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Texas two-step

Politics | Ralph Reed escapes prosecution; Tom DeLay associate may not

Issue: "Who's laughing now?," April 8, 2006

Ralph Reed will avoid criminal prosecution in Texas, but the district attorney's office investigating the candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia said Mr. Reed escaped on a technicality. According to prosecutors in Travis County, Texas, Mr. Reed couldn't be prosecuted for allegedly lobbying without a license in Texas in 2001 because the law requires the crime to be prosecuted within two years of the incident. "Without evidence involving lobbying activities within the last two years, I cannot justify initiating a formal criminal investigation given the statute of limitations," Travis County attorney David Escamilla said.

A statement released by Mr. Escamilla's office continued: "The information presented by the complainants raise legitimate questions concerning Mr. Reed's activities and possible violation of Texas law."

The informal investigation stemmed from e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee during its investigation into the criminal acts of disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. Reed, head of the consulting firm Century Strategies, and Mr. Abramoff traded numerous e-mails detailing, among other things, Mr. Reed's work for Mr. Abramoff to defeat an expansion of Indian casinos in Texas. Mr. Abramoff, who was recently sentenced by a federal judge to nearly six years in prison for unrelated fraud in Florida, also faces corruption charges in Washington.

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Mr. Reed maintains that he never lobbied in Texas. But e-mails sent between him and Mr. Abramoff suggest the former Christian Coalition leader spearheaded lobbying efforts to defeat a rival casino in East Texas with or without actually touching the soil in the Lone Star State. Mr. Reed has repeatedly declined interviews with WORLD. However, Mr. Reed's spokeswoman, Lisa Baron, told WORLD, "This politically motivated complaint by far-left groups had no basis in fact and we are pleased it is concluded. Ralph fully complied with the spirit and letter of Texas law, never set foot in Texas, never spoke to a single legislator, and was never required to register."

But e-mails and a witness tell a different story. If Mr. Reed never talked to a legislator and never stepped foot in Texas during the campaign, he still could be considered a lobbyist under Texas law, which carries a broad definition for lobbying. In fact, in an e-mail to Mr. Abramoff on Nov. 30, 2001, Mr. Reed bragged about building influence in Texas to lobby against an Indian casino that would have competed with Mr. Abramoff's client operating a casino in western Louisiana.

In the e-mail, Mr. Reed writes of meeting Second Baptist (Houston) pastor Ed Young in Texas, along with 50 other pastors, to pressure then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn to shut down the casino. "I spoke with Ed Young last night and he will personally present the letter to [John Cornyn] and urge that something be done now. . . . We have also choreographed [Cornyn's] response." Through a spokesman, Mr. Young confirmed the meetings took place at his church, but said he just participated and did not organize them.

Chuck Anderson, director of Texas Christian Coalition's anti-gambling efforts in 2001, confirmed his group worked with Mr. Reed's Century Strategies, selling mailing and phone lists to aid in lobbying efforts. So why won't Mr. Reed be prosecuted for directing a lobbying campaign in Texas without registering? According to Mr. Reed, it's because he never officially lobbied. According to the prosecutor, it's because no one caught it quickly enough.

While Mr. Reed's trouble in Texas may be over, for embattled Texas congressman Tom DeLay, it is growing. With the former House majority leader already indicted by a Texas grand jury on money-laundering and conspiracy charges, now his former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, may be the subject of an FBI investigation into whether he illegally used a nonprofit group called U.S. Family Network to line his own pockets. According to a Washington Post investigation, Mr. Buckham banked more than a third of the donations directed to the group. The source of most of the receipts collected by USFN? Clients of Jack Abramoff, naturally.

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