BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company, political zealot Ralph Reed is back from the wilderness firing up the faithful to support conservative candidates and raking in campaign cash.
RALPH REED: We’re going to have the biggest victory we’ve had for time-honored values in the history of this country.
BILL MOYERS: The resurrection of Ralph Reed. And…
MIKE LOFGREN: Infusion of religion into politics and politics into religion, that's a toxic brew, as other countries have experienced.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. If you watched the Republican Convention in Tampa only on Primetime television you would have missed the story we’re about to report. And it’s the one that could make the biggest difference on Election Day in November. On the seventh day, we’re told, God rested. But not Ralph Reed. There he was, the Sunday before the convention opened, speaking at a rally of his Faith and Freedom Coalition.
RALPH REED: We’re here today not just to celebrate faith and freedom but to pray for its survival. And unlike the other side, we haven’t gathered in this city this week to anoint a messiah, because you see we already have a messiah. And we’re not looking for one here on earth.
BILL MOYERS: Reed’s message was directed to conservative Christians Mitt Romney must convert to his cause if he’s to be elected president. Romney is a Mormon, a faith many on the religious right consider a cult, even a heresy. There’s no love for Romney among these people, but they are united in their loathing of Barack Obama. And that’s where Ralph Reed comes in.
RALPH REED: Four years ago, we heard a lot of talk about hope and change. People were fainting at campaign rallies. There were Che Guevera posters hanging in dorm rooms. There was one candidate who stood in front of Greek columns and vowed to heal the planet and cause the oceans to recede. But you see our hope is in something this world doesn’t fully understand. We hope for a kingdom yet to come. The hope of a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. A place where every tear will be wiped away. And every broken heart will be healed. And all the pain and brokenness and poverty and injustice of this world will be gone.
BILL MOYERS: But first there’s the devil to chase.
NEWT GINGRICH: I believe that Barack Obama is a direct threat to the survival of the country I grew up in.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Dear friends, our religious liberty is at stake in this election, because Obama is at war with all religion in any public place, any public square , any public school.
TED CRUZ: For the first time in centuries the president of the United States has officially declared himself an enemy of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
BILL MOYERS: You are witness to a modern tale of resurrection. A second-coming. The Bible speaks of Lazarus, raised by Jesus from the grave to walk again among the living. Ralph Reed, too, has been returned to life, political life. But he goes Lazarus one further. Lazarus was a poor man. Reed is rich, and he just keeps getting richer from mixing religion and politics. And that’s a story you don’t want to miss.
At age 33, Ralph Reed was the Christian Right’s wonder boy. Anointed in a 1995 Time Magazine cover story as the “right hand of God” for spinning the trust of conservative Christians into political gold. It was Reed who built the Christian Coalition of televangelist Pat Robertson into a powerful arm of the Republican Party.
RALPH REED: As religious conservatives we have finally gained what we have always sought. A place at the table, a sense of legitimacy and a voice in the conversation that we call democracy.
BILL MOYERS: In 2000, Reed helped put George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the White House.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Ralph Reed is with us, he’s the southeast regional chairman.
BILL MOYERS: And four years later he corralled true believers for their re-election. But Reed fell from grace in 2006 after he was implicated in the biggest Washington scandal since Watergate. His pal and colleague, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to defrauding clients of millions of dollars. Some of which had landed in Reed’s pockets as well. Reed’s exile in political purgatory was cut short in 2008 by an event he said left him feeling as if he’d “been hit by a truck” - Barack Obama’s victory:
BARACK OBAMA: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible […] tonight is your answer.
RALPH REED: As I prayed about it, and I thought about what can I going to do, I’m not ready to give up on America. I realized that God’s not looking for perfect people, because there’s only been one perfect person in the history of the human race […] He wants people who will come to him just as they are with all their fears and all their failures and all their foibles. And just utter one simple line. And that is: here am I, send me. And that was my prayer.
BILL MOYERS: Reed got his answer. Not from an angel whispering in his hear but from a more familiar, earthbound messenger, Sean Hannity, Fox News anchor, talk radio host and Reed’s old friend.
RALPH REED: This was probably three weeks after the ‘08 election. My phone rang, and it was Sean Hannity, and he said Ralph, we can’t let this happen again, you’ve got to do something. And I said, well Sean I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve been praying about it, I said, but I want to know that this is not me; I want to know that it’s not any ambition of mine; I want to know that I’m doing this for the Lord, and that’s the only reason why I’m doing it. And he said Ralph, God is speaking to you through this phone line right now and he’s using me to deliver the message.
BILL MOYERS: So Ralph Reed was called back up to the major leagues. But he was short on what the people of the Good Book used to call “manna from heaven.” In this case, the cold, hard cash that’s the elixir of politics. Miraculously, no doubt, it arrived as a gift from an undisclosed donor – a half a million dollars. Which, in 2009, Reed used to launch his Faith and Freedom Coalition. Because it’s designated by the IRS as a 50lC 4 non-profit, Reed can conceal the identity of his funders from the public, which, indeed, he has done. But he makes no secret of his goal.
