Ralph Reed: Ramblin, 'Gamblin' Man?

An upcoming issue of The Nation (July 12) will carry a terrific piece about former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed's recent work on behalf of legalized gambling.

When Reed ran the hyper-moralistic Coalition in the 1990s, he denounced state-sponsored gambling as anti-family. As Jack Newfield points out in The Nation, Reed once called the spread of gambling "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 sings a different tune – apparently in whatever key those who pay him request. Reed, it turns out, worked on behalf of a Native American tribe, the Coushatta, who were already running a huge gambling casino in the state and wanted to stave off competition from another tribe eager for some action of their 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, sought another well-connected Republican to balance him out. They chose Reed.

The Coushatta tribe, 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 was just interested in protecting its turf (and its massive profits of $300 million a year.) Documents show that Reed's 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 money laundering between Scanlon, Abramoff and Republican campaigns. Reed is not accused of any illegal activity. As Newfield notes, "This was not a crime, just furtive hypocrisy."