Yet another of my home county prosecutors, David Escamia, is taking a long look at Ralph Reed for failure to register as a lobbyist.
[Ralph] Reed secretively worked Texas officials and the Legislature to kill pro-gambling initiatives on behalf of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff — and a Louisiana Indian tribe out to protect its casino. He even pitched Abramoff what he called a multimillion-dollar “TX Political Plan” targeting three Democratic state senators and four House members in 2002.
One of Reed’s weapons of choice was automated phone banks, according to documents released by a U.S. Senate committee.
This month, three government watchdog groups called on Travis County Attorney David Escamilla to investigate Reed, arguing that he violated a Texas law requiring lobbyists to register with the state.
Escamilla, a Democrat, said he will decide in the next few weeks whether to open a criminal investigation.
An inquiry would come at an inopportune time for Reed. The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia — his first run for office — has already faced unwelcome questions about his work with Abramoff, who is the target of a federal bribery investigation.
Since leaving the Christian Coalition in 1997 to open a political strategy firm in Georgia, Reed has forged a reputation as a master of grass-roots organizing. Reed’s firm has been hired to energize conservative Christians to contact their elected officials on issues including trade with China and shutting down casinos.
Reed maintains that such work is not covered by Texas’ ethics laws. Any contacts by Reed with Texas officials were of a “fact-finding, informational nature,” [Reed campaign manager Jared] Thomas said.
But the Texas watchdogs — Public Citizen, Texans for Public Justice and Common Cause Texas — say Reed crossed the line, lobbying officials himself. As evidence, they point to e-mails between Reed and Abramoff that were made public by a U.S. Senate inquiry into Abramoff.
Contact by a paid agent with a Texas legislator, state administrator or staffer can require registration as a lobbyist — and disclosure of the client whose interests are being served.
If Escamilla pursues an inquiry, it would be the first criminal investigation into Reed rising out of the Abramoff scandal. Failing to register as a lobbyist is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
An investigation would focus more attention on Reed’s work for Abramoff — a three-year partnership in which Reed conducted anti-gambling campaigns in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. Two of Abramoff’s tribal clients, eager to preserve their casino markets, funneled Reed more than $5 million toward his efforts.
Reed’s work was part of a larger effort by Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, to sell the Louisiana Coushatta tribe on the need to expand its political clout into Texas.
Another e-mail released by the committee shows that in March 2002, Reed claimed victory in Texas for thwarting gambling in the state and recommended that Abramoff help target such incumbents as state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and state Rep. Ann Kitchen, both Austin Democrats.
“To preserve our hard-fought victories in Texas, we recommend active involvement in the 2002 elections in an effort to defeat pro-gambling candidates for governor and the state legislature,” he wrote.
Several months after laying out his political plan, Reed sent another e-mail claiming “total victory.” However, Abramoff forwarded that e-mail to co-workers with the note to “forget about Ralph” and gave credit to others.
In the e-mails and other documents released by McCain’s committee, Reed and others mention direct contact with Texas legislators, then-Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and [then-Attorney General John] Cornyn.