RALPH REED: Beginning right now, today, we are going to take our country back and we are going to end the Obama agenda forever.
BILL MOYERS: By the end of 2010, according to tax returns, Reed had raised almost five and a half million dollars. Watered by more secret funds, he now has a budget of $10 million, and continues to pass the collection plate. He says he intends to build the 21st century version of the Christian Coalition, with an annual budget of $ 100 million, five million members, full-time lobbyists in all 50 state capitols, and an enormous database. And while he counts all this as God’s blessing on his calling, he also acknowledges his debt to the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court who paved the way:
RALPH REED: We’ve now got the Citizens’ United case. […] We can, where we so choose, within the parameters of whatever regulations the federal elections commission ultimately promulgates, engage in express advocacy. That is advocating the election or defeat of candidates, same as a corporation or labor union.
BILL MOYERS: So that’s just what he’s doing, as he told the faithful gathered in Tampa:
RALPH REED: We’ve identified 17 million faith-based voters in 15 states, living in 11 million households. Every one of those households is going to be contacted by this organization seven to twelve times. We’re going to mail them, we’re going to text them, we’re going to email them, we’re going to phone them, and if they haven’t voted by November 6 we’re going to get in a car and we’re going to drive to their house and we’re going to get them to the polls.
BILL MOYERS: Reed claims credit for a string of victories leading up to the big showdown with Obama this November.
BILL MOYERS: When Republican Bob McDonnell won the race for governor of Virginia in 2009, Reed’s brand new Faith and Freedom Coalition was there.
RALPH REED: Do you want to hand these out…
BILL MOYERS: Contacting, he said, every social and fiscal conservative voter an average of seven times. Enough, he also said, to make the difference.
JOHN BOEHNER: Thank all of you, God bless you, and God bless…
BILL MOYERS: After Republicans swept into control of the House in the 2010 mid-term elections, Reed called a press conference in Washington the very next day to claim bragging rights:
RALPH REEED: It was the most ambitious, the most comprehensive, and the most effective voter contact and get-out-the-vote effort aimed at the conservative faith community in modern American political history, or at least as long as I’ve been doing it, which is 30 years. Sixteen million voter guides. Eight million pieces of mail. Three pieces of mail to every social conservative household in certain areas. They received an average of three phone calls, and many of them received a knock on the door.
BILL MOYERS: They’re also the voters Reed says he reached in Wisconsin earlier this year.
SCOTT WALKER: Thank you Wisconsin! Thank you, God bless you, God bless the great state of Wisconsin.
BILL MOYERS: When Republican Governor Scott Walker beat back the effort to recall him from office, Ralph Reed totaled up the numbers and announced that his Faith and Freedom Coalition had contacted over 600,000 voters.
Reed’s funders – whoever they are, for they’re cloaked in secrecy – are obviously buying into his promise that Wisconsin was batting practice for November.
FEMALE: I’m calling from the Faith and Freedom Coalition…
BILL MOYERS: When the Faith and Freedom Coalition claims it will reach 27 million conservative voters – from the ranks of both the Religious Right and the Tea Party brigades -- with all the tools it can muster.
NARRATION: And just in case you haven’t figured this out, there’s one sure fire way to deal with elected officials who attack Christian beliefs and ignore the First Amendment: vote them out of office. On every government level: national, state, city, community, we’ll have the opportunity to take our beliefs and values into the voting booth on November 6th and to vote accordingly.
BILL MOYERS: Earlier this summer, at the “Under God, Indivisible” rally in Texas, Reed told the crowd of six thousand to beg the Almighty’s forgiveness for the state of the country...
RALPH REED: Then I believe in November, God is going to have mercy on our land and we will have a Renaissance of the values that made this country great.
BILL MOYERS: Music to Mitt Romney’s ears.
MITT ROMNEY: Wow, look at this! This is an old-fashioned revival. I wore my jeans. Look at that, I wore my… […] Ralph Reed is doing a great job here with the Faith and Freedom Coalition. This is going to make a big impact across America, and I appreciate the work that you are doing here.
BILL MOYERS: Romney needs Reed’s blessing, because Romney’s a Mormon. And a recent poll says his religion makes one in nearly every four white evangelicals uncomfortable. Romney can’t lose them and still win in November. So Romney must bond with the Christian right.
MITT ROMNEY: Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.
BILL MOYERS: In Tampa, Reed called on the flock to do their part.
RALPH REED: Register the unregistered. Educate. The bible says my people perished for lack of knowledge. Let’s give them the knowledge they need. Thirdly vote. And fourthly pray for the next 72 days.
BILL MOYERS: Ralph Reed was in his glory in Tampa, his reincarnation in full swing. But there are some other things you need to know about Ralph Reed. First when he bailed out of the Christian Coalition in 1997, only two years after his big TIME magazine cover story, he had driven the organization into the ground. It was nearly bankrupt, under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, and facing charges from its own financial officer that Reed’s cronies had ripped off almost a million dollars.
