Ralph Reed’s Dubious Past, And What It Means For 2020
By Igor Morzan, Campaign for Accountability
During the 2016 election, a conservative political advocacy group called the Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC) helped Donald Trump secure the presidency through targeted messaging to voters. Groups like this are well-funded, and critical in helping candidates beat their opponents — something that Donald Trump and his allies aim to replicate in 2020. Earlier this year, FFC launched The 2020 Project in an attempt to increase voter registration, turnout, and education among Republicans. The project claims that $42.7 million will be needed to win the 2020 presidential election. While the list of groups and individuals pouring money into this election is quite long, few have raised more red flags in their spending habits than FFC and its founder, conservative political consultant Ralph Reed.
Reed founded FFC in 2009, but his political activism didn’t begin there — he led the Christian Coalition from 1989 to 1997. With voter education and the pro-family agenda at the center of their work, the Christian Coalition distributes millions of voter guides throughout all 50 states to give voters a clearer understanding of where candidates stand on faith-based issues. The Coalition positioned Reed to mobilize Christian conservatives in support of Republican candidates throughout the early 90s.
After facing enforcement action by the FEC for violating federal campaign finance laws in 1996, Reed resigned as the executive director of the Coalition and moved to Atlanta to begin his career as a political consultant and lobbyist.
While running John Skandalakis’ campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 1997, Reed founded Century Strategies, a political consulting firm boasting a large Republican clientele. Reed initially engaged in campaign consulting for Republicans, however Century Strategies’ mission slowly evolved into lobbying and advocacy work.
Reed later came under scrutiny in 2005, when e-mails and other evidence revealed the participation of the Christian Coalition in the alleged fraud of lobbying on behalf of Native American casino projects. Emails proved that Reed secretly accepted payments from Jack Abramoff to lobby against Native American casino gambling.
It is alleged that Abramoff engaged Reed to set-up the lobbying campaign to include the Christian Coalition and other non-profits in order to frighten the tribes into spending nearly $82 million for Abramoff to lobby on their behalf. Not only did Reed confirm that he had been paid more than $1 million in fees by lobbyists working on behalf of Native American casinos, but Reed also used non-profits, such as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, as pass-throughs to conceal the origins of the funds.
Reed’s previous work at the Coalition inspired him to establish FFC in 2009. He even described his new organization as “a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition.” Similar to its predecessor, FFC’s goal is to mobilize and train people of faith and influence legislation on behalf of Christian values.
The Freedom & Values Alliance, a subsidiary of FFC, is also chaired by Ralph Reed. The Freedom & Values Alliance has no official description, website or listing on its parent website, FFC. There is also little to no information available surrounding the Faith and Freedom Action, a second subsidiary of FFC.
Flash-forward to 2016 and we see that FFC, Reed’s treasured political advocacy group, sent $1.5 million to the Freedom & Values Alliance. Yet, the Freedom & Values Alliance dissolved on September 8, 2012.
Despite being listed as the chairman on both FFC and the Freedom & Values Alliances’ Form 990s in 2016, Reed has received $0 in compensation across both organizations. The Form 990s reveal that Reed worked 40 hours each week for FFC and the Freedom & Values Alliance for no compensation at all.
At worst, the $1.5 million transfer from FFC to a now-dissolved organization may be an occurrence of money-laundering on Reed’s behalf. At best, it is uncomfortably mysterious for an organization so heavily involved in electoral politics. The combination of Reed’s previous involvement in laundering money through non-profits and his track record of corruption raises concerns that FFC might be self-dealing for Reed’s benefit.
What did the Freedom & Values Alliance, and more broadly, Ralph Reed, do with the money? With the current political climate and election on the horizon in the US, participating organizations of IMoLIN and FATF should use their tools and network to further investigate Reed’s potential misconduct.
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.