News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Stealth, secrecy are Reed's calling cards |

Consultant relies on Christian connections

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/23/05
Ralph Reed's clients wanted to promote a relaxed U.S. trade policy toward China. So, as he has often done since leaving the Christian Coalition to become a corporate and political consultant, Reed tapped into his vast network of conservative religious activists.

Soon the Alliance of Christian Ministries in China was telling Congress that free trade would open doors for missionaries in a nation that is officially atheist.

The alliance, however, was a facade. Reed arranged for its formation and used its evangelical goals to serve the interests of his paying clients, a coalition of businesses including Boeing Co., which had a more secular objective: to sell the Chinese government $120 billion worth of airplanes.

Such stealth defines Reed's eight years as a corporate and campaign consultant, the work that bridged his career from Christian activist to Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.

By working through grass-roots groups, some of which he formed himself, Reed repeatedly has let conservative Christian groups make the case for causes that benefit his clients while obscuring the clients' identity and shielding them from controversy.

These efforts, a close examination of his consulting work shows, often capitalize on Reed's connections in the evangelical Christian community even as they contradict positions he advocated as one of the nation's most prominent spokesmen for the religious right.

After more than two decades of behind-the-scenes work, Reed is seeking public office for the first time. With no record as a candidate or elected official, how Reed operates his Duluth-based consulting firm, Century Strategies, may offer Georgia voters the best guide to what they might expect if they elect him next year to the state's second-highest office.

Reed says his job is to represent clients by pulling together coalitions — usually including "people of faith," in his vernacular — to express sympathetic views.

"That is what I've done," Reed said in a recent interview. "I don't spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress. I spend my time at the grass roots, organizing citizens."

The fact that he sometimes stirs grass-roots activism where it didn't exist before does not diminish its authenticity, Reed said. "We [have] formed coalitions and raised funds from a variety of sources," he said last week. "That's the nature of an effective coalition."

The examination of Reed's activities at Century Strategies is based on two dozen interviews, congressional records and documents the firm created. It reveals a skilled yet secretive political operative, one whose stands have sometimes shifted to conform to the desires of his paying clients.

In one instance, Reed's company condensed quotes from the Dalai Lama to produce a newspaper ad implying the Tibetan spiritual leader supported free trade with China — the government that drove him into exile. Reed himself had opposed favorable trade status for China when he led the national Christian Coalition.

In another case, Reed — a professed opponent of gambling — used a group called the Committee Against Gambling Expansion to mobilize conservative Christians to oppose casinos owned by Indian tribes. The group, however, was secretly funded by another tribe trying to squelch competition for its casinos. Reed's fees for that work totaled $4 million.

In two other instances in which gambling interests paid for his work with grass-roots Christian groups, Reed and his colleagues funneled his fees through third parties to hide the source of the money.

Reed worked for gambling interests as a subcontractor to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a longtime friend. The work has come under scrutiny by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is conducting one of several investigations into Abramoff's activities. The committee is scheduled to conduct its fourth hearing on the matter Nov. 2.

Reed's penchant for secrecy as a consultant follows the philosophy of political engagement he has espoused since his days at the Christian Coalition. Using combat metaphors to urge his followers into action, Reed once suggested that Christians adhere to the teachings of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist and author of "The Art of War," who wrote that "all warfare is based on deception." For years Reed advised conservative Christians to conceal their activism so they could take their adversaries by surprise.

"I want to be invisible," Reed told a Virginia newspaper in 1991. "I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag."

'Premier' strategist

Reed's ties to the religious right account for his initial appeal to corporations trying to generate political support among conservative Christians, said Brian Lunde, a Washington-based consultant who has worked with Reed.

"Then they find out he can look at the world from 30,000 feet beyond that one slice of the electorate," Lunde said in a recent interview. He described Reed as "one of the premier political strategists in the country."

Reed won't name his company's clients, either corporate or political. Because he is a public affairs consultant rather than a lobbyist, Reed does not have to disclose the clients, or the fees they pay him.