BILL MOYERS: Despite that record, Reed went on to flourish in the early years of George W. Bush. Until it was disclosed that the “Right Hand of God” had his other hand out to his old friend, the super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and was raking in the cash. Reed’s allies today say they’re not bothered by all that: “Ralph has a great track record,” said one. Reed’s ties to Abramoff are quote, “largely in the rear-view mirror.” Perhaps. But the view from the rear-view mirror can be quite revealing. Let’s take a look.
JACK ABRAMOFF: Senator I respectively invoke the privilege as previously stated.
SENATOR KENT CONRAD: And I’d say to you Mr. Abramoff, shame on you.
BILL MOYERS: It was 2006. Abramoff’s empire of greed and fraud was collapsing. My colleague Sherry Jones and I produced the documentary “Capitol Crimes,” piecing together what was happening. She and I had been tracking money in politics for 30 years, but corruption on this scale took our breath away. The story began in 1984 when a young Jack Abramoff was introduced at another Republican National Convention:
SPEAKER: One of the ever-growing lists of young people who have joined in the Republican cause, the chairman of the College Republican National Committee, Jack Abramoff.
BILL MOYERS: A self-described “rabid right winger,” Abramoff headed the organization that launched the careers of many Republican power brokers, including Karl Rove and the crusader against taxes, Grover Norquist.
JACK ABRAMOFF: Fellow Republicans, I come before you today representing American students, the future of our Republican Party.
BILL MOYERS: It was as college students organizing campuses for Ronald Reagan that Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed first met.
RALPH REED: Good morning. My name is Ralph Reed. I’m the executive director of Students for America…
BILL MOYERS: Reed was a junior from the University of Georgia and a $200 a month intern with the College Republicans. He and the other young pols embraced the spirit of the Cold War against Communism and applied it to domestic politics. In war, their aim was to destroy the enemy.
SAM HARBEN: It was very simple, very black and white. We used army metaphors. We talked about being ‘hard core’.
BILL MOYERS: They dreamed up headline-grabbing stunts in the shadow of the Capitol, and sent volunteers out to organize the grass roots. The young recruits were ordered to memorize the famous opening speech from the movie PATTON, but to substitute the word “Democrats” for the word “Nazis.” “Spill their blood,” they were instructed.
JACK ABRAMOFF: If we’re the party of composure, and not the party that ducks disclosure, then we’re riding our wave. If we equivocate, capitulate, accommodate, negotiate….”
BILL MOYERS: Abramoff chose the young Grover Norquist as his right-hand man. They intended, said Abramoff, to remove their opponents from power, “permanently.”
JACK ABRAMOFF: And so it is to our party that they come. It is with us that they trust their dreams. And it is in us that they place their hopes.
BILL MOYERS: By November 1994, ten years later, Republicans won eight new Senate seats and a whopping 52 seats in the House. The conservative revolution imagined by the College Republicans was embodied in the new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich . And at the center of the action was Grover Norquist.
Norquist had created Americans for Tax Reform, which he turned into the movement’s nerve center. Once a week, Congressional staff, party activists, and rightwing think tankers held strategy sessions in his office. It was Norquist who concocted a grand scheme to turn Washington into a Republican company town by making sure only Republicans were hired as lobbyists and lobbyists contributed only to Republicans. He dubbed it The K Street project, after the lobbyists’ main drag downtown. It paved the way for Jack Abramoff. “What the Republicans need,” said Norquist, “is fifty Jack Abramoff’s.” “Then this becomes a different town.”
MICHAEL WALLER: They were probably about as inseparable as two political people can get. Jack had left Washington. He didn’t have the day-to-day contact with his networks. So if Grover vouched for him, then Abramoff was fine.
BILL MOYERS: Abramoff had gone to Los Angeles, but he returned to town to work for a prominent firm, which announced his hiring by touting the lobbyist’s ties to the Republican National Committee, the new leaders of the House, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, and the Christian Coalition now headed by his buddy Ralph Reed. But no one was more indispensable to Abramoff than Norquist.
MICHAEL WALLER: If it wasn’t for his relation with Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff would never have been able to become the super lobbyist that he came. And to charge the huge rates that he charged because he had this unique relationship with certain Republican leaders.
BILL MOYERS: The hefty fees would enrich Abramoff, who in turn would direct his clients to enrich the right-wing’s political machine. One of those clients was the wealthiest gambling tribe in America, the Mississippi Choctaw. To keep their huge casino earnings from being taxed, the tribe needed help in Washington. So Abramoff turned to Norquist, who had just what the tribe was looking for: an organization dedicated to opposing all tax increases. So the two old college comrades framed the casino tax as a tax increase that conservatives should on principle oppose. Activists at Norquist’s weekly meetings suddenly found themselves discussing Indian tribes.
