Political Irony Resurrected in Georgia
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Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 02:11:58 PM EST
Seven tracking polls released by Strategic Vision, a conservative polling firm, show that a plurality of Georgia Republicans view Ralph Reed unfavorably. Graphic by Jonathan Hutson. Image hosting by Photobucket

Why is a former casino industry lobbyist helping Ralph Reed officially launch his campaign into the homestretch for the Georgia Lieutenant Governor's race today? Has Reed lost his political acumen as well as his moral compass? And why do a plurality of Georgia Republicans now hold an unfavorable view of him, according to the latest tracking poll? According to a conservative polling firm, 44 percent of Georgia Republicans view Reed with disfavor, while only 39 percent view him favorably. That's a steep decline since August 2005, when 54 percent of Georgia Republicans held a favorable view of Reed.

Political irony died when Georgia lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Ralph Reed advertised his campaign event today as an "Election Year Kick Off." Some observers believe that Reed's campaign had already kicked off -- to the great beyond -- as evidenced by his plummeting poll numbers and the stench smothering Reed's camp due to his covert lobbying work on behalf of the gambling industry.

But then, just as political irony was being laid to rest, Reed resurrected it by inviting a former casino lobbyist to vouch for him on March 20, 2006, as his special guest speaker at the Kick Off. As his guest of honor, Reed invited Mississippi Governor and former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour, whose lobbying firm represented a proposed casino in Louisiana.

The Bible informs us that resurrection is accompanied by a stench. Just before Lazarus climbed out of his tomb, swaddled in grave clothes, a follower of Jesus noted, "Lord... he stinketh!" (Gospel According to John, 11:38-39). And so it has come to pass with the resurrection of political irony in Georgia. Reed is gambling that conservatives will still hold their noses and vote for him. Yet Barber, his campaign's kick-off speaker, stinketh of the same gambling industry ties that have threatened to bury Reed's political future.

In fact, Barbour represented the Indian tribe that Abramoff and Reed were lobbying against on behalf of another Indian tribe -- not because they wanted to end gambling, but because they wanted to limit competition in the gambling industry. Reed even bragged to Abramoff that he could convince Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to go after Barbour on the air in Louisiana for his representation of an Indian tribal casino. Apparently, Reed did not disclose to Dobson his own ties to a rival Indian tribal casino. In fact, Reed devoted considerable time and effort to concealing the source of funds he received from Abramoff's gambling industry clients.

Veteran reporter Jack Newfield detailed the nature of the lobbying work that Abramoff paid Reed to do in opposition to Barbour, in "Ralph Reed's Gamble," an investigative piece that ran in The Nation in July 2004. Newfield writes:

In early 2002 the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana was desperately trying to kill a planned competing casino that the rival Jena Band wanted to build in southwestern Louisiana. This new casino would have broken the Coushattas' geographical monopoly and cost the tribe--whose casino was grossing $300 million a year-- an estimated $1 billion in gambling revenue over five years. The Jena Band had hired former GOP national chairman Haley Barbour to make sure its casino compact was approved by the heavily politicized Bureau of Indian Affairs. So the Coushatta tribe, which already was in the process of paying Abramoff and Scanlon some $32 million over three years, also hired Reed, according to three witnesses and documents obtained by The Nation. This was not a crime, just furtive hypocrisy.

Two casino industry lobbyists--Philip Thompson and Bill Grimes--say they were in a meeting in Baton Rouge early in 2002 and heard William Worfel, vice chair of the Coushatta tribe, say he was hiring Reed to lobby for the tribe with the BIA to neutralize the influence Barbour had with the Bush Administration. According to Thompson, Worfel, who also did not return phone calls, "said he was putting Reed on his payroll. He said, 'If they have Barbour, we need Reed.'" A third casino lobbyist at the meeting, who requested anonymity, says Reed helped "mobilize Christian radio and ministers against the casino." But, he says, "He wanted to be able to deny it. Or if it came out, he wanted to be able to claim he was against the Jena casino, without anybody knowing he was getting paid by a bigger tribe with a bigger gambling operation."

