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Abramoff Ties Could Hurt Ralph Reed in Georgia Race

Reports that a GOP lobbyist being investigated by federal officials for possible fraud sought the help of conservative strategist Ralph Reed could prompt political backlash for the former Christian Coalition head now running for Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

E-mails obtained by Time magazineshowed obliging responses to repeated requests from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for Reed to open doors with White House adviser Karl Rove for help with business deals.

Abramoff, indicted for fraud and conspiracy stemming from his role in purchase of a fleet of gambling boats in Florida in 2000, is being questioned by Democrats about ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

His relationship with Reed, who resigned as executive director of the Christian Coalition to open a consulting firm in 1997, goes back to the early 1980s, when both served as officers of the College Republican National Committee.

Abramoff and Reed have worked together in several successful ventures related to gambling.

Abramoff represented gambling interests. His clients opposed expansion of state lotteries and casinos, however, because it would cut into their profits by increasing competition for gambling dollars.

In an unlikely alliance, Abramoff turned to Reed to make the case among his constituency, conservative Christians, who oppose all gambling on moral grounds. It’s like Baptists and bootleggers voting together to keep a county dry, but for completely opposite reasons.

The casino-rich Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians paid for Reed’s work to defeat a lottery and video poker in Alabama in 1999 and 2000. In 2001 and 2002, Reed earned as much as $4 million to organize grass-roots campaigns opposing gambling in Louisiana and Texas. The money came from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, who wanted to eliminate competition from other tribes.

Reed claims he didn’t know who Abramoff’s clients were, a story that some conservatives are starting to doubt with new reports about yet another Abramoff-Reed deal.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Oct. 2 that Reed, who once condemned gambling as a “cancer on the American body politic,” worked behind the scenes five years ago to help defeat a proposed ban on Internet gambling.

Reed worked on behalf of a client of Abramoff that wanted to help state lotteries sell tickets on-line, which the bill would have prevented. Records show that eLottery spent $1.15 million to fight the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 2000. Of that, $720,000 went to Abramoff’s law firm.

Some of the money–$25,000–helped pay for a golfing trip to Scotland that Abramoff arranged for DeLay, then House majority whip, weeks before the gambling measure came up for a vote. The trip is under review by the House Ethics Committee, but it is not related to DeLay’s Sept. 29 indictment on conspiracy charges in Texas.

Reed worked for Abramoff as a subcontractor. His job, according to the report, was to galvanize conservatives against the ban.

To increase its chance of passage, supporters of the bill added exceptions to keep certain kinds of on-line gambling legal, like horse and dog racing and jai alai. Reed said those exceptions amounted to an expansion of on-line gaming and urged its defeat.

Other religious leaders, however, including James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, supported the law. President Clinton opposed it. The Southern Baptist Convention lent its name to a group of religious organizations backing the legislation, but backed off to become neutral after the exceptions were added.

While some gambling opponents were disappointed with the exceptions, they got what they most wanted, a proposed ban on lottery ticket sales over the Internet, which they viewed as better than nothing.

In the end, however, the law was defeated. Revenue for online gambling companies has increased nearly four-fold since 2001.

Some of Reed’s former allies say his repeated alignment with gambling interests has tarnished his image as a defender of moral values. It also could hurt his chances to win election as lieutenant governor in 2006, a relatively low-profile position but a good stepping stone to higher office.

Gambling isn’t the only issue where Reed has let conservative Christians make the case for causes that benefited his stealth clients.

In 1998 Reed formed the Alliance of Christian Ministries in China, a group described as a dozen Christian organizations, mission agencies and denominational groups promoting free trade with China as a way to open doors for missionaries.

The group sponsored an ad in the Washington Post headlined, “What do Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama have in common?” The answer, it said, was they both believed the United States needed to maintain open trade with China in order to pressure its leaders to allow religious freedom.

As it turned out, according to Mother Jones magazine, the ACMC was a “vapor organization,” formed a couple of months earlier with no formal staff or office and operated out of an Atlanta-area public relations firm.

Reed’s paying clients, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, were a group of businesses including Boeing Co., which stood to sell the Chinese government $120 billion worth of airplanes.

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, a country occupied by China since 1950, said the newspaper ad misrepresented him as endorsing a specific pro-trade political position. His quote was lifted from a New York Times article without his knowledge.

Shortly before leaving the Christian Coalition, which he led from 1989 to 1997, Reed supported denial of favorable trade status unless China reversed policies resulting in forced abortions and suppression of Christianity.

Reed still leads the Republican race for governor, with 45 percent of Republicans supporting him and 29 percent his opponent, lesser-known state senator Casey Cagle. That’s a slight slip from an August poll, which showed Reed’s lead at 48 percent. Forty-five percent of Republicans say they have a favorable view of Reed, down from 54 percent in August.

Reed has raised $1.4 million for the Republican primary, which is scheduled for July 18, while his opponent has raised $700,000.

Reed, 44, was chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2002, helping to elect a U.S. senator and the first Republican governor in 130 years, while giving the GOP control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.