MICHAEL WALLER: We didn’t know one tribe from another. So what. Let them have their casino. We didn’t know. Nobody knew they were multi-billion dollar entities. It’s not something anybody paid attention to.
BILL MOYERS: But Norquist was paying attention. And to lobby for their cause he had the Choctaw put up the money to organize anti-tax groups across the country.
MICHAEL WALLER: Why in the world would Grover Norquist care about, care so deeply about Indian tribes, unless there was something else going on. We all suspected something pretty fishy.
BILL MOYERS: The Choctaw became a major contributor to Norquist’s organization. And Norquist, in turn, was moving some of that money to the third member of that old College Republican troika, Ralph Reed. As the pious head of the Christian Coalition, Reed publicly opposed gambling.
RALPH REED: This reflects what we believe is one of the greatest cancers growing on the American body politic – and that is the scourge of legalized gambling.
BILL MOYERS: But by the mid-1990s, after leaving the Christian Coalition, Reed had set up his own political consulting firm. He sent an email to his old friend Abramoff, who was now known on K Street as “Casino Jack.” This is what Reed wrote:
RALPH REED: “Hey, now that I’m done with electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.”
BILL MOYERS: Abramoff came through. He and Reed teamed up in a campaign to protect the Choctaw casino against competition from other tribes. The scheme called for Reed to organize his fellow Christians to oppose new casinos on moral grounds -- without ever revealing to them that his own client, “Casino Jack” was in the gambling business, too. Emails between them make clear where the money came from. When Reed pushed for a ‘green light’ to organize Christians in Alabama against gambling, Abramoff said approval would first have to come from the Choctaw, and demanded:
JACK ABRAMOFF: "… get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks asap."
BILL MOYERS: Reed wrote back with a list and a total:
RALPH REED: “We have fronted $100K, which is a lot for us.”
BILL MOYERS: Abramoff promised to do what he could.
RALPH REED: “Any chance that a wire from Choctaw directly would be OK?”
BILL MOYERS: Just days later, Reed tells Abramoff:
RALPH REED: ”…We are opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back.”
JACK ABRAMOFF: “Yeaaaa baaabby!!!”
BILL MOYERS: To conceal the source of the money being paid to Reed from the trusting believers he had recruited, Abramoff once again turned to their accomplice Grover Norquist, who used his anti-tax campaign as cover. In turn, when Norquist needed money for his own organization he turned to Abramoff.
GROVER NORQUIST: “What is the status of the Choctaw stuff. I have a $75K hole in my budget from last year. ouch.”
BILL MOYERS: In a reminder to himself, Abramoff Notes:
JACK ABRAMOFF: “Call Ralph re Grover doing pass-through”
BILL MOYERS: And then tells Reed:
JACK ABRAMOFF: “I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter.”
BILL MOYERS: With the next 300,000 dollars, Norquist took a taste of the action. When he did it again, Abramoff noted his surprise.
JACK ABRAMOFF: “grover kept another $25K!”
BILL MOYERS: The money spigot was now wide open. Abramoff was being paid millions as a lobbyist. Reed was being paid millions to dupe his fellow Christians. And Norquist was feeding cash to his political operation by acting as their front. The one-time college Republicans had turned the conservative revolution into a racket.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: “What’s the basis for your tribe making a donation to Americans for Tax Reform?
BERNIE SPRAGUE “I have no idea, Senator. I did not understand it then. I opposed it and I don’t understand it today.”
SENATOR KENT CONRAD: “Did you, Mr. Abramoff ,you and your partner, your colleague, Mr. Scanlon, give $4 million to Ralph Reed?”
JACK ABRAMOFF: Senator, I respectfully evoke the privileges previously stated.”
BILL MOYERS: Despite Abramoff’s zipped lip, Senate investigators were able to expose even more chicanery Yet another tribe, the Coushatta in Louisiana, hired Abramoff and partner Mike Scanlon to stop rival tribes from opening competing casinos across the border in Texas. Again they turned to Ralph Reed, who said he could use his Christian connections to stir up the religious folk in Texas to oppose the new casinos. And once again, Reed didn’t tell his fellow Christians he was actually working for gambling interests right next door in Louisiana. Abramoff’s partner Mike Scanlon informed the Coushatta that paying Reed was crucial to success in Texas:
Email of MICHAEL SCANLON: “Simply put we want to bring out the wackos …The wackos get their information from the Christian right, Christian radio, the internet, and telephone trees.”
BILL MOYERS: “I do guerrilla warfare,” Reed once boasted. “I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.” In Texas, his weapons of mass deception included bogus Christian front groups that the “wackos” would believe to be the real thing:
SUZII PAYNTER: It had the earmarks of guerrilla activity, not from a do-gooder faith, commitment perspective, but all the earmarks of just big corporate business and how they operate when they decide to try to smash something.
