Like a sleazy political version of movie monster Freddy Krueger, Ralph Reed just won’t go away.
The notorious Religious Right operative is back in Washington, D.C., today for a conference and strategy briefing at the Mayflower Hotel. Call it “Nightmare on Connecticut Avenue.” The event is sponsored by Reed’s latest vehicle, the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
It’s déjà vu all over again for those of us who have monitored the Religious Right over the years.
With his old outfit the Christian Coalition in political eclipse, Reed has created another 501(c)4 tax –exempt organization to try to mold evangelical churches and church-goers into a disciplined voting bloc that supports Republican candidates.
In an interview with TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Reed said he hopes to turn out evangelicals in enough numbers to constitute 30 percent of the total vote.
"If you can do that, what looks like a wave is going to turn into a tsunami," he said, referring to a likely GOP victory in the November polling.
My friends at Reed’s conference today tell me that attendance is rather low – maybe 300 conferees or so (compared to the massive crowds who used to attend Christian Coalition “Road to Victory” events). But I’m sure that won’t deter the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Reed will suck in millions of dollars from partisan fat-cats who know that 501(c)4 groups don’t have to reveal their donors and can be heavily involved in politics without giving up their exemption.
But that also means that churches should be extremely wary about working with Reed. Houses of worship (and many other nonprofits) fall into a different tax category. They are 501(c)3, and that means they are barred by federal tax law from any involvement in political campaigns. (Donations to churches and other c-3 groups are tax deductible; donations to c-4 groups are not.)
Churches can lose their exemptions if they work with the Faith and Freedom Coalition on behalf of candidates. When Reed shows up with a truckload of slanted “voter guides”— Reed’s favorite political weapon of choice -- pastors would be wise to tell him to dump them somewhere else.
Apparently, Reed is afraid that might happen. He admitted to Robertson’s CBN that his group has "some challenges.”
“We have churches who believe that they're not supposed to be political,” Reed fretted.
As usual, the minor-league Machiavelli has a solution. He “only” wants pastors to make sure every church-goer is registered to vote, is “educated and informed and equipped on where candidates stand on the issues” and goes to the polls.
Nothin' dirty goin' on!
That’s total baloney, of course. What Reed means is that he wants church-going voters to be “educated” by biased voter guides from his group -- and others like it -- that make the Republican candidate look like a saint and the Democratic candidate look like a sinner.
I’m glad to hear that churches are wary of Reed’s duplicitous endeavors. Partisan politics – whether Republican or Democratic – does not belong in our houses of worship.
I wish other religious and political leaders were wary of Reed’s activities.
Reed’s deplorable record is well known. He started his Christian Coalition career by taking a large Republican Senatorial Committee donation to produce allegedly “non-partisan”-- but, in fact, clearly stacked -- voter guides on behalf of the 1990 re-election effort of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). It was the genesis of a devious political tactic that eventually led the IRS to deny the Christian Coalition tax-exempt status.
As the Christian Coalition moved toward irrelevance, Reed slithered into a political lobbying gig.
In his work with infamous (and now convicted) lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Reed led clueless evangelical Christians into morality-based campaigns against new Indian casinos even though he knew the campaigns were paid for by existing Indian casinos who didn’t want competition. Church-goers – and even Religious Right leaders like James Dobson – had no idea they were being played for suckers. And Reed was richly paid for his work.
As an Abramoff associate helpfully explained in an e-mail, “The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees. Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them.”
The heartless Reed even lobbied against legal protections for Chinese immigrants in the U.S.-owned Mariana Islands where workers were being forced to have abortions and dragooned into sex slavery. Reed sent out a mailer that said the new laws would prevent Chinese workers from coming to the Marianas where they are being “exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
And yet this sordid record has not caused leading conservative and “Christian” leaders to shun him.
On the speaker list at the conference today and tomorrow are Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Rep. Randy Forbes, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Rep. Tom Price, Deal Hudson, Ed Goeas, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Gary Bauer, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Grover Norquist, Jim Bopp, Jim Garlow, John Fund, Karl Rove, Kellyanne Conway, Ken Blackwell, Southern Baptist lobbyist Richard Land, Jim Talent, Rick Santorum, Tony Perkins and Tucker Carlson, among others.
Seriously, folks. Have you no shame?
By the way, one person who apparently is not going to show up is Jack Abramoff. He’s out of the slammer now and working at a pizza joint in Baltimore. Maybe Ralph will hire him to cater the next Faith and Freedom Conference!