, real ones, too, the kind that existed before Reed needed some preachers to front for his corporate clients. But Enron? Indian casinos? “He’s either an awfully cheap whore,” Atkinson says, “or he’s diabolical.”
Last week, news broke that Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition director and crony of Jack Abramoff, would be helping to raise money for Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) fundraiser in Atlanta. Reed “touted himself as a member of McCain’s ‘Victory 2008 Team’ in an e-mail that solicited donations on McCain’s behalf,” and public watchdog organizations called on McCain to denounce Reed. The Wall Street Journal now reports that Reed was a no-show at tonight’s Atlanta fundraiser.
“Obama Camp: Ralph Reed Uninvited to McCain’s Fundraiser” by Amanda Parker:
ABC News’ Ron Claiborne reports: The Obama campaign is continuing to hammer Republican Sen. John McCain for former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed’s involvement in a McCain fundraising event in Atlanta.
Reed – who didn’t show up to McCain’s fundraiser tonight – was implicated, but not charged, in lobbying deals involving Indian casinos with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. McCain participated in the congressional probe of Abramoff’s lobbying. Abramoff is now serving time at a minimum security federal prison in Maryland.
On a television set up at the booth, a video played on loop claiming Wall Street reform is an “unconstitutional takeover of the U.S. economy.” The video, set to scary attack ad music, argued that Tea Party activists should be as angry at financial reform as they were against President Obama’s health reforms:
NARRATOR: From the same people who brought you Obamacare comes a controversial sequel: Dodd Frank. Last year, President Obama and the Democrat-run Congress rushed through the sweeping overhaul of healthcare amounting to the unconstitutional power grab followed quickly by Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform And Consumer Protection Act. Just like Obamacare it created a massive, unconstitutional regulatory bureaucracy. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a runaway regulatory machine completely unaccountable to the president, the Congress, and the courts.
Who is behind Dodd Frank Exposed? Although the organization is ostensibly hosted by the “Judicial Crisis Network” – a group that has no actual registration or office – Dodd Frank Exposed is actually run by two veteran astroturf lobbyists, Gary Marx and Robert Bork Jr. Marx is a vice president at Ralph Reed’s lobbying firm Century Strategies. Bork runs his own public relations company called the Bork Communication Group.
Marx, on the other hand, did not return any of our calls. His firm, Century Strategies, has a similar history as Bork. Century Strategies created Christian-themed front groups for Enron to lobby for energy deregulation, launched a religion-based direct mail campaign to maintain sweatshops in the Mariana Islands, and was caught up in a money laundering scheme with Jack Abramoff for his casino clients. Although Marx lists companies like Walmart among his clients, it is not clear who is paying him for his new Tea Party group pushing to repeal financial reform. Notably, the Dodd Frank Exposed website applauds litigation sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by banks like Citigroup and Bank of America, for challenging the constitutionality of Wall Street reform.
According to documents obtained by ThinkProgress, the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA), a trade association that represents cable providers like Comcast and Qwest Communications, has provided Reed’s lobbying firm with at least $3,462,117 worth of contracts in the last three years alone. Century Strategies, the firm founded by Reed and fellow astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips in 1997, received the contracts for what NCTA deemed “legal and advertising” services. View a screenshot of the relevant documents here and here.
Around the same time the cable industry paid Reed over $3 million, cable companies across the country were battling a regulation known as “net neutrality” – a rule that allows Internet freedom by ensuring that Internet providers, like cable companies, do not discriminate based on content or bandwidth speeds. The NCTA, Reed’s cable trade association benefactor, lobbied aggressively to prevent Congress or the FCC from enacting net neutrality rules. The trade association, along with member companies like Comcast, ran ads and hired many lobbyists.
Mysteriously, around the time of the NCTA million-dollar contracts to Century Strategies, Reed’s old business partner Tim Phillips took up the charge of defeating net neutrality. His group, Americans for Prosperity, pushed conspiracies that net neutrality has something to do with communism. As the FCC continued its deliberations over the rule, AFP launched a $1.4 million ad campaign with Tea Party-themes against net neutrality.
Ralph Reed believes conservative voters of faith need a Christian Coalition 2.0.
And the man once dubbed the “right hand of God” by Time magazine is returning to the arena where he had his greatest success to try and make it so.