BILL MOYERS: Reed’s e-mails to Abramoff were insistent. He needed money and he needed it now. At one point, Abramoff responded:
Email of JACK ABRAMOFF: “Give me a number.”
Email of RALPH REED: $225K a week for TV; $450K for two weeks of TV.”
Email of JACK ABRAMOFF: “Ralph, they are going to faint when they see these numbers…“
BILL MOYERS: But Reed claimed he was worth it.
Email of RALPH REED: "We have over 50 pastors mobilized, with a total membership in those churches of over 40,000….”
MARVIN OLASKY: We have one of our reporters based in Dallas who did a lot of calling around and just asking pastors, "Well, were you involved in this?" And lo and behold, no one was.
BILL MOYERS: Marvin Olasky suspected something was fishy. The editor in chief of the World, a national journal of the evangelical right, had his team dig into Reed’s involvement with Abramoff:
MARVIN OLASKY: There was a lot of fooling going on -- Abramoff, in a way, was manipulating Ralph Reed, Ralph Reed was manipulating others, but perhaps Ralph Reed was manipulating Abramoff and saying, "I'm accomplishing these things," whereas he wasn't. So, you know, there were millions of dollars changing hands, there were actually hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in this whole thing.
LOU DUBOSE: You know, there’s something ironic and amusing in all that, is that while Abramoff was shaking down these Indians, it’s quite possible that Ralph Reed was shaking down Jack Abramoff.
BILL MOYERS: They were now turning on each other. When Mike Scanlon quizzed his partner,
Email of JACK ABRAMOFF: “…did Ralph spend all the money he was given to fight this – or does he have some left?
BILL MOYERS: Abramoff replied:
Email of JACK ABRAMOFF: “That’s a silly question! He would NEVER admit he has money left over. Would we?”
Email of MICHAEL SCANLON: “No – but…”
Email of JACK ABRAMOFF: “He is a bad version of us! No more money for him.”
SUZII PAYNTER: You know, I think when I read that phrase about Ralph Reed, that he’s a ‘bad version of us,’ I’ve got to tell you my heart hurt. That you could really just disregard the values and the rules that you’ve played by. And for what? We all come to the edge of that shore at some point in our lives and have to ask ourselves, “Am I going to step over that? And for what? For money? For you know, raking off money for my own political gains or whatever. That’s what it – that’s what it said to me, that Ralph Reed had stepped across some kind of moral line – even Jack Abramoff would say he’s a bad version of ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: By 2004, the jig was up. Senate hearings exposed the story of front groups, secret kickbacks and political payoffs at the heart of Abramoff’s empire. Twenty-two people received criminal penalties – lawmakers, lobbyists, Bush administration officials and congressional staffers. Abramoff and his partner Scanlon pleaded guilty to charges they had bilked their Native American clients out of nearly $40 million dollars. They both landed in prison – Abramoff served almost four years before being released in 2010. Claiming redemption, he has written a memoir, he blogs as an advocate for cleaning up corruption in politics, and has a talk show on satellite radio.
Grover Norquist escaped scrutiny and is still riding high, threatening Republican politicians with defeat at the polls if they dare vote to increase taxes. Most Republicans in Congress have signed Norquist’s pledge just as Joe Kaufmann, running for Congress from Florida, is doing here, at a conference sponsored – surprise – by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.
GROVER NORQUIST This is a commitment to the people of Florida that Joe will not raise their taxes, tax reform is a good idea, tax changes that are a Trojan horse for tax increases are not a good idea. So this is a pledge tax reform yes, tax increases no.
BILL MOYERS: Ralph Reed was a central figure in the Jack Abramoff scandal, according to the bipartisan senate committee that investigated and detailed more than $5.3 million dollars Abramoff had paid Reed. But Reed was never charged. He had double-crossed his trusted followers and made them pawns in a power game. But it isn’t necessarily a criminal offense to be a phony. A false prophet out to make a profit.
The scandal did derail Reed’s hopes for public office in 2006. It broke while he was running in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. His Republican opponent made political hay with the Abramoff mess.
ADVERTISEMENT: Ralph Reed took millions from convicted felon, Jack Abramoff, to help casinos. And reed worked with Abramoff to deny women and children legal protection from sweatshops in the Marianna Islands, a U.S. Territory. Even though our government warned that women on the islands were subjected to forced abortions and children were coerced into prostitution. Ralph Reed, his values are for sale.
BILL MOYERS: Reed remains unapologetic. He was confronted by a blogger last year who posted this footage on YouTube.
BLOGGER: Mr. Reed You’ve got a reputation for integrity and morality with thousands of supporters. Do you have anything to apologize for regarding the Indians and the Abramoff double-dealing?
RALPH REED: No. I don’t think so. That was thoroughly looked at and it was thoroughly investigated and I was never accused of doing anything wrong.
BLOGGER: Have you visited him in prison?
RALPH REED: I did not.
BLOGGER: Have you written to him?
