When I see Ralph Reed, I think of Julian Bond.
Reed is rich and famous, smart and articulate, a fellow with powerful friends and an A-list speaker on the national lecture circuit. Despite spasms of bad publicity, Reed is an easy favorite to win election as lieutenant governor next year. The polls show him way out front.
Georgia has seldom seen such a celebrity offering for elective office. Reed and his fledgling campaign are reminiscent of the saga of Julian Bond. Remember Julian? In 1967, the Georgia Legislature refused to seat Bond because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. The lawmakers made Bond a star.
In 1968, national Democrats symbolically nominated Bond for vice president, though he was legally too young to accept. Bond had his own syndicated TV show. He lectured on hundreds of college campuses. Hardly a week passed that Bond did not appear on a network talk show. He was as big as Jesse Jackson is today.
A year before the 1986 election, Bond looked like a shoo-in to win his first big-league election, the Atlanta (5th District) seat in Congress. His notoriety and ethics issues tripped him. A less glamorous John Lewis defeated Bond in a primary runoff. Bond's stardom-bound political career flopped before it started.
Though their philosophies and constituencies are poles apart, the parallels between Reed and Bond are eerily similar. Reed is a favorite of the best and brightest of his national party. He has mountains of campaign cash at his disposal. Everyone knows his name, and, to his conservative Republican supporters, he is a vivid symbol of the moral high ground. Sounds just like Bond, among liberal Democrats, more than 20 years ago.
Is history about to repeat? Perhaps, but the Reed-Bond analogy eventually begins to run thin. Reed is steeped in national controversy regarding his activities as a lobbyist and crusader for moral values. Congressional investigators are looking into his connections with celebrated Washington arm-twister Jack Abramoff. Reed's firm has received millions of dollars from Abramoff's firm for lobbying against casinos in Texas - a move that may have helped rival gaming interests from Louisiana.
Several news organizations have reported that Reed's lobbying team also accepted more than a million dollars from Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform to fight video poker and a state lottery in Alabama. Reed said he did not know that Mississippi-based casinos were the original source of the Norquist money. Reed said he simply used the cash to carry on his fight against evil gambling in Alabama.
Reed has taken time out from his political campaign to hire noted Washington criminal defense attorney Neil Eggleston to sort out his myriad problems.
Interestingly, Eggleston's resume indicates close ties with Democrats. The attorney served as White House associate counsel to President Clinton (1993-1994) and as deputy chief counsel of the House Iran/Contra Investigation Committee (1987). His private practice focuses on white-collar criminal defense and cases involving SEC matters.
Though Eggleston's legal advice to Reed is confidential, political counsel from some of Reed's pals back in Georgia is not.
If he hopes to win next year's GOP primary, Reed may have to come clean about his lobbying.
Questions raised by supporters of Reed's opponent Casey Cagle get tougher by the day, and the primary is still 14 months away. For instance:
How could Reed not know the source of millions of dollars used in his anti-gambling campaigns in Texas and Alabama? His longtime buddies Abramoff and Norquist certainly were aware that the dough came from competing casinos.
Who were Reed's other clients, and how much did he receive from them? List all, including cash, gifts and trips. What did Enron and Microsoft expect from Reed when they hired him?
Which of his clients also have connections with Abramoff and Norquist?
Some of these inquiries may seem too esoteric and Beltway-oriented to affect Georgia voters at this early date. Yet, they underscore criticism from Reed's former boss, the Rev. Pat Robertson, the evangelist/presidential candidate who hired Reed to direct the national Christian Coalition.
"You know what they say about the Rhinestone Cowboy, There's been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon," Robertson told the New York Times. "The Bible says you can't serve God and Mammon."
Over lunch recently, Reed expressed sadness at Robertson's recent remarks and suggested his ex-mentor may be too doddered - he's 75 - for national media appearances. The candidate also scoffed at the notion that he may be the 21st century version of a Julian Bond - too slick, famous and controversial for Georgia voters.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.