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Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness?

We find Ralph Reed's TV ads false and misleading, and his opponent's are on target.

July 13, 2006

Modified: July 18, 2006

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Summary

 

Ralph Reed, former national executive director of the Christian Coalition, is making several false and misleading claims about Casey Cagle, his opponent in the race for the Republican nomination to be lieutenant governor of Georgia. Cagle is attacking Reed as well, with tough accusations about Reed's ties to convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Those we find accurate.

Reed falsely accuses Cagle of "failure to pay his taxes," which isn't so. Reed also accuses him of "unethical banking conflicts" for being both a banker and a state senator working on banking legislation, but that's common in many state legislatures. Reed also falsely attributes to Cagle a quote – "everybody does it" – which actually came from a newspaper editorial and not Cagle. And Reed's ads refer snidely to "millionaire Cagle," even though Reed himself is a multi-millionaire worth more than twice as much as his opponent.

Cagle's ad accuses Reed of taking millions from Abramoff to help casinos and working with Abramoff to deny legal protections to women and children in garment factories in the Mariana Islands where forced abortions and forced prostitution have been reported, all charges that are well documented.

Reed still denies that he knew the money he got from Abramoff came from gambling, despite ample evidence to the contrary contained in a recent Senate report.

Analysis

 

The Reed-Cagle shootout has attracted national attention because of Reed's fame as former director of the Christian Coalition. Recent polls indicate the July 18 primary vote could be very close. We take on the candidate's dueling ads in turn.

 Casey Cagle Ad: "Truth"

Announcer:  Ralph Reed sold out our conservative values and is lying about Casey Cagle to hide it.
(Text On-Screen: "Ralph Reed Lying to Hide his Record")

Announcer:
Ralph Reed took millions from convicted felon Jack Abramoff to help casinos.
(On Screen: "Reed Fees Paid by Casinos" - Atlanta Journal Constitution Nov. 3, 2005, "Reed Confirms Fees from Indian Casino Lobbyists" - Atlanta Journal Constitution Nov. 3 2005)

Announcer:
And Reed worked with Abramoff to deny women and children legal protection from sweat shops in the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.
(On Screen: Reed Denied Women and Children Protection from Sweat Shops" Washington Post May 29, 2006)
Announcer: Even though our government warned that women on the Islands were subjected to forced abortions and children were coerced into prostitution.
(On Screen: "Forced Abortions" "Prostitution" - Washington Post May 29, 2006)
Announcer: Ralph Reed, his values are for sale.
(On Screen: "See The Proof"
www.dontgambleonralph.com)

Millions to help Casinos?

The Cagle ad says, "Ralph Reed sold out our conservative values" and "took millions from convicted felon Jack Abramoff to help casinos." It's true that Reed's companies received just over $5.3 million from Abramoff and his business partner Michael Scanlon to conduct grassroots lobbying against rivals of Abramoff and Scanlon's tribal casino clients in 1999, 2001 and 2002, according to the final report of an investigation by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs released June 22.

Reed insists he never knowingly took gambling money. He has said he got assurances from Abramoff that his payments did not come from gambling, and that if they did "it was contrary to my understanding."

Whether Reed is telling the truth is open to question. The Senate report contains ample evidence that Reed actually did know that his millions came from casino money. It quotes many emails Reed exchanged directly with Abramoff, including one 1999 message in which Abramoff refers directly to "Disbursements on behalf of Choctaw Indians" to Reed. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians paid Reed $1.3 million – indirectly, through Abramoff's lobbying firm – to stir up opposition to a 1999 Alabama bill to let dog tracks install video poker and other casino-style games, the Senate report said. Expanding legal gambling in Alabama might have cut into the nearby Mississippi tribe's casino business. The Senate report said Abramoff originally proposed that the Choctaws hire Reed directly, but quotes Nell Rogers, a Choctaw tribal official, as saying "Ralph Reed did not want to be paid directly by a tribe with gaming interests."

Marianas Abortion and Prostitution?

