The town of Jena, La., takes its name from a famous battle in which Napoleon Bonaparte led a single French corps to defeat the bulk of the Prussian army in 1806. Two centuries later, the small Jena Band of Choctaw Indians is close to winning in Louisiana a battle that seemed lost just four years ago, when the Jenas ran up against an evangelical campaign prompted by Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition.
Mr. Reed was in the news again last week for three reasons. First, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on June 18 that Mr. Reed was neck-and-neck in his race against state senator Casey Cagle for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in Georgia's July 18 primary. Earlier, Mr. Reed had a large lead in the polls and an enormous lead in fundraising.
Second, a jury on June 20 found former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty of covering up his dealings with Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff-and the prosecution's emphasis was on a golf trip via private jet by Mr. Safavian, Mr. Abramoff, an Ohio congressman, Mr. Reed, and others to the famous St. Andrews course in Scotland.
Third, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on June 22 issued its report on activities involving Mr. Reed and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Essentially, the Senate investigation showed that Jack Abramoff from 1999 to 2002 schemed to protect the profits of casino-rich Indian tribes. Along the way, he paid Mr. Reed's Century Strategies consulting business at least $4 million to whip up evangelical opposition to the gambling efforts of groups like the Jena Band of Choctaws.
Senators were stern about the overall Abramoff-led effort: North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad said it was "by far the worst case of greed" he had seen in two decades. The lobbying certainly worked in 2002: Even though Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, a Republican, favored the Jena application to operate a casino, evangelical leaders pressured Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to reject it, and she complied.
But what a difference one year makes: In 2003, when the Jenas renewed their application, Ralph Reed apparently was on the sidelines. In 2003, perhaps coincidentally, evangelicals were conspicuously silent, and Interior Department officials approved the tribe's plan, leaving final approval up to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Her opposition and various legal challenges have slowed down the casino's progress, but Jena chief Christine Norris hopes that her 271-member tribe will be cleared to operate a gambling business by the end of this year. If so, that will be a tribute to the tribe's persistence, and an indirect tribute to the cleverness of the Abramoff-Reed campaign in 2002 that protected Coushatta profits.
It's a campaign that the next generation of lobbyists will want to study, for Mr. Reed proved adept at engaging evangelicals to get things done, while obscuring the pro-gambling interests behind the consultant's curtain. (See WORLD, "Bruised Reed," Nov. 19, 2005; "Houses of cards," Jan. 14, 2006; and "Coushatta chronicle," March 4, 2006.) The Abramoff-Reed campaign is a classic example of how gambling expansion debates often proceed: Anti-gambling groups, which tend to be small in size and dollars, wind up in temporary alliances with existing casinos.
Mr. Reed has refused to talk with WORLD, but others have noted his role. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a respected evangelical group with close ties to Focus on the Family (FOTF), says his group became active in opposing the Jena casino in 2002 after Mr. Reed called: "He gave us the early intelligence on this." Mr. Mills says Mr. Reed told him that he had "some outside organizational interest" in seeing the casino defeated, and urged the Louisiana Family Forum to jump into the fray.
Mr. Mills said he exchanged information with Mr. Reed in the early stages of the opposition effort, but that's all: He didn't ask Mr. Reed to identify his "outside organizational interest," because "I knew that Ralph was a staunch opponent of gambling." That's the way other evangelicals acted as well: They trusted Mr. Reed, and apparently had no inkling that he was involved with Mr. Abramoff and was being paid by Coushatta funds.
Mr. Reed, according to e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, repeatedly told Mr. Abramoff that he wanted more money and could get James Dobson himself on the radio to oppose the Jena casino plans. But FOTF spokesman Tom Minnery stated that FOTF never recorded an ad in Louisiana at Mr. Reed's request, and that FOTF only became involved in opposing the Jena casino because Mr. Mills (alerted to the issue by Mr. Reed) and Tony Perkins, then a Louisiana state representative, asked it to.
Mr. Mills says he asked FOTF to record a segment for a state-only broadcast, and FOTF did so, with Rep. Perkins appearing in a February 2002 "drop-in" on FOTF's radio program and urging listeners to contact Secretary Norton to oppose the casino. Left-wing organizations such as DefCon have suggested without evidence that FOTF took money from Mr. Abramoff, but WORLD in March pushed DefCon to retract that charge. (See WORLD, "Knee-deep in scandal?" March 25, 2006.)
Mr. Reed succeeded in using Abramoff money to establish or fund new groups to push along his work. Early in 2001 Mr. Reed began working with the just-formed Louisiana Committee Against Gambling Expansion (LCAGE), a nonprofit group incorporated by Rhett Davis, a long-time GOP operative. Mr. Reed's consulting firm paid for at least two media buys for LCAGE, totaling at least $21,000, according to invoices released by the Senate committee.
Mr. Reed forwarded to Mr. Abramoff information from a "Louisiana operative" about the progress of gambling legislation and the work of Rep. Perkins. Mr. Perkins, now head of the Family Research Council, says he spoke with Rhett Davis frequently about gambling issues and assumes that Mr. Davis was the "operative." (Mr. Davis did not return calls from WORLD seeking comment.) Mr. Perkins says he knew Mr. Davis was working with Mr. Reed, but he never spoke with Mr. Reed directly about gambling issues in Louisiana, nor did he know of the Reed-Abramoff connection.