“This is not going to be your daddy’s Christian Coalition,” Reed said in an interview to describe his new venture, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “It has to be younger, hipper, less strident, more inclusive and it has to harness the 21st century that will enable us to win in the future.”
“Even though I’ve been doing other things, this is kind of like Steve Jobs returning to Apple,” Reed said.
89 From “An Evangelical Is Back From Exile, Lifting Romney” by Jo Becker:
Three years ago, Mr. Reed formed the Faith and Freedom Coalition and began assembling what he calls the largest-ever database of reliably conservative religious voters. In the coming weeks, he says, each of those 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states will receive three phone calls and at least three pieces of mail. Seven million of them will get e-mail and text messages. Two million will be visited by one of more than 5,000 volunteers. Over 25 million voter guides will be distributed in 117,000 churches.
White evangelicals are a crucial voting constituency, 26 percent of the 2008 electorate and overwhelmingly Republican in recent presidential cycles, exit polls show. With so few truly undecided voters left, bumping up evangelical turnout in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio would almost certainly help Mr. Romney.
From “Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches “ by Bill Moyers:
As the sun slowly sets over the Republican National Convention in Tampa, we settle back in the chairs that nice Mr. Eastwood just gave us and ponder some of the other oddities of the week. Like this item in the official GOP platform pointed out by Brad Plumer of the Washington Post:
No minimum wage for the Mariana Islands. “The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.”
“Conservative Group Claims Obama Has ‘Communist Beliefs,’ Compares His Policies To Hitler’s” by Annie Rose-Strasser:
A conservative religious group is sending its members a ‘survey’ that compares President Obama’s policies to those of Nazi Germany, and asserts that the President has “communist beliefs.”
The mailer, a product of the Faith and Freedom coalition, is titled the “Voter Registration Confirmation Survey.” But its questions have little to do with registering to vote. Rather, the survey asks a host of leading inquiries into how its members view the President’s record.
As Mother Jones, who obtained the survey, points out, the Faith and Freedom coalition and particularly its head Ralph Reed are leading the effort to turn out Evangelical voters for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The group plans to spend over $10 million for this purpose.
Under the shade of some palm trees, Ralph Reed took off his shirt and fed an orange to a giant iguana.
Day five, Friday afternoon, and we were on a white-sand beach in Honduras, biding our time until a boat would take us offshore to snorkel over the shipwreck. Even Reed, among the youngest people on the cruise, was in a way a figure from an earlier time. Rob Long, the right-wing Hollywood writer, told me the night before, over cocktails on the midship deck, “I like Ralph Reed, but he’s done.”
91 “Thanks to Donald Trump, “Christian Evangelical” Is Now an Empty Phrase” [archive link] by Adam Weinstein:
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” What a crock of shit.
Not the New Testament verse, mind you-which the ostensibly evangelical Faith and Freedom Coalition posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. It’s a sublime notion that neither earthly wealth nor stodgy tradition can save the believer-that humans of all economic and social castes are essentially equal in damnation, and in their potential for salvation. What a beautiful universe that is: no sin is too big to overcome, no pile of money is big enough to save you. This is the cornerstone of Christianity, of its highest expressions through voluntary charity and acts of love for all.
But that verse’s Facebook posters, who in recent decades have secured a vertical monopoly on Christianity in the American public sphere, are the farthest, awfulest thing from this Christian ideal. They are a money-sucking, dogma-spouting, people-hating puddle of inane defecate, stacked up and sculpted into a Jesus on a cross. And they proved it Thursday by inviting Donald Trump to come speak at their June shindig. If this is what “Christian evangelism” means nowadays, Christian evangelism has no meaning.
92 From “An Evangelical Is Back From Exile, Lifting Romney” by Jo Becker:
The other day, sitting in an office lined with framed photographs from back in the heyday – here with President George W. Bush at a White House Christmas party, there with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican – the preternaturally youthful evangelical operative, 51, propped his black ostrich cowboy boots on a coffee table and made what he admits seems an audacious prediction: that record numbers of socially conservative evangelical Protestants will turn out for the first presidential election in history without a Protestant on the Republican ticket.
From “The Sins of Ralph Reed” by Sean Flynn:
A few days earlier, a fellow Republican, someone who actually likes him, had told me that Reed “would be the quintessential reptilian character. With Ralph, it’s not a question of ‘Do I like you?’ It’s a question of ‘Am I hungry? And if I am, are you of a size that I can eat you?'”