Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points
Last Tuesday night, a group of lobbyists hosted a fundraiser for a candidate running for a state office in 2006 at a political club on Capitol Hill, an event as routine as the coming of the cherry blossoms in Washington.
But the list of hosts was particularly long and impressive for a first time candidate running in a primary for the relatively lowly job of Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. Gary Bauer, Wayne Berman, Charlie Black, Morton Blackwell, Julie Cram, Susan Hirschmann, Jack Kemp, Brian Lunde, Grover Norquist, Bill Paxon, Ed Rogers, and Vin Weber were among the powerbrokers that invited folks to come to the Capitol Hill Club, a wining and dining spot right next to the Republican National Committee. The guest of honor? Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and southeast regional coordinator for the 2004 Bush campaign.
Reed has been a political consultant in Georgia since he left the Christian Coalition in 1997. He is widely credited with the huge GOP success in Georgia in 2002 in which he mobilized the religious conservatives to oust Democratic Senator Max Cleland and Governor Roy Barnes. He then became the Georgia Republican party chair. In 2006 he is trying to become the Lt. Gov. to Governor Sonny Perdue, the man he helped put in office in 2002.
Reed has been a major player in Republican politics since the 1980s. He came to Washington at the age of 19 and through College Republicans he made two lifelong friends -- Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist. Norquist is now one of Washington's top lobbyists and a keeper of Republican doctrine on tax matters. Abramoff is now one of Washington's most visible lobbyists because he's enmeshed in the biggest K Street scandal in a long time.
Reed was particularly close to Abramoff, occasionally crashing on his couch and introducing him to his future wife. Abramoff made it big in Washington deal-making and was especially known for representing Native American tribes on gambling matters. When Reed left the Christian Coalition he started Century Strategies, a consulting company that used his strategic skills and contacts in the Christian community on behalf of Republican candidates, corporations including Microsoft and Exxon, and the Bush campaigns in 2000 and 2004. Reed also did some projects with Abramoff.
But for Reed, the transition from Christian activist and paid campaign strategist to political candidate is causing some problems. As a political consultant, Reed worked in relative obscurity as a consultant for people like Jack Abramoff who hired him for $4 million to mobilize Christian conservatives to shut down some Indian gaming casinos (which Abramoff then got hired to re-open). His primary opponent, Georgia State Sen. Casey Cagle, has an opposition research operation like all modern campaigns. And there is an engaged local media following the race.
One Republican who wasn't on the host committee for Reed is Sen. John McCain.
In the 2000 election, Reed was heavily involved turning out Christian conservatives against McCain during the South Carolina primary. As luck would have it, McCain now heads the Senate Indian Affairs committee that is investigating Jack Abramoff.
Last week McCain's committee subpoenaed four years of records for Reed's Century Strategies company and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform in its investigation of Abramoff and fellow lobbyist (and former Tom DeLay press secretary) Michael Scanlon. McCain brushed off suggestions that he is going after former foes like Reed and Norquist but, as mother always said, if you hang around long enough, you always have a chance to say thank you.
Part of the reason this particular old friend of Reed's has gained so much notoriety lately is, of course, Tom DeLay. Abramoff and several former DeLay staffers have done a lot of business together and this weekend the Washington Post revealed that part of the expensive DeLay junket to London and Scotland was billed directly to Abramoff's credit card. One of the hosts of the Reed fundraiser last Tuesday, Susan Hirschmann, DeLay's former chief of staff, was on the trip; her husband's ticket was billed to Abramoff as well. She now represents the National Indian Gaming Association.
One item from McCain's investigation that is already in the public domain is an e-mail from Abramoff to Reed from February 2002 talking about the Tiguas Indian tribe. "I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I'd love to get our mitts on that moolah," it said.
Reed's coziness with the folks who have made a lot of money closing and opening Indian gaming casinos may wind up only a minor irritant in his campaign, a slight hypocrisy that voters often allow politicians. Reports out of Georgia suggest that his supporters are mostly oblivious to the charges.
But a larger question is now looming for Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and others on the right who are cloaking their politics with religion and morality.
Reed's former boss, Pat Robertson, has cited the Biblical warning that you can't serve both God and Mammon as part of Reed's dilemma. The problem, as one Republican consultant put it to me, is that a lot of these stories are causing people to question just how much of the outcry for morality in government is real and how much is just a smoke-screen for raking in big bucks.
As the spotlight now shines on the role of religion in politics, maybe it is the influence of moolah -- not the Messiah -- that should be receiving a little more scrutiny.
By Dotty Lynch