Mr. Perkins isn't troubled that his name has appeared in e-mail exchanges between Mr. Reed and Mr. Abramoff, saying that his "anti-gambling record stands. . . . I can't control what others say about me." But Mr. Perkins added that he doesn't approve of fighting gambling by collaborating with gambling interests, and said he turned down at least two overtures from gambling interests in nearby states seeking to defeat gambling in Louisiana.
Mr. Reed, along with making claims about his prowess in developing radio programs and supposedly grassroots campaigns, wrote in a February 2002 e-mail to Mr. Abramoff about his purported prompting of letters to Secretary Norton from James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Phyllis Schlafly. Senate records show letters to Ms. Norton from each leader mentioned in the e-mail. Mr. Bauer and Ms. Schlafly both told WORLD that they did not remember receiving a call from Mr. Reed requesting a letter. Mr. Minnery said FOTF had a record of receiving a call from Mr. Reed, but it wasn't clear whether he requested a letter. (Reed spokeswoman Lisa Baron has said he did.)
What is clear is that when the Jena tribe applied to open a casino a year later, the same level of evangelical opposition did not surface. Records from the U.S. Department of the Interior show no correspondence concerning the Jena casino in 2003 from Mr. Dobson, Ms. Schlafly, or Mr. Perkins. Mr. Perkins told WORLD he wrote a letter to Secretary Norton opposing the casino opening in January 2004, shortly after he became president of the Family Research Council. That was a few days after Interior approved the casino.
When this account of Mr. Reed's Abramoff-related activities was reviewed with FOTF's Mr. Minnery, he noted no inaccuracies and said, "As far as it applies to Focus on the Family, you've captured it pretty well." Mr. Mills at Louisiana Family Forum said he thought his group took some action in 2003, but that he didn't remember "a formidable follow-up campaign. . . . It was probably partly because the interest wasn't as high, and partly because the message had already gotten out to the public." He also doesn't remember getting a call from Mr. Reed that year: "I don't think he was involved in the second round."
Disclosures from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs bear that out: Though Mr. Abramoff undertook lobbying efforts to oppose the casino, in 2003 he apparently did not hire Mr. Reed to rope in evangelicals. It seems from the e-mail traffic that Mr. Abramoff was tiring of Mr. Reed even early in 2002, as Mr. Abramoff wrote to his associate Michael Scanlon on Valentine's Day, "I know you (we!) hate him [Reed], but it does give us good cover and patter . . . give him some chump change."
Overall, the Senate Committee reported not only Mr. Reed's actions but noted a pattern of cover-ups. The report also showed scoffing at Mr. Reed's earlier reputation as a moral leader: When a tribal public-relations representative observed that Mr. Reed was an "ideologue," the report quotes Mr. Abramoff's reply-"as far as the cash goes."
In 1999 and 2000, Mr. Reed pulled strings in Alabama after the Choctaw Tribe of Mississippi hired Mr. Abramoff to fight pro-gambling efforts in Alabama so as to protect the tribe's multimillion-dollar casino. In e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs committee, Mr. Reed told Mr. Abramoff the exact amount of money he wanted from the Choctaw Tribe of Mississippi to help conduct the Alabama efforts: $867,511.
When the deal was struck, Mr. Reed approached John Giles of the Alabama Coalition Against Gambling Expansion and offered to help with strategy and fundraising, according to Mr. Giles, who is also president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama (CCA). Mr. Giles said Mr. Reed offered similar help for CCA's efforts.
Senate records of e-mails show that the "fundraising" effort that ensued consisted of a plan hatched by Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Reed to direct the Choctaw Tribe to donate money to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. ATR would then donate the money to CCA. ATR president Grover Norquist has acknowledged sending $850,000 to CCA that he received from tribal funds. He says he sent another $300,000 in tribal money to Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, another Alabama group with which Mr. Reed was involved.
CCA has posted canceled checks from ATR on its website totaling $850,000. The site also displays subsequent invoices from Mr. Reed's Century Strategies firm for work he performed for the coalition. The total cost: $840,000. Mr. Reed has not offered an explanation for why he used intermediary nonprofit organizations to obscure the tribal source of funds. Reed spokeswoman Lisa Baron said he was not obscuring the source, for "we received direct payment from the law firm that hired us all the time"-but the Senate records clearly show money passing through organizations like ATR, the American International Center, and Capitol Campaign Strategies.
Both Mr. Reed and Mr. Norquist in 2002 wrote letters to the CCA board acknowledging that they did not inform Mr. Giles about the source of the donated funds. Mr. Reed also wrote that he should have told CCA that the money came from a tribe. CCA conducted an internal investigation and concluded that it did not violate its own policy against taking money, directly or indirectly, from gambling interests. The report cited tribal testimony that the Choctaw money came from the tribe's "non-gambling sources."
But Mr. Giles told WORLD, "Had we known that the money was from Indian tribes that had gambling interests, we would not have accepted it."