RALPH REED: Um, I did not. But I prayed for him constantly and I wish nothing but the best for him and his family. And I believe that God can cause something really good to come out of all of this.
BILL MOYERS: That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, “The “Right Hand of God,” still mixes politics, religion, and money for party and profit. Still covers his tracks in a fogbank of secrecy, complexity, and sleight-of-hand. Still says to his flock, “Trust me.”*
RALPH REED: We’re going to endure the ridicule and the attacks and the insults. If we have to, we’re going to crawl across broken glass, but we are coming and when we come we’re going to have the biggest victory we’ve had for time-honored values in the history of this country. That’s what’s getting ready to happen.
BILL MOYERS: Reed is again armed for “guerrilla warfare” with millions of dollars that are almost impossible to trace. It’s reported that some of the money has come from billionaire Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, and some has come from a nonprofit partly funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers. The brothers also have their own tax exempt vehicle, Americans for Prosperity, a 501c4 nonprofit-- which allows them to raise money without revealing the source. It is run by Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed’s former business partner.
It’s an incestuous world they have created, and much of the money travels in secret subterranean pipelines from donors whose identities and agendas remain hidden. We may never find out where Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition funds are coming from. The “right hand of God” doesn’t have to reveal what the left hand is doing.
The growing power of the religious right is one reason my guest left the Republican Party and became an Independent. "The mixture of politics and religion," he says, "debases both, and has turned the GOP into an apocalyptic sect." He has his problems with Democrats, too. For one thing, he says, both parties “are captives to corporate loot.”
Others may share those opinions, but what gives Mike Lofgren more clout than the rest is decades of insider experience on Capitol Hill. He was a Fulbright scholar with two degrees in history when he went to work in Congress and became a senior staff member of the House and Senate Budget committees. His specialty was the cost of national security. After 28 years of government service, Mike Lofgren retired and sat down to write a powerful manifesto that took off like a rocket when it was posted on the website Truthout.org.
It's now a book: "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.” As you can tell from the title, he spares no one.
Mike Lofgren, welcome.
MIKE LOFGREN: Good to be here.
BILL MOYERS: The title of your book is “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy.” How did Republicans go crazy?
MIKE LOFGREN: I think they went crazy when they started identifying Obama as the Antichrist.
BILL MOYERS: Meaning?
MIKE LOFGREN: Meaning, "He's not a legitimate president. We must do everything we can to obstruct him."
BILL MOYERS: The second subtitle, “The Party Is Over: Democrats Became Useless.” How did Democrats become useless?
MIKE LOFGREN: I think they got complacent during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. And then finally after that period, they woke up, found they had lost three straight presidential elections. So they had to retool and make themselves more corporate friendly.
BILL MOYERS: Corporate friendly?
MIKE LOFGREN: Absolutely. And it certainly helped Bill Clinton get elected. And while he did some good things like balancing the budget, he also unleashed Wall Street by repealing Glass-Steagall, and he signed bills that would end regulation on derivatives. So he is at least to some degree responsible for the Wall Street debacle.
BILL MOYERS: And that's how, to quote a third of your subtitles, “The Middleclass Got Shafted”?
MIKE LOFGREN: Both parties don't really seem to care about having a vibrant manufacturing base in this country, regardless of their rhetoric. I remember throughout the '90s the Clinton administration was lobbying relentlessly for free trade deals. And the promise for each one was, it will bring jobs to America. And in every case, the jobs left.
BILL MOYERS: The Republican Party now has the super rich and its corporate wing funding it and the religious right provides the ground troops. Why are so many everyday folks out there in the pews defending the prerogatives of the rich?
MIKE LOFGREN: That's something of a mystery. The Federal Reserve, in one of their recent reports, found that net household income fell about 40 percent since 2007. That's a tremendous drop. Yet, here we have as the nominee for one of the two major parties, we only have a binary choice in this country, is by all accounts the richest man ever to run for president and was a leverage buyout artist.
The party is really oriented towards the concerns of the rich. It's about cutting their taxes, reducing regulation on business, making things wide open for Wall Street. Now you're not going to get anybody to the polls and consciously pull the lever for the Republicans if they say, "Our agenda is to further entrench the rich and, oh by the way, your pension may take a hit."
So they use the culture wars quite cynically, as essentially rube bait to get people to the polls. And that explains why, for instance, the Koch brothers were early funders of Michele Bachmann, who is a darling of the religious right. They don't care particularly, I would assume, about her religious foibles. What they care about is the bottom line. And these religious right candidates, many of them believing in the health and wealth, name it and claim it prosperity gospel, believe that the rich are sanctified and the poor punished
BILL MOYERS: Many of those people on the right would tell you that the fall in the income of middleclass people and others has been because of Obama's economic policies.
MIKE LOFGREN: I think they're suffering from selective amnesia. They also don't understand that George Bush doubled the national debt, that the original meltdown on Wall Street occurred during George Bush's watch, and by the time Obama became president in 2009, we were already well into the recession. Now I don't defend him in every way. I don't say that everything he's done is right by any means. I have all kinds of issues with him on the health care legislation. For instance, his willingness to play ball with pharma made the bill cost a lot more than it need.