"There has probably been as much press coverage of Century Strategies over the last eight years as any public relations or public affairs firm in the country," he said. "I'm confident people know what we do, and a number of our clients have been disclosed in the press."

Indeed, Reed's work for clients such as Microsoft Corp. has drawn extensive, and sometimes unwelcome, attention.

The software giant, which paid Reed a retainer of $20,000 a month, according to numerous published reports, was battling a federal anti-trust case in 2000 at the same time Reed was advising George W. Bush's presidential campaign. When news articles disclosing the arrangement stirred a political controversy, Reed denied lobbying Bush on Microsoft's behalf. Bush has said he didn't know Reed represented the company.

Reed's work for many other clients has attracted little notice.

The Journal-Constitution reported Oct. 2, for example, that Reed worked in 2000 to defeat a proposed ban on Internet gambling — on behalf of a company in the online gambling business. Reed had earlier used his position at the Christian Coalition to condemn legalized betting as a "cancer" and a "scourge." But he worked for the Connecticut-based firm eLottery Inc. as a subcontractor to Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist.

Reed said last week that he thought the proposed ban actually would have expanded gambling. He said he didn't know eLottery was the client until "the facts emerged" from a criminal investigation into Abramoff's activities in recent months. Reed declined to elaborate.

Reed says he made no secret of his affiliation with the Channel One Network, which broadcasts news and other information — including abstinence programs on which he consulted — to 12,000 middle and high schools. Many conservative Christian organizations, such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, have complained the network airs ads for sexually provocative movies and other objectionable material.

When Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) — a former client of Reed's — scheduled a hearing on the network in 1999, Reed took a furtive approach on its behalf.

Among other strategies, he hired Judson Hill, a Marietta lawyer who later became a state senator. His job, Hill said recently, was to generate letters to Congress from citizens. The letters urging Shelby and other Republicans to refrain from interfering in Channel One's business followed a script he provided.

"If Channel One broadcasts are taken out of the classroom, then something will replace it," Hill's model letter said. "I am concerned that liberal programs without good moral values will be aired in the classroom."

Reed acknowledges that neither the letters nor radio ads that made similar claims disclosed that he was behind the messages or that Channel One had paid for them.

The ads were attributed to a group called Coalition to Protect Our Children.

Reed said he tried to thwart the congressional inquiry into Channel One because he was "supportive of their right to be able to broadcast into the schools."

"I've often contacted Republican members of Congress or officeholders through grass-roots campaigns to urge them to take a particular position," he said. "I want to make sure when we have a Republican majority we adopt sound public policy."

As the eLottery and Channel One examples illustrate, however, Reed often finds himself balancing his close ties to evangelicals — a key element of his campaign for lieutenant governor — with clients' positions that might offend those same conservative Christians.

'An open China'

No issue more starkly highlights that tension than U.S. trade policy toward China.

"What do Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama have in common?"

In large type above photographs of the two world-famous religious leaders, the June 9, 1998, newspaper ad posed a provocative question.

The answer, the ad asserted, was that both favored "an open door" to China — an extension of most favored nation trading status to a country often accused of abusing religious and human rights.

The full-page ad appeared in The Washington Post as Congress debated the then-annual trade extension. The sponsor listed at the bottom of the page: the Alliance of Christian Ministries in China.

The real sponsors: American manufacturers who stood to make billions if Congress approved relaxed trade with China. To do so, Congress would have to overlook the objections of human rights activists — many of them the religious conservatives to whom Reed gave a political voice during his tenure at the Christian Coalition.

Easing trade restrictions on China was a divisive issue for U.S. Christians. Some thought the climate for human and religious rights in China would improve incrementally if the Chinese government had a greater presence in the worldwide economy. Others countered that the Chinese government would never relax oppressive policies unless the United States drew a hard line against giving China the same trading privileges that most other nations enjoyed.

As late as May 1997, Reed publicly stood with the latter group. Shortly before he left the Christian Coalition, Reed advocated denying favorable trade status until China reversed policies that resulted in forced abortions and intolerance of Christianity.

