As executive director of the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, Ralph Reed toed a hard line against the spread of legalized gambling. Reed took the common Religious Right view that gambling is anti-family. He once called it, “a cancer on the American body politic” that was “stealing food from the mouths of children.”
Nowadays, as a high-paid political operative and consultant, Reed is apparently singing a different tune – in whatever key those who pay him request. The Nation magazine reported July 12 that Reed has been working to help a Native American tribe in Louisiana eager to fend off competition from another tribe that wanted to open a casino.
The tribe, the Coushatta, has been running a huge gambling casino in Louisiana near Lake Charles and wants to stave off competition from another tribe eager for some gaming action of its own.
According to The Nation, the other tribe, the Jena Band, had hired former GOP chairman Haley Barbour to press its case with the Bush administration. Knowing of Barbour’s strong influence in Republican circles, the Coushatta’s lobbyists, Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, former spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), sought another well-connected Republican to balance him out. They chose Reed.
The Coushatta Tribe, The Nation reported, which was already paying Abramoff and Scanlon $32 million a year, picked up Reed as well but made sure his hiring remained under the radar. Two casino lobbyists say they were in a meeting in early 2002 and heard William Worfel, vice chair of the Coushatta tribe, say he planned to hire Reed. Reed’s job, according to a third lobbyist at the meeting, was to “mobilize Christian radio and ministers against the casino.”
Thus, Reed could claim to be working against legalized gambling while he was in fact on the payroll of an existing casino operation that wanted to protect its turf (and its massive profits of $300 million a year). Documents obtained by The Nation show that Reed’s Atlanta-based Century Strategies consulting firm received a quarter of a million dollars from one of Scanlon’s companies. Another Reed firm, Capitol Media, received $100,000.
Reed’s role in the mess came to light during a Justice Department investigation of alleged improprieties between Scanlon, Abramoff and Republican campaigns. Reed, who is currently working on the Bush re-election campaign, is not accused of any illegal activity. As Nation writer Jack Newfield noted, “This was not a crime, just furtive hypocrisy.”
The investigation is ongoing, and a federal grand jury has subpoenaed the financial records of the Coushatta Tribe.
Reed issued a statement denying the allegations. He attacked The Nation story as “filled with falsehoods and inaccuracies and liberal bias.”
WorldNetDaily, a conservative online news site, asked Reed’s spokeswoman, Sarah Few, to respond to Newfield’s allegation that he had uncovered bills Reed sent marked only for “Louisiana Project Mgmt. Fee.” Few called the allegations “false” but would not comment further.
In other news about the Religious Right:
• “Christian nation” advocate David Barton has been touring the country speaking in churches at the behest of the Republican National Committee. Barton, who serves as vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, says his goal is to urge churches to conduct non-partisan voter registration drives.
But one attendee at a Barton appearance in Eugene, Ore., in July begged to differ.
“The whole structure of the event is meant to support the Republican Party and meant to cast negative views on the Democrats,” Bruce Holter told the Portland Oregonian. Holter said Barton criticized the Democrats for supporting legal abortion and same-sex marriage.
• Leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) have dropped language from a statement on religion and politics that seemed to warn against conservative Christians getting too closely identified with one political party.
The statement originally read that evangelicals “must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that the Christian faith is essentially political in nature.”
NAE leaders quickly dumped the new language when news reports about it surfaced.
“We changed that line today,” Rich Cizik told World magazine June 21. “We had been in the process of doing so, but we knew today that we had to.”
• John Whitehead of the Rutheford Institute has warned conservative Christians not to align themselves with political power.
“As Christians in past regimes have found, identifying with the establishment, as much of modern evangelicalism is doing, can present a grave danger – the establishment may easily become the church’s enemy,” Whitehead wrote in a recent column. “Not only is it perilous to identify with the established powers, it also negates the true mission of the church. The church is not to identify with power but to speak truth to power – even at great costs. Martyrs, past and present, testify to this.”
• The Christian Coalition is once again facing a lawsuit for failing to pay its bills. The once-powerful Religious Right political outfit is being sued in Tarrant County, Texas, by an Oklahoma direct-mail firm that alleges that the Coalition owes it $87,000.
The company, Global Direct of Tulsa, said the Coalition agreed to provide a mailing list that would be used to conduct a mass solicitation to pay off the debt, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But Global Direct says the list has not been turned over and the debt remains outstanding.
Although based in Washington, D.C., the Coalition is incorporated in Tarrant County. The organization assumed the tax-exempt status of its Texas chapter after the Internal Revenue Service denied the national office tax exemption in 1999.