News & Politics

Ralph Reed Did Not Repent

Ralph Reed's downfall suggests other politicians may be vulnerable to voter anger, unless they repent for their big money ways.
Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, has become the first political casualty of the Jack Abramoff lobbying and money scandals with his loss yesterday in Georgia's lieutenant governor's race to a previously unknown state senator. Reed had nursed ambitions of someday running for high office, even the White House, but his defeat suggests otherwise.

His loss also suggests that other politicians may be vulnerable to voter anger, unless politicians repent for their big money ways.

The judgment delivered by Georgia voters was swift. With 97 percent of precincts reporting as of 9:37 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Reed trailed Casey Cagle by 12 percent, or approximately 49,000 voters, after a blistering attack campaign about Reed's role in the pay-to-play system, where money counts more than morals.

Campaign Money Watch (, a project of Public Campaign Action Fund, delivered part of this attack with television and radio advertising connecting Reed's work for Abramoff, as well as a record phone message delivered to 200,000 GOP voters over the last critical days when the race swung dramatically in Cagle's direction.

The voters' judgment was also just. Reed's electoral fate was delivered by the Christian conservative voters that make up a Republican primary electorate in a Deep South state like Georgia -- the same voters Reed was said to understand better than any other Republican operative. Reed's downfall was due not just to the fact he did wrong. It's that he did wrong, failed to repent, and betrayed the very voters he needed on Election Day.

He had a lot for which to repent. Reed took money from Abramoff's American Indian casino clients through a variety of conduits and manipulated Christian groups to act as fronts to oppose gambling competition for the tribes. He helped Abramoff oppose legislation to extend protections to women and children employed by sweatshops in the Northern Mariana Islands, despite the fact that our government had reported that the employers forced employees to enter the sex-tourism trade. When these immigrant workers inevitably became pregnant, they were forced to have abortions.

Reed never once said that it was wrong to take the casino money and use Christian groups as fronts. And he refused to acknowledge that it was widely known what was happening in the Marianas -- ABC's 20/20 did an expose in the 1998 -- years before he took on the lobbying work.

Clearly, Georgia voters understood this better than Reed. But the message they sent was not just to Reed. They sent a powerful message to Democrats and Republicans alike around the country: Politicians who side with donors and big moneyed interests and not with voters can't depend on their base for turning out for them or staying faithful on Election Day.

This spells trouble for scandal-ridden members of Congress like Richard Pombo, R-Calif.; Charles Taylor, R-N.C.; Bob Ney, R-Ohio; and Alan Mollohan, D-W.V., as well as Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who all find themselves in electoral hot water because of money and lobbying scandals.

And it also should put every vulnerable member of Congress on notice. Those who have voted in the interests of their contributors on issues critical to voters on prescription drug costs, renewable energy, and others should have to answer for their actions. With the backdrop of the Abramoff, Cunningham and DeLay money scandals, voters are in a throw-the-bums-out kind of mood, and candidates who capitalize on this by showing how they're going to clean up Congress (like by signing the Voters First Pledge supported by Common Cause, Public Campaign Action Fund, Public Citizen, and US PIRG can tap into voter discontent.

Ralph Reed might once have been the "Right Hand of God," as Time magazine famously once called him, but yesterday he learned that if candidates don't practice what they preach, they're in for a return to private life. And this year, candidates better find religion on cleaning up politics.
David Donnelly is the director of Campaign Money Watch and national campaigns director of Public Campaign Action Fund.
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