Palling around with scandal-plagued Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition will host a massive Faith and Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing in D.C. next month, and has invited a veritable who’s who of Republican heavy-hitters to attend. Of course, given Reed’s ignominious and scandalous background, GOP officials are keeping their distance.

No, I’m just kidding. They’re actually tripping over each other to attend. Mitt Romney, who doesn’t show up for much, has agreed to participate, and he joins House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Rep. Ron Paul, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Allen West, and Donald Trump (yes, seriously) on the guest list.

It is, in other words, poised to be one of the biggest religious right gatherings of the year. And given the host, that’s ridiculous.

Indeed, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Remember this one, from June 2006?

Yet another delightful characterization of Ralph Reed, courtesy of today’s McCain report on the Abramoff scandal. This one comes courtesy of Jack Abramoff himself, via his discussion with Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative for the Tigua tribe in Texas.

Let’s pick up the report on page 148. Schwartz was evaluating whether the tribe should hire Abramoff as its lobbyist: To Schwartz, Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied “as far as the cash goes.”

Or, how about this one?

Ralph Reed, email to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 1998: “Hey, now that I’m done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.”

Or this?

E-mails and testimony before McCain’s panel showed that Reed, who once branded gambling a “cancer” on society, reaped millions of dollars in tribal casino proceeds that Abramoff secretly routed to him through various non-profit front groups. Abramoff, a lobbyist for the tribes, paid Reed to whip up “grassroots” Christian opposition to prevent rival tribes from opening casinos.

By any reasonable measure, Republicans should avoid taking this guy’s phone calls. As Dave Weigel noted last fall, “Reed was supposed to be dead, dead, dead. His 2006 defeat was covered as the effective end of a 45-year-old political strategist who was forever tainted by scandal.”

And now Republican leaders are lining up to kiss his ring and pander to his minions. It’s a reminder that there is literally nothing a conservative can do to be permanently excluded from polite company.

But it’s also an opportunity for reporters looking for an interesting-and-underreported angle. How about someone ask Boehner, Romney, and Cantor why they’re comfortable hanging around with a disgraced former lobbyist who appears to have been at the heart of a money laundering scandal? Do they feel at all concerned palling around with a corrupt figure like this one?