But Reed and Barbour have not always lobbied for opposing teams. For example, Barbour and Reed both lobbied on behalf of MicroSoft in 1999. MicroSoft paid Reed to lobby the George W. Bush presidential campaign in opposition to the government's antitrust case against the software giant. MicroSoft aimed to curry favor with the Republican presidential front-runner, hoping that Bush would take a gentle approach toward the company's monopolistic practices if elected president. After The New York Times revealed the lobbying deal in April 2000, Reed apologized for the "appearance of conflict" -- since he also served at the same time as a paid consultant and senior advisor for the Bush campaign. Nevertheless, he continued to accept MicroSoft's money (about $20,000 per month, according to invoices obtained by Americablog) until May 2005, when the software giant ended the lobbying contract in the midst of the Indian gaming scandal.

The Indian gaming investigation has left Reed unable or unwilling to respond to a high-profile ad campaign by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon), which accuses him and two other religious right leaders -- Rev. Lou Sheldon and James Dobson -- of being "knee-deep in the Jack Abramoff scandal." Reed has not even responded to repeated -- and pointed -- questions from the conservative evangelical weekly World Magazine, which is among Reed's sharpest critics.

It is little wonder, then, that Reed's lead over his Republican rival, State Senator Casey Cagle, has dropped from 17 points last September to just 5 points in the latest tracking poll released on March 8, 2006, by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based polling firm that works mostly for Republicans. If the election were held today, 41 percent of Georgia Republicans polled would vote for Reed, compared with 36 percent who would choose Cagle; that leaves a large number of undecided voters (23 percent). But over the past few months, undecided voters have been drifting toward Cagle, who, like Reed, is a conservative, evangelical Christian in favor of limiting abortion rights. And in contrast to Reed, who has never held an elected, public office, Cagle is a seasoned state senator.

Even more remarkable, a plurality of Georgia Republicans now view Reed unfavorably. Fully 44 percent of Georgia Republicans polled hold an "unfavorable" view of Reed, while only 39 percent view him favorably, and 17 percent remain undecided. In contrast, 38 percent have a favorable view of Cagle, while only 19 percent view him unfavorably, and 43 percent remain up-for-grabs in their opinion of Reed's opponent. That's a remarkable turn-around since August 4, 2005, when Strategic Vision's poll showed Reed with a favorable rating of 54 percent and an unfavorable rating of just 36 percent. And Reed's lead has been cut by more than two-thirds since Strategic Vision's poll dated September 28, 2005, when he led Cagle by 17 points.

but it is doubtful that an endorsement from an out-of-state former casino industry shill will convince Georgia conservatives to hold their noses and vote for Reed. Reed has a well-organized campaign, but so does his opponent, Casey Cagle. And the more voters get to know Cagle (and understand that he's an anti-choice, conservative evangelical like Reed, but without the baggage), the more they move into Cagle's camp. In this race, Reed's name recognition is not an advantage, since his high-profile name is linked with a high-profile lobbying scandal that is likely to remain in the news for months to come.

by jhutson on Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 02:24:06 PM EST

In a guest editorial for the Savannah Morning News posted on March 18, 2006, Ralph Reed's opponent, State Senator Casey Cagle, questioned the sincerity of Reed's apology for his involvement in the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Cagle wrote:
Georgians want leaders they can trust and demand honesty from those seeking public office.

That is why Ralph Reed's carefully phrased "apology" ("Reed: 'I deeply regret' having worked on casinos with lobbyist Abramoff," March 5) won't persuade voters - because it wasn't really an apology.

From the very beginning of this campaign, Ralph Reed has consistently, repeatedly and intentionally misled virtually everyone about his lobbying relationship with convicted felon Jack Abramoff. A review of the facts shows that even in his most recent carefully phrased and lawyer-approved statement, Ralph is intentionally deceptive again.

