Ralph Reed is a long-time Republican activist, whose scandalous connections to
convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff date back to their College Republican days. The
evangelical Christian activist was investigated for his role in an Abramoff
money-funneling scheme. Between 2001 and 2006, Reed visited the White House 18
times, including two events with President Bush.
Reed, Abramoff, and tax activist Grover Norquist (a close confident of Bush and founder of the American Muslim Counsel) met in the 1980s as leaders of the College Republicans. All three men headed national leadership positions in the campus organization. In 1983, Reed had a religious conversion at Bullfeathers, a bar on Capitol Hill, and became an observant Christian.
A year later, Reed was president of Students for America, a national group for conservative religious college students. In 1985, he entered a Ph.D program at Emory University in American History.
While working on his degree, Reed met Christian broadcasting magnate Pat Robertson, who had just run for president the year before. In 1989, Reed became executive director of the Christian Coalition, Robertson’s political group for religious Republicans. Reed was a charismatic leader with a penchant for theater. In 1991, he famously told the 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."
The Christian Coalition increased in popularity, with its database ballooning to 1.7 million names. In 1995, the 33-year-old Reed appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline: “The Right Hand of God."
In 1997, Reed left to cash in on his fame. He formed the lobbying group Century Strategies. One of his first clients was Enron, which signed a one-year $114,000 contract in September 1997. The energy company re-signed for another 6 months in 2000, for $75,000. According to a memo that Reed wrote to Enron executives, published in the Washington Post, Reed promised that he would “assume personal responsibility for the overall vision and strategy of the project. I have long-term friendships with many members of Congress." Enron re-signed for $30,000 and then went bankrupt.
Century Strategies also represented the controversial children’s television network Channel One (slammed for running television ads in schools), Verizon, and Business Roundtable (worked on normalizing trade relations with China). Century also shared some clients with Reed’s old friend Jack Abramoff, at the time a lawyer at Preston Gates & Ellis and then at Greenberg Traurig.
These associations got Reed in trouble, after Abramoff’s influence-peddling became public. From 1999 until 2002, Abramoff-related firms paid Century Strategies at least $4.2 million for grassroots lobbying. Reed is opposed to gambling, once calling it a “cancer.” Although he didn’t directly represent casinos, that’s where Abramoff made a great deal of his money.
Senate investigators also investigated the role of Reed and Norquist in a 1999-2001 Abramoff plan to funnel Indian casino gambling money through Norquist’s organization to fund an anti-gambling campaign run by Reed in Alabama. Reed claims he thought the money came from tribal industries, not gambling. Norquist was a partner with David Safavian. Their firm, Janus-Merrit Strategies, represented suspected terrorist funder Jamal al-Barzinji.
Reed also went on a weeklong golfing trip to St. Andrews in Scotland, organized by Abramoff and former White House chief procurement officer David Safavian, who was later convicted of five counts of lying and obstruction.
Microsoft, another Century Strategies client, dropped the firm after discovering Reed’s involvement in the scandal. (Abramoff also lobbied for Microsoft in the late 1990s, while working for Preston Gates Ellis.) Microsoft paid $20,000 a month to Century Strategies. Microsoft paid Grover Norquist $60,000 in 1999. The company also hired Barbour, Griffin & Rogers for $180,000. One of the firm's principals, Haley Barbour, is the former head of the Republican National Committee, who is now governor of Mississippi.
The scandal also scuttled Reed’s 2006 bid for the Republican nomination for the office of Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. He lost the primary election. He worked on the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and was chair of the Southeast region for their 2004 reelection campaign.
- Ralph Reed’s Other Cheek,” Mother Jones, November/December 2004.
- “A Decade of Reed,” The Weekly Standard, 6/27/05.
- “Microsoft defends ties to Ralph Reed ,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/27/05.
- “Safavian found guilty in Abramoff scandal,” Associated Press, 6/20/06.