BILL MOYERS: The pharmaceutical industry?
MIKE LOFGREN: Yes. That said, he was legitimately elected. We were in a very, very serious situation in this country. If the economy had fallen any further, it would be comparable to the Great Depression. So what is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, what is his first priority for the country? Is it getting jobs for people? Is it restoring the solvency of the financial system? Is it foreign policy? Is it any of those things? No, it's making sure Obama is a one-term president.
BILL MOYERS: It seems that some of these people are willing to see the government go down in order to win.
MIKE LOFGREN: That would be the case. I grew up in a party that believed in the traditions of Eisenhower, and for that matter, even Reagan. He raised taxes several times when the deficit threatened to get out of control. He pleaded with Congress to send him a clean debt limit extension bill without any extraneous riders on it. He knew what the stakes were.
But now it's basically obstruct. They're no longer a parliamentary loyal opposition. They want to seize up the wheels of government. And to most people that means you don't have federal inspectors of airliners. You don't have federal inspection of food safety. Your national parks will be closed. Federal law enforcement will go home. That's what that means.
BILL MOYERS: Why did you leave the party? You'd been a Republican, what, all your life?
MIKE LOFGREN: I left the party because it was becoming an apocalyptic cult. Because you cannot govern a country of 310 million people that is the greatest economic power on earth and the greatest military power on earth as if it's a banana republic. You can't govern it with people who think that Obama was born overseas or who believe in all manner of nonsense about climate change. They don't even know, apparently, where babies come from, if we're to believe Todd Akin.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean "apocalyptic cult"?
MIKE LOFGREN: Well, I mean it literally in some cases. There's a very strong element in evangelical or fundamentalist religion that said the apocalypse is coming. And one sort of sees it subliminally in people like Michele Bachmann when the debt ceiling crisis came to a head and people were warning that we would be downgraded. And if we actually defaulted, we would possibly have to lower our standard of living and credit from abroad could dry up. And her attitude was sort of, "Bring it on. If we're all going to abide in the bosom of the Lord, by and by, it really doesn't matter whether we default.”
BILL MOYERS: Was that just rhetoric we heard on television?
MIKE LOFGREN: Oh, that's mainly rhetoric. But I think it does carry over into the mentality of maximalist obstruction, no compromise, because of course when you are with the saints and the opposition is with the sinners, you are doing evil if you compromise.
BILL MOYERS: You write that we now have a de facto religious test for public office, notwithstanding that the Constitution says we must not have one. How does this play out?
MIKE LOFGREN: Well, we saw it in 2008, when a pastor brought Obama and McCain before a live audience and quizzed them about their religiosity. That was Rick Warren. We really don't need that sort of religious test. It's banned in the Constitution. We had it play out last year when some preacher in Texas started criticizing Romney because as a Mormon, this man thought he wasn't a Christian.
PASTOR JEFFRESS: The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the world has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult. I think that Romney’s a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney.
MIKE LOFGREN: The media went off on that for a few days. And as I recall, some of the reporters were badgering the other Republican candidates as to whether they thought Romney was a Christian. So the media actually allowed itself to be used as a tool in this aspect. BILL MOYERS: Candy Crowley kept pressing Herman Cain and, and Michele Bachmann in the primaries on this very issue.
CANDY CROWLEY: Is Mitt Romney a non-Christian?
HERMAN CAIN: I’m not running for theologian-in-chief. I’m a life-long Christian, and what that means is, one of my guiding principles for the decisions I make is I start with, do the right thing. I’m not getting into that controversy.
CANDY CROWLEY: But it still will beg the question that you dodged a direct question, which is, is Mitt Romney not a Christian?
HERMAN CAIN: He is a Mormon. That much I know. I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that. I’m not getting into that. I am a Christian—
CANDY CROWLEY: Even knowing it will look like you’re dodging it […] And let me just, because I gave Herman Cain the same opportunity, you know that, that by not answering the direct question “Do you think Mitt Romney is a Christian?” you leave open the possibility that people are going to say that you dodged the question, the direct question.
MICHELLE BACHMANN: No, I think what the real focus is here, again, is on religious tolerance.
MIKE LOFGREN: Well, I'll give them credit. They didn't answer her, because the question didn't deserve an answer. Romney's religion is his own business.
BILL MOYERS: What brought you to the moment you decided to make a break, and to issue that cry from the heart if I may say so, that went out on “Truthout”? What was the trigger?
MIKE LOFGREN: The trigger was the debt ceiling crisis of the summer of 2011. I thought it was so transparently needless, yet they did it. And that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Now it wasn't just a publicity stunt that gave the United States a black eye. Just the transaction costs for having to manipulate all the money and stave off the debt ceiling cost, according to the Government Accountability Office, $1.3 billion.
