Faith and Freedom Coalition

Norquist Giddy About Reed's New Venture

Yesterday in writing about Ralph Reed's triumphant return with his Faith and Freedom Coalition, we noted that his reputation has been badly tarnished by his close ties to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 

One other figure who played a key role in Ambramoff and Reed's business dealings was Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who often served as a conduit through which Abramoff funneled the money gambling interests ponied up to fund Reed's anti-gambling work among the Religious Right.

As such, it is rather hilarious to see Norquist gushing about Reed's new endeavor:

One veteran conservative leader who's got a pretty good track record himself thinks this is just what the conservative movement needed.

"This is going to be big," said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

It's almost as if Norquist is salivating at the idea of being able to partner with Reed once again in hopes of cashing in, just as he did the last time around:

Reed, who left the Christian Coalition in 1997 to found a political consultancy, said he was counting on Abramoff "to help me with some contacts."

As it turned out, Abramoff needed them too. In 2000 Alabama was considering establishing a state lottery, which would compete with the casino business of the Mississippi band of Choctaws, an Abramoff client. Norquist and Reed were well positioned to help.

"ATR was opposed to a government-run lottery for the same reason we're opposed to government-run steel mills," Norquist told TIME. Reed publicly opposed gambling. It wouldn't do to have casino owners directly funding an antigambling campaign.

So Abramoff arranged for the Choctaws to give ATR $1.15 million in installments. Norquist agreed to pass the money on to the Alabama Christian Coalition and another Alabama antigambling group, both of which Reed was mobilizing for the fight against the lottery. Reed knew the real source of the money was the casino-rich Choctaws. The antigambling groups say they didn't.

On February 7, 2000, Abramoff warned Reed that the initial payment for antilottery radio spots and mailings would be less than Reed thought. "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter," Abramoff wrote.

The transfer was apparently lighter than even Abramoff expected. In a note to himself on February 22, Abramoff wrote, "Grover kept another $25K!"

Norquist says he had permission. He says a Choctaw representative -- he can't remember who -- instructed him on two occasions to keep $25,000 of the money for his group.

If Reed is trying to re-establish himself as a trustworthy player on the Right, it probably doesn’t help to have Norquist gleefully rubbing his hands together in the background.

Christian Coalition 2.0, Or The Triumphant Return of Ralph Reed

Literally, just yesterday as I was doing my right-wing monitoring, I thought to myself "you know who's name I never see any more?  Ralph Reed."

And for good reason, given his deep ties to Jack Abramoff.  Actually, the last time he made any news was when he was forced to skip a fund-raiser with John McCain last year thanks to the fact that he has been permanently tainted by his association with Abramoff.

But, as Dan Gilgoff reports, Reed is now back with a new organization called The Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Ralph Reed, the Republican operative who built the Christian Coalition into a potent political force in the 1990s by mobilizing evangelicals and other religious conservatives and who did similar work to help George W. Bush win two presidential elections, is quietly launching a group aimed at using the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters. In addition to targeting the GOP's traditional faith-based allies—white evangelicals and observant Catholics—the group, called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will reach out to Democratic-leaning constituencies, including Hispanics, blacks, young people, and women.

"This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition," Reed said in an interview Monday. "It's got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. It's critical that we open the door wide and let them know if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they're welcome."

"There's a whole rising generation of young leaders in the faith community, and rather than nab the publicity I did at Christian Coalition, I want to cultivate and train that rising generation," Reed said. "One question is, who is our future Barack Obama, doing local organizing just like he was in the 1990s?"

The Faith and Freedom Coalition has been quietly active for a few weeks but has attracted no news media notice so far. Reed said that was intentional: "We're less focused on the pyrotechnics than on being a strong grass-roots presence all the way down to the precinct level, which has always been my emphasis."

The idea for the new group, which is still hashing out an organizational blueprint, was born just after Election Day 2008, when exit polls showed that Obama made gains among traditionally Republican religious constituencies, including evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and frequent churchgoers. "Since I left the Christian Coalition, we haven't had an engine designed to turn out this large part of the vote," Reed said. "After the election, people said that I ought to consider doing something about it."

Of course, the Christian Coalition was the engine that turned out "values voters," but it faltered under Reed's control. When he finally jumped ship to launch his own consulting and PR operation and "start humping in corporate accounts,” the organization all but collapsed.

Gilgoff reports that this new effort also features Gary Marx - who happens to be a long-time associate of Reed's and the current Executive Director of the Judicial Confirmation Network - and that, for now, the organization is operating out of his Century Strategies office in Atlanta:

Reed is serving as chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and says he has filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service to register it as a 501(c)(4), a tax-free designation that permits lobbying and certain political activities. Gary Marx, Reed's deputy at the 2004 Bush campaign and Mitt Romney's conservative outreach director in 2008, will help advise the group. Jack St. Martin, a former top Republican National Committee staffer, is running day-to-day operations.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to launch state and local chapters, as the Christian Coalition did, but is exploring the idea of organizing as much via "virtual chapters" that would operate online with the help of social networking technology. "The Internet's first wave was E-mail, and the next wave was social networking, which Obama perfected," Reed said. "There's going to be a third wave, which we're still developing."

...

Headquartered in the offices of Reed's consulting firm, Century Strategies, near Atlanta, the group plans to open a Washington office but says it will keep its staff small. St. Martin is currently the only full-time employee. "We don't want the huge overhead of a centralized group," says St. Martin, who worked at the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. "We'll have a few generals, but at the end of the day, we're going to emphasize putting boots on the ground out in the field."

