Disgraced lobbyist Ralph Reed is again at the center of attention within the Republican Party. His latest religious front group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, has managed to schedule nearly every potential GOP presidential candidate (from Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul to Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney) for its annual conference this weekend. Perhaps the Republican field is simply eager to reach social conservatives since the convention is billed as a forum for those in the “faith community.” But is a single speech worth signing onto Reed’s nakedly manipulative lobbying agenda?
During the ’90s, Reed sailed to power using the Christian Coalition to galvanize social conservative voters for Republican causes and corporate lobbying campaigns. His firm, Century Strategies, founded along with lobbyist Tim Phillips, attracted an array of corporate clients, from Microsoft to Enron. (Reed and Phillips used religious right voters to deregulate energy markets, for example.) His quick rise, starting with an active leadership role in the College Republicans, came crashing down after revelations about his dealings as a corporate lobbyist.
An investigation of Jack Abramoff, a partner to Reed in several ventures, showed the true depths of Reed’s cynical exploitation of both his clients and the faith community. At one point, Reed and Phillips actually helped Abramoff’s sweatshop clients in Saipan kill a labor reform bill by telling evangelicals that the bill would allow missionaries to continue work on the island. In fact, the sweatshops were known for cruel conditions, like forced abortions and prostitution, and Reed’s message to oppose the bill had been a trick to fool voters into supporting the sweatshop owners’ interests. Reed avoided direct prosecution in the Abramoff cases, which involved the laundering of money using Reed-affiliated front groups, and later lost a bid to become the lieutenant governor of Georgia.
Earlier this month, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow extensively covered the remergence of Reed as a force in both the lobbying world and the landscape of modern Republican politics:
Given his incredible baggage, Reed’s comeback has been impressive. Even Phillips, his cohort, is as influential as ever. After Reed’s publicity problems began mounting, Phillips became president of the Koch Industries front group, Americans for Prosperity.
During the Abramoff investigation, a particularly telling email emerged from Reed about his interests after an election cycle:
Hey, now that I’m done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.
That email was from 1998, but the corporate humping has not stopped. As we reported and Maddow graciously covered, Reed’s lobbyists recently created an astroturf “Tea Party” group to repeal financial reforms passed last year. With Republicans lining up to kiss Reed’s ring this weekend, they cannot divorce their appearance at the event with Reed’s lobbying interests. Even Reed doesn’t bother concealing the connection — his Faith and Freedom Coalition is housed in the same office as his lobbying firm.