BILL MOYERS: And why did that impasse occur? Why couldn't they solve the deficit crisis? Or why wouldn't they solve the deficit crisis?
MIKE LOFGREN: Because they believed that they had Obama over a barrel. And that they could force him to do what they wanted, which was to radically downsize all domestic discretionary spending. And he wasn't going to do it. And that's how we got to that situation.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think's going to happen after the election, no matter who wins? Because the popular expectation is that we're heading toward a fiscal cliff. Are we going to go through, in those few months between the election and the inauguration, what we went through with the deficit crisis that you just talked about?
MIKE LOFGREN: I would say the likeliest possibility is that we'll get some sort of short-term extension of the provisions to kick the can down the road a little bit. Now I'm not saying that that will happen. There's also a possibility if past is prologue that the Tea Party faction in the House could dig in its heels and say no, just as they did with the debt ceiling crisis.
BILL MOYERS: And what then would be the consequence of that, as you can anticipate it?
MIKE LOFGREN: The consequence would be immediate and severe spending cuts, both on domestic discretionary, and on national defense
BILL MOYERS: Both parties catering, as you write so vividly in here, to their funders, their donors, the billionaires, the Wall Street financiers, the corporations. And yet they, one or the other keeps getting away with it.
MIKE LOFGREN: It's happened before in our country. It happened after the Civil War with the Gilded Age. So it's not surprising it can occur when money starts infusing into politics. They will capture the governmental mechanism, just as Wall Street has captured it now. Wall Street has captured Washington at its source, the capital.
BILL MOYERS: Just give me one example.
MIKE LOFGREN: One example would be banks that we are bailing out. Why not compensation limits on their CEOs and top executives? We didn't get that. But we did get limits on the compensation and the benefits of U.A.W. employees when we bailed out General Motors and Chrysler.
BILL MOYERS: We got from unions what we didn't get from the financiers on Wall Street?
MIKE LOFGREN: That is correct.
BILL MOYERS: How come? How so?
MIKE LOFGREN: Money from Wall Street into the pockets of campaigns.
MIKE LOFGREN: If somebody texts $20 to their favorite candidate, okay, that's $20. And they're not really expecting anything other than they like that candidate and they want him to win. But when savvy businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, who've shelled out $36 million so far and expects to spend $100 million before the end of the election cycle, when somebody like that is spending that kind of money, they expect a tangible, monetizable payoff.
BILL MOYERS Another example?
MIKE LOFGREN: When you see legislation, for instance, having to do with casinos, and I think the key word there is Jack Abramoff, you see these things happening.
BILL MOYERS: Did anything about the Abramoff scandal surprise you?
MIKE LOFGREN: Not at all. It was totally par for the course.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
MIKE LOFGREN: That's the way influence works in Washington.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think it's still working now after Abramoff?
MIKE LOFGREN: I think it's working in a similar fashion. When we see how Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, they were the two other members of the Three Amigos. They're still out doing their thing
BILL MOYERS: But what do we do about it? Nothing seems to tame the power of money in politics.
MIKE LOFGREN: The only thing that will achieve it is fundamental political reform. And the only way you're going to get that is mass defection from the parties. Because the parties simply do not serve our interests anymore.
BILL MOYERS: But the less we pay attention, the more of us who give up, the smaller the base and the number of elites who run those two parties. That's what some of them want.
MIKE LOFGREN: That may be, but there is a point where if there is mass public outrage at this, just as there was in the prairies in the 1880’s and 1890’s, eventually they'll get the message.
BILL MOYERS: What’s your greatest fear?
MIKE LOFGREN: My greatest fear is that this whole impasse simply carries on. And this country becomes more and more polarized and ungovernable. And we could be faced with a very bad situation, internationally and domestically.
BILL MOYERS: And what is your greatest hope?
MIKE LOFGREN: My greatest hope is that we can govern ourselves again in a spirit of bipartisanship.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that's a realistic hope?
MIKE LOFGREN: We must let our hopes be greater than our fears.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I consider “The Party Is Over” must reading. And I hope my audience will spend these days between one convention and the other getting acquainted with your analysis of what's happening. “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middleclass Got Shafted.” Mike Lofgren, thank you for being with us.
MIKE LOFGREN: Thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. At our website, BillMoyers.com, our colleagues at the Sunlight Foundation have gone behind the scenes at the Republican Convention, reporting on the lavish parties hosted by lobbyists, corporations and political fundraisers. You can find out what they’ve discovered about the secret wheeling and dealing that’s going on out of sight from what you see on TV. That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here next time.
** This segment originally referred to a story at AlterNet.org that alleged a connection between the voter contact efforts of Faith and Freedom Coalition and Millennium Marketing, a division of Century Strategies, whose founder and CEO is Ralph Reed, prior to the 2012 recall election of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Because AlterNet.org subsequently updated and modified its report, this segment has also been modified to remove that allegation.