"We believe that human and civil rights and religious freedom and liberty should be at the center of our foreign policy," Reed said at a news conference, according to news reports. "We believe that if the United States makes the center of its foreign policy profits rather than people, and money rather than human rights, then we will have lost our soul as a nation."

A year later, at Century Strategies, Reed took a different stance.

A group of companies and business interests — Boeing, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and others, Reed says — hired him to get conservative Christians to urge Congress to extend China's favored trade status another year.

Reed's approach: create a grass-roots group of missionary organizations that worked in China.

He assigned a subcontractor, the DeMoss Group of Duluth, to ask about four dozen organizations to join the group. About 25 signed on, said Mark DeMoss, the firm's president. Most, DeMoss said recently, wanted their names kept secret to protect their missionaries.

Then DeMoss produced ads for the newly formed Alliance of Christian Ministries in China. The message: "An open China was important to the ability to conduct Christian ministry in China," DeMoss said.

Many missionary groups that disagreed with that stand had dominated the debate, said Jim Jewell, who managed the project for DeMoss.

Reed and his staff wanted to engage "the more conservative voices," Jewell said. "They wanted us to bring into the discussion the other side of the evangelical community."

DeMoss' firm produced ads that appeared in several major newspapers and on radio stations in the districts of eight members of Congress in seven states. The ads listed neither the members of the alliance nor the corporations footing the bill.

As the congressional vote approached, another full-page ad appeared in The Washington Post: the one suggesting that both the Rev. Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama supported favored nation status for China.

That ad, Jewell said, came not from the DeMoss shop but directly from Reed's firm.

Misleading ad?

Less than a month before the 1998 trade vote, the Dalai Lama told The New York Times that while he favored "friendly relations" between the United States and China, American officials must continue emphasizing "moral standards."

"If you are only concerned about the economic side," he said, "that would be a terrible mistake."

The June 9 ad presented the Dalai Lama's remarks in a different light. Condensing his comments to the Times, the ad quoted him only as saying: "China should not be isolated. Confrontation or condemnation: I don't think it works. The only practical way is to be a genuine friend."

The next day, the Dalai Lama's envoy to the United States complained that the quotations were taken out of context and used without permission and that the ad falsely implied an endorsement of the trade proposal. The envoy's letter was addressed to the alliance's only public spokesman, Jewell, and mailed to its address in Duluth, which actually was the DeMoss Group's office.

The envoy demanded the alliance stop running the ad. By then, though, that demand was moot. Congress was ready to vote, and the ad had not been scheduled to appear again anyway.

But it already had served its purpose. Even two years later, as Congress voted to make China's favored trade status permanent, at least one lawmaker still was citing the Dalai Lama's purported support, according to the Congressional Record.

Despite its success, the 1998 campaign left DeMoss feeling uncomfortable.

"The issue is controversial in all corners," DeMoss said recently. "It's controversial even among conservatives and Christian organizations. If I had it to do again, we probably wouldn't take it on. It upset some people who we work with who feel strongly about it."

'We were very transparent'

Reed said recently that he didn't recall the ad in detail. "The only thing I remember is, both Graham and the Dalai Lama had spoken to the issue of engaging China," he said.

Last week, while saying he didn't remember "specifically who created or placed" the ad, he described it as an accurate reflection of the Dalai Lama's comments in an interview with New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

"We never attributed to the Dalai Lama any particular position," Reed said. "I believe we fairly represented his views. His comments were in the public square and they were reported by a liberal op-ed columnist."

Regardless, Reed said in both interviews he saw no reason to disclose the corporate interests behind the ad campaign.

"I think it was broadly known these individuals [doing mission work in China] were working in tandem with and in cooperation with the industries," Reed said. "We were very transparent."

Moments later, though, he added, "I don't think it was necessary for us to explicitly disclose" who actually paid for the ads.

As a leader of the Christian Coalition, Reed had signed a letter to Congress opposing favored trade for China in 1997. He sees no contradiction in advocating a completely different position the following year as a consultant to corporate clients.

"My job was to represent the view of the organization," he said. As a consultant, "I had a very different role."

Staff writer Jim Galloway contributed to this article.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Intoxination has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Intoxination endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)