By Rob Boston
Ralph Reed is invading Washington, D.C., this weekend. Talk about a blast from the past.
Reed, many of you may recall, ran TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition throughout much of the 1990s. Assuming the job at the tender age of 28, he built a pretty formidable Religious Right organization for Bro. Pat. And he must have been good at what he did – the group flew high under Reed’s tutelage but went into a tailspin after he departed in 1997. It has never recovered and today exists as a shadow of what it once was.
Reed went on to become a political consultant, tried his hand at penning political potboilers and ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006. The race looked like a shoo-in – until Reed’s ties to disgraced casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff became an issue.
His involvement in that tawdry affair should have ended Reed’s ability to ever be a player in the purportedly pious world of the Religious Right. You might recall that Reed, while working for Abramoff, portrayed himself as an anti-gambling crusader while he was in fact working for a Native American tribe that hoped to build its own casino.
In the fallout, a series of emails between Reed and Abramoff came to light. They portrayed Reed as a greedy huckster eager, as he put it in 1998, to “start humping in corporate accounts.”
Memories must be short in the Religious Right. Tom Minnery, an official at Focus on the Family, told The New York Times, “I’m sure that Ralph learned a valuable lesson from that period in his life. But he’s a very talented man, and we welcome all the players.”
Bear in mind that Minnery’s then-boss, James C. Dobson, was one of the Religious Right leaders duped by Reed.
Reed’s new Religious Right group, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, is meeting in D.C. tomorrow and Saturday. The event has the feel of a beauty pageant for Republican presidential hopefuls. Most of the declared candidates will be there. Pizza magnate Herman Cain scored a coveted slot and will speak at Saturday night’s banquet.
Now 50 years old, Reed is full of his usual bluster. He told The Times that his new group plans to spend $15 million to $18 million this year and next and will have staff in 45 states in time for the 2012 elections.
That would be quite a feat for an organization that currently has a budget of about $500,000 and that last year held a conference that attracted about 200 people. And we know that Reed often treats the truth like Silly Putty. In the mid-1990s, he routinely claimed that the Christian Coalition had more than two million members. Postal records acquired by Americans United proved that the organization had about a fourth of that.
Still, Reed has shown an uncanny ability to be a political survivor, and he has the power to attract big money to his schemes. He has been aggressively working the Tea Party circuit trying to drum up new support. Some of these folks know nothing of his checkered past.
Despite his sleazy record, I wouldn’t write Reed off just yet.