Everything about this effort is pure Ralph Reed. From the focus on grassroots mobilization to his use of military language, it sounds like Reed is breaking out his Christian Coalition era playbook and seeking to recapture his former glory, even going so far as to dust off his efforts to reach out to minority groups, which, as I explained in a report [PDF] I wrote about him several years back that chronicled his rise from the College Republicans through his Abramoff-related downfall, is exactly what he tried and failed to do during his last days with the Christian Coalition:

In 1996, in an attempt to reach out to religious African American voters and bring them into the right wing movement, Reed announced that the Coalition was going to raise one million dollars to help rebuild black churches in the South that had been destroyed in a series of fire bombings. What had initially been planned as a one-day fundraising event ended up taking seven months. Similarly, Reed announced in 1997 the creation of the Samaritan Project, “A bold plan to break the color line and bridge the gap that separates white evangelicals and Roman Catholics from their Latino and African American brothers and sisters.” Reed pledged that the Coalition would raise $10 million for inner city churches, but less than a year later the project was abandoned after raising less than $50,000.

The simple point needs to be made that Reed, the man once dubbed "the Right Hand of God," had been seening his star dim even before he left the Christian Coalition and that the influence and power he had accumulated over the years all but evaporated when his efforts to exploit his Religious Right allies for Jack Abramoff's business purposes were finally revealed, culminating in his failed campaign to secure the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia.

But, as we pointed out in our report: "Reed is still young and American politics is full of redemption stories. No doubt Reed is already writing his."

And with the announcement of this new effort, it looks like that is exactly what he is undertaking now.

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Faith and Freedom Coalition Posts Archive

Brian Tashman, Friday 06/15/2012, 10:55am
Jim Martin of the pro-corporate, Koch Brothers-funded 60 Plus Association, which claims to be the conservative alternative to the AARP, told attendees at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Washington D.C. summit today that if lying was a crime, President Obama would be in jail. “Candidate Obama said we won’t deal with lobbyists, we’ll be open, we’ll be out front, we’ll be transparent,” Martin said in reference to the negotiations over the health care reform law. “Look, if lying were a federal or criminal offense, then the President of the United... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Thursday 06/14/2012, 3:53pm
Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition kicked off its 2012 conference with a splashy show of the Reed’s political muscle in the form of three U.S. Senators.  Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida all delivered speeches that reflect Reed’s goal for 2012 and beyond: merging the messages and organizing energies of the overlapping Tea Party and Religious Right movements to elect conservative Republicans. “American exceptionalism” was a major theme of the day – defined generally as America being uniquely blessed by... MORE >
Josh Glasstetter, Friday 03/30/2012, 3:51pm
Tomorrow morning in Waukesha, WI, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, among others (Gov. Scott Walker is listed as an invited speaker), will rally with corrupt former lobbyist Ralph Reed and the state chapter of his Faith & Freedom Coalition, which Reed created to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his deep involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Here are the event details: It is our distinct pleasure to invite you to the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Presidential Kick-Off, sponsored by the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition, to be held at the Country Springs Hotel on... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 03/08/2012, 1:50pm
Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) is out on bail after he was found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. DeLay was also subject to an investigation over his links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In fact, DeLay played a central role in the Abramoff scandal on the illegal use of Indian gambling money. Another member of the Abramoff’s crooked scheme was Religious Right activist Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. Abramoff stealthily financed Reed’s anti-gambling organization in Alabama with money from casinos in... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Friday 02/24/2012, 3:41pm
There are few political operatives active today that are as ruthless and cynical as Ralph Reed. Reed is, after all, the man who infamously declared that he specializes in "guerrilla warfare," and bragged "I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag."  Reed also knowingly took hundreds of thousands of dollars from corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff to manipulate and mobilize his Religious Right allies to fight gambling expansions in order to protect Abramoff's client's gambling interests.  Reed even had some of the money... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 01/26/2012, 1:20pm
On a conference call last night with Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Mitt Romney laced into President Obama, arguing that he is leading an “assault on life,” an “assault on religion” and an “assault on marriage” as part of a larger “assault on American values.” With Gingrich quickly moving up the polls in Florida with the support of more conservative, evangelical voters, Romney used the conference call to pick up the same rhetoric used by unsuccessful candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and dish out red meat to... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Wednesday 01/18/2012, 2:44pm
Remember that “game-changing” endorsement of Rick Santorum by a group of evangelical leaders desperate to deny the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney?  As Brian reports, there wasn’t really that much of a consensus in Texas.  And it certainly didn’t make it to South Carolina, where Romney, Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry all paraded before a gathering convened by Ralph Reed’s “Faith and Freedom Coalition” just hours before the latest debate.  All had their fans in the crowd, and Gingrich seemed to have more, or at... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 12/29/2011, 11:15am
Last night during a tele-town hall hosted by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, a caller asked Newt Gingrich if he would consider choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate if he wins the Republican nomination. Gingrich responded that Palin “is certainly one of the people you would look at” and told the caller that he is “a great admirer of hers,” saying “she was a remarkable reform governor of Alaska.” He also floated appointing Palin to a Cabinet position such as Energy Secretary because he “can’t imagine anybody who would do a... MORE >