The lies of lobbygate
ATLANTA — Ralph Reed has said repeatedly that he had no direct knowledge of who financed his consulting work against gambling in Alabama, Texas and elsewhere, and that he would never knowingly take money from gambling interests.
But the truth is not in him.
E-mails released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee make it clear that Reed knew the millions of dollars coming his way were being paid by Indian tribes who wanted to shut down potential competition to their casinos. In one series of e-mails between Reed and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was running the operation from Washington, the men discuss how Reed will be compensated for his expenses.
The subject heading for that discussion? "Disbursement on behalf of Choctaw Indians."
If that doesn't convince you, try this: In another series of e-mails, Reed tells Abramoff he's going to need another $867,511 for TV and radio ads, phone banks and direct mailings to conservative evangelicals.
OK, Abramoff says to Reed, which nonprofit groups should we use to launder the money to you?
Reed suggests three possibilities, but over the next few days, Abramoff reports that two of the groups aren't structured to handle such transactions. Together, they settle on using Americans for Tax Reform, a group run by their good friend, Republican activist Grover Norquist.
In other words, Reed was far from a passive, unknowing recipient of Indian money. Quite to the contrary, he actively participated in designing and operating the money-laundering process.
Reading through the hundreds of invoices and e-mails released by the committee is downright fascinating. They contain more smoking guns than a John Wayne Western.
Abramoff, for example, may very well have a prison cell in his future, and the only real mystery may be who he takes with him. In the e-mails, he tells subordinates to fabricate legal billing documents, and he discusses in blunt terms exactly how he is defrauding his Indian clients. It's also downright funny to see Norquist — a man who calls all taxes a form of theft — impose a "tax" of his own on the money that Abramoff is moving through his nonprofit group, keeping at least $25,000 to the consternation of both Reed and Abramoff.
In addition to using established groups to launder Indian money, Abramoff and his colleagues set up charity front groups of their own. The American International Center, for example, was used to launder $1.5 million in Indian money.
AIC described itself as a "premiere international think tank" based in Rehoboth Beach, Del., "determined to influence global paradigms in an increasingly complex world" under "the high-powered directorship of David A. Grosh and Brian J. Mann." In reality, Mann was a yoga instructor and Grosh was a part-time lifeguard, bartender and beach bum who got paid a couple of grand for lending his name to the project. Grosh told reporters last week that he agreed to pose as "director" of AIC because "it was wintertime in Rehoboth. You need to make rent money."
In sworn testimony last week, Grosh told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that he had been "embarrassed and disgusted to be a part of this whole thing." When Committee Chairman John McCain tried to soothe Grosh by telling him that he had been used, Grosh refused the offer to duck responsibility.
"I'm an adult," he told McCain.
Grosh ended the arrangement after just five months.
"I got out of it when I found out it involved the federal government, Indian tribes and gambling," he said. "I knew that it was headed down the wrong way."
It's interesting to speculate why Grosh could so clearly see what Reed says he failed to understand. Grosh didn't have Reed's sophistication, education and 25 years of Washington experience. But clearly, he had something that Reed lacked, something that told him that this thing was wrong.
Maybe it was a conscience.
Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.