For example, Ralph wants us to believe he "was approached by Jack Abramoff" in 1999. Ralph would like us to believe he is a victim. However, his own words, in e-mails released by a U.S. Senate committee, show exactly the opposite - Ralph Reed approached Abramoff for work. In one e-mail, Ralph solicited Abramoff's help "humping" new clients for lobbying business.

And Ralph's argument that his firm "was not paid by other casinos"? Again, the truth revealed by Ralph's own e-mails differs from the spin he is putting out on the campaign trail. In several cases, e-mails obtained by federal investigators show that Ralph was fully aware that he was being paid by casino operators to shut down their competition.

Ralph's own e-mails prove he sold his influence with Christian conservatives to Indian casino interests. However, the issue at hand is not gambling, but trust. Since leaving the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed has been paid by a wide array of clients, from Enron to the cable television industry, to lobby and manipulate Christian conservatives. While I appreciate Ralph's work for the Coalition and the Republican Party, I find myself joining many Georgians in expressing our profound disappointment in Ralph's lobbying work over the last several years, and even greater disappointment in his refusal to honestly apologize for it.

Real leadership means having the courage to admit one's mistakes and ask for forgiveness. If Ralph Reed will simply state that his actions were wrong, be completely honest about who he worked for, and reconcile himself by returning all the fees he's accepted from legally and morally questionable sources, then Georgians will have reason to believe he's serious. The first step on the road to redemption is honesty. If Ralph will take these simple steps, I believe Georgians will forgive him and we can all move forward.

by jhutson on Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 05:16:03 PM EST
At the same time that Strategic Vision was writing up its poll results -- showing Reed's disastrous slide in his favorability ratings -- Reed issued an apology, of sorts, to explain and defend his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Here is a partial text of that apology, which Reed's opponent Casey Cagle lambasted as dishonest.
Since I began my campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia, my past work opposing casino gambling expansion has become an issue. Serving in a position of public trust is something I take seriously. Therefore, I want the voters to know the facts about my past work and my opposition to gambling.

In 1999, as I was building my small business, I was approached by Jack Abramoff, a friend of almost 20 years who I had known since my College Republican days. He asked if I would be interested in being hired by his law firm to oppose casino-style operations in Alabama.

I stated that I was willing to do the work so long as my firm was not paid by other casinos. This was consistent with my views and values. I had previously rejected work opposing casinos in California when I learned the effort was funded by casinos in Las Vegas. I was assured by the law firm at the outset of the work that I would not be paid with revenues derived from gambling activity.

Having received those assurances, we prevented from opening or helped close eight casinos. We stopped casino operations in Alabama and a casino in Louisiana that the Department of Interior ruled illegal. In Texas we worked to close a casino in El Paso operating in open violation of state and federal law that grossed up to $60 million a year. A federal judge ordered the casino closed. We also worked to defeat an Internet gambling bill that would have allowed children to bet on horse and dog racing from a home computer - a bill opposed by the Department of Justice and the Southern Baptist Convention.

This work advanced my beliefs and was sound public policy. We will never know how many marriages were saved or how many families and children were spared the tragic consequences of compulsive gambling because of that work.

Nevertheless, had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken the work. On reflection, and in an abundance of caution, I should have declined it. I should have been clear with religious leaders that the law firm for which I worked had tribal clients who had their own reasons for opposing casino expansion, and my failure to do so has caused unnecessary difficulty for them and the pro-family movement, which I deeply regret.

Criticism is part of public life. What I do not appreciate and what I am confident the voters of Georgia will reject is an unfair attempt by some in the media and others to engage in guilt by association. To associate me with the wrongdoing of others is unfair and wrong, and it will be rejected at the ballot box.

I have always opposed gambling on moral grounds.

The full text is available at Reed's campaign web site, www.ralphreed.com.

by jhutson on Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 07:39:36 PM EST

It does not matter to people as long as the lobbyist are related to the casino online industry. It is their own will to help any candidate that they see fit to their own agenda.

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