Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Money Changers In Ralph's Temple

I know my colleague The Moose has already blogged about this story, but being a native of Georgia, there are a few additional ironies I'd like to point out about the latest Indian Casino Shakedown revelation, which puts Ralph Reed, candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, in more trouble than a wounded rooster in a cockfight.

In a nice bit of relay journalism, the Boston Globe and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have pieced together this fascinating tale of hypocrisy, deception, and political insider trading:

In 2000, then-Governor Don Siegelman arranged for a referendum in Alabama to create a state lottery for education, the centerpiece of his entire agenda. A certain Casino operating Mississippi tribe (probably the Choctaws) didn't want the competition of public gaming in Alabama. The Native Americans' Best Friend, Jack Abamoff suggested they channel money through Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which would then send the cash down to 'Bama to help kill the lottery. Norquist subsequently sent checks totaling $1.15 million to an anti-lottery group and to the campaign's top backer, the Christian Coalition of Alabama, which vocally refuses to take gambling money. The anti-lottery folks then channeled the same money to Ralph Reed's Atlanta-based political consulting firm, which used it to run the (successful) anti-gambling campaign.

This tale is remarkably similar to the 1999 Texas anti-gambling gambit that's part of the broader Abramoff/Scanlon Casino Shakedown scandal, except for Norquist's role as the launderer, and the size of Ralph Reed's take: his firm received $4.2 million in gambling money for the Lone Star anti-gambling initiative. And there's one more crucial wrinkle as well: even though Reed is again protesting that he had no idea where the money came from, this time the president of the Alabama Christian Coalition, John Giles, is getting pretty close to accusing Reed of lying.

"On at least a couple of occasions, John Giles called to ask if I was absolutely sure there was no gambling money — direct or indirect — in any money they had received," said John Pudner, then a senior project manager at [Reed's firm] Century Strategies. "Giles even told me he wanted to issue a press release stating this — and I went and asked Ralph to make sure, and Ralph assured me there was no gambling money involved."
In other words, Reed made an affirmative assurance the money was clean, and he based that on an assurance from--you guessed it--Jack Abramoff.

Now as many of you may already know, Abramoff, Norquist and Reed go way, way back together: Grover and Ralph were Abramoff's deputies when Casino Jack ran the College Republicans in the early 1980s. The idea that Reed didn't have a clue his old boss was making tens of millions of dollars representing tribes with casions, and/or it didn't occur to Ralph that the millions Abramoff was sending his way might have something to do with those associations, is just beyond belief.

The involvement of John Giles in this money triangle adds the final twist of irony. Not only is Giles one of the most visible leaders in what's left of Ralph's old stomping grounds, the Christian Coalition; he's also best known in Alabama for his insanely strong belief that Jesus hates taxes like the devil himself.

Giles was a powerful figure in the successful campaign to drub a referendum sponsored by Republican Governor Bob Riley in 2003 to reform the state's antediluvian tax code to help improve Alabama's dreadfully underfinanced public education system (a campaign, BTW, in which Norquist's ATR played a national role). More recently, Giles's Christian Coalition helped defeat another referendum to amend the Alabama Constitution to take out a section mandating segregated schools, on grounds that the step would create a right to public education (imagine that), and hence, according to his logic, higher taxes.

So you've got Casino Jack giving gambling money to anti-tax zealot Norquist who gives it to anti-tax-zealot-Christian-Right activist Giles who gives it to Christian-Right-activist-politician Reed. Even as they point fingers at each other, they're all living in the house that Jack built by shaking down tribes.

And that brings me back to the campaign of Ralph Reed. After the original Abramoff scandal broke, with Ralph professing ignorance and innocence about his pivotal role, some politically knowledgeable people in Georgia figured he'd brazen it out, while others thought it would eventually derail his campaign. Now he's got a whole new set of allegations to deal with, exhibiting a clear pattern, and a guy as smart as Reed will be hard-pressed to explain why a man as dumb as he claims he was in these capers should be elected to statewide office.
-- Posted at 4:09 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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