The Cagle ad also says "Reed worked with Abramoff to deny women and children legal protection from sweat shops in the Northern Mariana Islands . . . even though our government warned that women on the islands were subject to forced abortions and children were coerced into prostitution." That's also true, though Reed says he wasn't aware of the concerns about abortion and prostitution.

Abramoff lobbied against legislation to impose federal wage and worker-safety standards on garment factories in the Northern Mariana Islands, where Chinese workers were brought in to produce clothing labeled "Made in the USA."  Abramoff received just over $4 million for this work from 1998 through 2002.

On May 29 the Washington Post broke the story that Reed, an old friend of Abramoff since college days, had been hired to help in this effort as well. The newspaper described a flyer sent by Reed's marketing firm in 1999 urging Alabama conservative Christians to contact Bob Riley, then a member of the House, to vote against the legislation opposed by Abramoff. The flyer said the legislation would stop Chinese workers from coming to the island where they are "exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ" and where many "are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand."

As Cagle's ad says, however, the US Interior Department had found a year earlier that female Chinese garment workers were pressured to have abortions if they became pregnant, and that women and children were being forced into prostitution on the island. In a statement March 31, 1998, President Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said, "We . . .  have evidence that at least some of the Chinese workers, when they become pregnant, are given a three-way choice: go home to China, get a back-alley abortion on Saipan, or get fired."

Reed's story is that he was unaware of reports that women were being mistreated, and was only working "to promote the propagation of the gospel" among Chinese workers on the island.  Reed's spokeswoman Lisa Baron confirmed to the Post that Abramoff hired Reed's marketing firm for the effort. But she added, “As a defender of the unborn, Ralph was unaware of any allegations regarding inhumane or illegal treatment of workers, and he would strongly object to such practices, if true.”

 Ralph Reed Ad: "Discredited"

Announcer:  Casey Cagle's attacks on Ralph Reed...Discredited. The U.S. Senate and the Press say Reed has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
(On Screen: "Mr. Reed hasn't been accused of any wrong doing" - Wall Street Journal 4/20/06, New York Times 5/19/06, Richmond Times-Dispatch 5/19/06, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Announcer: Cagle's attacks are an attempt to hide his failure to pay his taxes, his contribution to liberal Democrat Mark Taylor and his unethical banking conflicts about which millionaire Cagle said "Everybody does it." Casey Cagle: Discredited.
Reed: I've always worked for what we believe in: faith, family and freedom. That's why the liberal media and others attack me because I've stood for you and our conservative values.
   

"Failure to pay his taxes?"

Reed's ad falsely accuses Cagle of "failure to pay his taxes." So far as we can find, nobody has ever accused Cagle of failing to pay his own federal, state or local taxes.

The Reed ad refers to a dubious accusation – made by Reed's campaign in a press release – that Cagle's political campaign failed to withhold taxes from payments made to campaign workers on Cagle’s state senate campaigns from 2001-2004 and his current lieutenant governor’s campaign.  The Cagle camp denies that, saying in a press release of their own that Cagle has “filed a 1099 or W-2 on every single person who has provided services to his campaign.”  And indeed, we checked Cagle’s Jan. 2006 campaign expenditure filings and they show that Cagle did pay both federal and state   payroll taxes and unemployment taxes in 2005 for employees working on his lieutenant governor’s campaign. (The federal payments were made through a bank that handled the campaign payroll, and show up as "941 tax payment" on Cagle's disclosure forms. Form 941 is the quarterly federal tax return that employers file with the IRS.)

Even if the Cagle campaign was shown to have withheld too little tax for its workers, the Reed ad would still be false. By saying Cagle failed to pay "his" taxes the ad implies Cagle is guilty of tax evasion, a serious crime. Reed's ad might have been defensible had it said Cagle "allegedly failed to withhold taxes for employees," but the Reed campaign has yet to provide evidence to support that claim.

