Ralph Reed, Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, confirmed on Sunday that he accepted more than $1 million in fees from a lobbyist and a public relations specialist whose work on behalf of American Indian casinos prompted a federal investigation.
In addition to his role running the campaign in the Southeast, Reed is a liaison to the Christian evangelical community, and many of its leaders are adamantly opposed to gambling. Reed has been widely credited with leading the political mobilization of the Christian right since the late 1980s.
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations executive Michael Scanlon -- the two men who paid the fees to Reed -- are subjects of a wide-ranging federal probe with political ramifications in Congress and within the Republican Party.
The inquiry involves at least $45 million in lobbying and public relations fees, alleged misuse of Indian tribal funds, possible illegal campaign contributions and possible tax code violations.
Federal officials have assembled a criminal task force from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department's public integrity section, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Interior Department inspector general's office, according to officials familiar with the investigation. The task force is looking into payments that Abramoff and Scanlon received from an array of clients, including 11 wealthy Indian tribes that operate gambling casinos.
Task force investigators have subpoenaed records at Reed's firm, Century Strategies, along with records of many other subcontractors for Abramoff and Scanlon, according to sources familiar with aspects of the inquiry.
Atlanta-based Century Strategies worked on behalf of casinos seeking to prevent other tribes from opening competitive gambling facilities. Century Strategies mobilized ministers and Christian activists to lobby against the new facilities.
Scanlon's company paid Reed $1.23 million, according to sources familiar with the transactions. The two law firms Abramoff worked for, Greenberg Traurig LLP and Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, paid fees to Reed and Century Strategies, but the amounts were not immediately available.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Reed said: "I have worked for decades to oppose the expansion of casino gambling, and as a result of that, Century Strategies has worked with broad coalitions to oppose casino expansion. We are proud of the work we have done. It is consistent not only with my beliefs but with the beliefs of the grassroots citizens that we mobilized. And at no time was Century Strategy ever retained by, or worked on behalf of, any casino or casino company."
Asked if he had been aware of the clients paying Abramoff and Scanlon, Reed said, "While we were clearly aware that Greenberg Traurig had certain tribal clients, we were not aware of every specific client or interest."
The Reed-Scanlon-Abramoff connections were first reported by Shawn Martin of the American Press in Lake Charles, La., in recent coverage of a struggle for power within the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, one of Abramoff's and Scanlon's clients. The Louisiana Coushatta Tribe was seeking to prevent development of potentially competitive casinos by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and the Jena Band of Choctaws.
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney '04 Committee, declined Sunday to comment on Reed's activities. "I would refer any questions about Century Strategies to Century Strategies," he said. Schmidt said the campaign refuses to accept contributions from political action committees associated with casinos.
Richard D. Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, declined to comment specifically about Reed's dealings, saying he was not familiar with the specifics. Land said he would not accept money from gambling interests, saying, "It would be hypocritical of me as a Southern Baptist and as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention." He described gambling as a "dangerous vice" with "antisocial effects on those least able to absorb those effects."
In February, The Washington Post reported that Indian tribes had paid Abramoff and Scanlon $45 million. Some of those tribes have contributed to prominent members of Congress. On March 2, Greenberg Traurig announced that Abramoff had "resigned." In a statement, the firm described Abramoff's "personal transactions and related conduct" as "unacceptable to the firm."
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this article from Washington.