Cover Story

Houses of cards

"Houses of cards" Continued...

Issue: "God and mammon," Jan. 14, 2006

Mr. Wildmon acknowledged that for evangelicals the scandal "certainly hurts all of us. . . . Once you follow gambling down to the core you're always going to find corruption." A Focus on the Family spokesman said neither Mr. Dobson nor Mr. Minnery was available for an interview about their involvement.

Congressional documents also show Mr. Reed had contact with Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council. In a June 2001 e-mail to Mr. Abramoff about a Louisiana pro-gambling bill, Mr. Reed wrote: "Tony Perkins had requested money last month to kill this bill." The e-mails did not include any further details.

Mr. Perkins told WORLD, "I never had a conversation with Ralph Reed about this issue." Mr. Perkins did acknowledge discussing the bill with Louisiana GOP operative Rhett Davis, who contacted Mr. Perkins-at that time a Louisiana state representative-to ask how to spend money "from donors" to defeat the measure. Mr. Perkins said he knew Mr. Davis, director of the Committee Against Gambling Expansion, was working with Ralph Reed to lobby against the bill. He said he suggested the group could fund phone banks.

While Mr. Reed has maintained that his work was legitimate, in a speech last month before a TeenPact conference, he briefly admitted remorse for the Abramoff connection, saying, "Had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken that work. On reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear it associated my longstanding opposition to gambling with those who did not share it and has caused difficulty for the faith community with whom I worked, which I deeply regret." Nearly five years after the Alabama project, Mr. Reed in a June 2005 letter to the Christian Coalition of Alabama told its board members that he "should have explained that the contributions came from the Choctaws."

But Mr. Reed has refused to address publicly the details of his work for Mr. Abramoff, including allegations that he agreed to accept payment through intermediary organizations in an attempt to obscure the tribal source of the funds.

Mr. Reed's consulting firm accepted payments in excess of $400,000 from the American International Center, a bogus group set up by Mr. Scanlon, Mr. Abramoff's associate, Senate documents show. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coushatta leaders testified that they wrote checks to Southern Underwriters, a company operated by a tribal leader, which then wrote checks to the center, which in turn wrote checks to Mr. Reed's firm. "The payments were made to Ralph Reed. This was done with the whole council's approval," William Worfel, a former tribal official, testified.

American International Center's former "director," part-time lifeguard David Grosh, testified before a Senate committee that Mr. Scanlon asked him to house the "international corporation" in the basement of his house. "I asked him what I had to do, and he said, 'Nothing,' so that sounded pretty good to me," Mr. Grosh testified.

Meanwhile, a March 2001 e-mail from Mr. Abramoff to Mr. Reed discussing wire payment for services shows the circuitous flow of funds: "The originating entity had to transfer to a separate account before they transferred it to the entity which is going to transfer it to you."

If the nature of Mr. Abramoff's payoffs to evangelical leaders appears nebulous, federal prosecutors are making headway on uncovering Mr. Abramoff's political favors. They say Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon defrauded tribal clients of millions of dollars and illegally lobbied members of Congress on behalf of the tribes. Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and other public officials. Mr. Abramoff's plea agreement implicates Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Administration Committee, saying he accepted lavish gifts and campaign contributions and then awarded congressional contracts and favors to Mr. Abramoff's clients. Mr. Ney denies the charges and says he will return contributions from Mr. Abramoff.

The plea agreement also indicates that prosecutors are investigating other public officials, and it refers to gifts and contributions Mr. Abramoff offered to officials "in exchange for agreements that the public officials would use their official positions and influence." According to an analysis of federal election records by the Center for Responsive Politics, Mr. Abramoff and his clients have donated more than $4.4 million to lawmakers and political groups since 2000. About $2.9 million of that total went to Republicans.

The revelations are leading lawmakers at the beginning of an election year to scramble to distance themselves from the lobbyist. At least two dozen lawmakers have returned money they received from Mr. Abramoff or his clients. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, who received $150,000-the largest individual donation-returned the contributions before Christmas. Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who sits with Mr. Burns on the congressional committee overseeing the Abramoff investigation, returned $67,000 a few days earlier. Both senators maintain that the contributions were legitimate, but that they wanted to remove any appearance of impropriety.

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