Ralph Reed long ago proved that he is no conservative. After Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary in 1996, Buchanan had a legitimate chance to overtake Bob Dole and emerge as the Republican presidential nominee. One of the major reasons he did not was the active (though largely behind-the-scenes) opposition of the Christian Coalition, its founder, Pat Robertson, and its executive director, Ralph Reed. Crucial to the eventual nomination of the Senator From Viagra was his victory in the South Carolina primary, a win that owed a great deal to Reed. Given that Buchanan was as viable a candidate as Dole at the time, Reed’s support for Dole cannot be explained as a mere recognition of political reality. Instead, Reed’s rejection of Buchanan clearly showed his preference for the type of temporizing, equivocal politics that had long characterized Dole, notwithstanding Reed’s public support for the type of strong social conservatism long championed by Buchanan. Indeed, the disconnect was so great between the policies espoused by the Christian Coalition and the record of Dole that some wondered whether Buchanan’s Catholicism played a role in the decision to support Dole over Buchanan.
More recently, others have begun to see through Ralph Reed. In June 2005, the Weekly Standard ran a devastating portrait of Reed by Matthew Continetti. According to Continetti, Reed spent his time under Robertson “draining the Christian Coalition of much of its explicitly Christian, or even religious, content,” going so far as to suggest, in 1996, that “social conservatives ought to seek compromise on the abortion issue.” Continetti also documented how Reed’s lobbying firm has earned millions urging evangelical Christians to support such diverse interests as Puerto Rican statehood, the Channel One “educational” television network, and most favored nation (MFN) trading status for Communist China.
Reed is not the only former Robertson lieutenant who has attempted to cash in on his political connections. In November 2005, the Legal Times ran an unfavorable article on Jay Sekulow, who has parlayed his leadership of the American Center for Law and Justice into “a lavish lifestyle—complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private jet.” But at least the nonprofit organizations that paid out $2,374,833 to purchase two homes used primarily by Sekulow and his wife are also spending some money to advance recognizably conservative goals. Reed, by contrast, is using the money from corporate clients to bamboozle conservative Christians and make himself rich.
According to a November 17, 2005, article in World Magazine, Reed raised millions from corporate interests to support permanent MFN status for Communist China and used that money to fund advertisements claiming that “A nation open to trade is a nation open to ministry” and that “an ill-advised and counterproductive trade war with China . . . would close the door to the Gospel.” One of Reed’s ads touting MFN for China went so far as to claim that “The progress of democracy and the salvation of millions of souls depends [sic] on it.”
But Reed is gaining the most notoriety for his association with ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom Reed met when both worked at the national office of the College Republicans in 1981. Abramoff is now under a wide-ranging investigation by Congress and a criminal probe by several federal agencies stemming from his raising some $82 million from six Indian tribes over three years to support their gambling interests. At least $4.2 million of this money was directed to Reed’s lobbying firm, which used the money to campaign against gambling in Alabama. What Reed never disclosed was that his campaign was being funded by the Mississippi Choctaws, who did not want their Mississippi casinos to face any competition from next door.
Many Alabamians opposed to gambling were shocked when they learned who had been bankrolling Reed’s campaign. Dan Ireland, executive director of the antigambling Alabama Citizens Action Program, told World that “I think anyone who is against gambling wouldn’t take the money if they thought it had anything to do with gambling.” Mr. Ireland is right, just as one doubts that any right-to-life organization would take money from one group of abortionists as part of a campaign to shut down a rival group of abortionists. But, sadly, many of those who have sought to turn conservative activism into personal profit apparently have no such qualms, so long as the checks keep coming.