Ralph Reed is back and has been on the campaign circuit raising lots and lots of money for his new, shiny, religious right PAC, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. If you'd like to see him in action, tune into CSPAN tomorrow for his shiny new conference, featuring such faithful stalwarts as Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Glenn Beck.
But just in case you may not be familiar with Ralph Reed, let me share a small excerpt from the Jack Abramoff hearings a few years back, when Kent Conrad had his shot at him:
I was struck by the article in the Washington Post on Sunday. The beginning paragraph says Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon quietly worked with conservative religious activist Ralph Reed to help the State of Texas shut down an Indian tribe casino in 2002. Then the two quickly persuaded the tribe to pay $4.2 million to try to get Congress to reopen it. If this is not cynical behavior, I do not know what is.
On the one hand, it turns out Scanlon and Abramoff paid Ralph Reed $4 million to conduct a campaign to close down a casino, at the very time they are asking the casino to hire them so that it can get reopened. One week later, after Mr. Abramoff met with the Tiguas who were in danger of getting their casino shut down, a Texas consultant employed by the tribe thanked Abramoff for his visit and said he would push his proposal. Abramoff forwarded the e-mail to Scanlon with the message, ‘‘This guy needs us to save his ass.’’
It goes on to say, Ralph Reed, the conservative religious leader, was paid $4.2 million by Abramoff and Scanlon for his work opposing several tribal casinos. There is an e-mail traffic that is laid out in the paper in which Abramoff writes to Ralph Reed, ‘‘Great. Thanks, Ralph. We should continue to pile on until the place is shuttered,’’ referring to the casino.
Ralph Reed's job was simple: Get the grassroots stirred up and shaken so they would get active and oppose whatever it was his firm, Century Strategies, was paid to oppose. His partner, Tim Phillips, now director of Freedomworks, worked alongside Reed, but the strategies and interaction with Abramoff was strictly between Reed, Abramoff and Scanlon.
Ralph Reed should have gone to jail along with his buddy Jack, and by all rights ought to be slinging pizza in the outer reaches of south Georgia right about now. Instead, he's taken a run at the Lieutenant Governor spot in Georgia and runs Century Strategies, and now the Faith and Freedom Coalition as well. He is not repentant. He makes no apologies for what he did. Also? He made millions.
I'm telling you all of this so you'll understand why I firmly believe this Think Progress article is just the tip of the Ralph Reed iceberg. It illustrates how cynical, brazen and corrupt these people are. Lee Fang has been digging at the money thrown around to oppose net neutrality, and came up with Ralph Reed on the end of his hook.
However, little is known about Reed’s work reviving his business as an astroturf lobbyist. According to documents obtained by ThinkProgress, the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA), a trade association that represents cable providers like Comcast and Qwest Communications, has provided Reed’s lobbying firm with at least $3,462,117 worth of contracts in the last three years alone. Century Strategies, the firm founded by Reed and fellow astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips in 1997, received the contracts for what NCTA deemed “legal and advertising” services. View a screenshot of the relevant documents here and here.
Here's the thing. Century Strategies vigorously denies any involvement with the cable industry and claims they have done no work on their behalf. If that's the case, why did NCTA pay the firm over $3 million dollars? There's a couple of possibilities. Most obvious choice: The firm did not lobby on behalf of NCTA, but was used as a conduit to stir up grassroots opposition to regulatory and legislative efforts to establish net neutrality guidelines.
The business of asking corporations to donate to conservative nonprofits for stealth lobbying campaigns has been a winning model for Reed since he was in his early 20s. As Thomas Frank detailed in his book “The Wrecking Crew,” Reed got his start in college via the United Students of America Foundation. As a College Republican, Reed would collect money from corporate interests hoping to destroy campus-based Public Interest Research Groups (consumer action groups better known as PIRGs). As PIRGs fought to enact regulations on polluters, Reed and his college-aged buddies, including Abramoff and Grover Norquist, would solicit the same polluters to donate to their nonprofits to do battle with the do-gooders at PIRG.
To be clear, there's no direct chain from Reed to NCTA. But he is a partner in Century Strategies, is close to Tim Phillips at Freedomworks, and has a long history of creating astroturf opposition.
Out of all of this, two things make me want to scream. First, that Reed is not serving a very long jail sentence, but that he's living like a high holy roller sponsoring conferences where he snags the Republican primary contenders en masse. And second, that people allow themselves to be fooled over and over again by that nice-looking boy with the Bible tucked under his arm into being stirred up and called to action for interests completely against their own.
Update: 1:00 am: Matt Drudge just linked up this rather strange Washington Examiner article accusing the FCC of colluding with Free Press on net neutrality. More distractions, I'd say, given the Republican habit of doing what they like to accuse others of doing. The article's author is Conn Carroll, Assistant Director of strategic communications for the Heritage Foundation. (The Examiner fails to note that on the article, by the way). I'd say Carroll's diversionary tactic is an effort at strategic communication, but that it failed.