Ralph Reed Ad:
"Conflicts & Profits"

Announcer: Casey Cagle's ethical conflicts.  When Cagle joined the Senate Banking Committee - he started a bank.  Stating he would abstain from votes benefiting his bank business.  But Cagle sponsored five bills and cast thirty-three votes benefiting banks.  He increased his bank stock nine hundred per cent.  Asked about his ethical conflicts - Millionaire Cagle said "everybody does it."
(On Screen: Photo of Cagle with a speech balloon saying "Everybody does it.")
Ralph Reed:  As head of the Christian Coalition and Georgia Republican Party, I worked to spread our values.  As Lt. Governor, I'll work to strenghthen families, for better schools and I'll fight higher taxes.
 

"Unethical banking conflicts"?

Reed's ad is also off base in accusing Cagle, a state legislator, of "unethical banking conflicts," a charge touched on in the ad called "Discredited" and laid out more fully in a separate ad called "Conflicts & Profits." That one says Cagle “sponsored five bills and cast 33 votes benefiting banks,” while "he increased his bank stock nine hundred per cent.”

It's true that Cagle is part owner of a bank and also served for four years as chairman of the Georgia state senate's finance committee, but that's the sort of conflict of interest built into nearly all state legislatures, where citizen-lawmakers serve part-time and have other, full-time jobs and businesses in industries affected generally by state legislation. Cagle doesn't dispute that his holding in Southern Heritage Community Bank of Gainesville, Ga. increased nine-fold in value since he helped found it in 1999. But calling that "unethical" is misleading unless Reed can show that Cagle did something to benefit his bank specifically, rather than the state's banking industry in general.

In fact, Bill Bozarth of Common Cause Georgia says there's no such evidence, and Cagle "hasn't done anything sleazy." As quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the  watchdog group's executive director said:

Bozarth: I don’t have any evidence that Cagle has profited illegally or immorally from his public office.  He has come a long way.  But he hasn’t done anything sleazy.

A False Quote?

Both Reed ads falsely claim Cagle said “everybody does it” regarding the bank matter. Cagle didn't say that. The quote, Reed’s campaign tells us, actually was taken from a June 11 editorial in  The Savannah Morning News  – and the words turn out to be the writer's characterization of something said by a Cagle campaign spokesman, not a quote from Cagle:

Savannah Morning News : While calling accusations “frivolous,” Brad Alexander, Cagle’s campaign manager, makes no attempt to refute their specifics.  Instead, Alexander essentially uses the “everybody-does-it” defense.

Furthermore, as we've noted, it's quite common for citizen-lawmakers to vote on matters affecting their industries, whether they are bankers, farmers, lawyers, insurance salesmen or doctors. So even if Cagle had used the words Reed falsely puts in his mouth, he wouldn't have been far wrong.

Millionaire?

Two Reed Campaign ads refer to Casey Cagle as “millionaire Cagle.” It’s true Cagle has declared his net worth to be just under $2 million dollars.  But Reed has declared himself to be twice as rich.

Both candidates filed a personal financial disclosure statement on May 1 with the Georgia State Ethics commission. Cagle's declared  his net worth to be $1,735,723.00.  While Reed declared  his net worth to be $4,596,522.36.

Free of Wrongdoing?

Defending himself in the Abramoff matter, Reed says in the "Discredited" ad that he "has not been accused of any wrongdoing." It's true that no criminal charges have been brought against Reed, and nearly all the newspaper snippets his ad shows on screen are accurate quotes.  However, a closer look at the May 29 Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial that Reed cites actually paints an unflattering picture:

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Although, as the New York Times says, he has not been “accused of any wrongdoing,” he has been intimately associated with Jack Abramoff.  The ties appear far too close for comfort but do not surprise those who have followed Reed’s career – and who lament the GOP’s culture of corruption.  That culture, we stress, does not necessarily refer to illegal behavior but to standards and attitudes that while legal are unworthy and vulgar.

Also, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s final report calls for further investigation of the payment Reed received. It says that the channeling of for-profit organization money through non-profit groups, something Abramoff did in order to pay Reed for his services, “raises serious issues involving non-profit organizations,” and warrants further investigation by the Senate Committee on Finance. In addition, the Justice Department is still investigating allegations involving Abramoff, who is now cooperating with the feds.

In more recent developments, the Associated Press reported on July 12 that the Texas-based Alabama Coushatta tribe has filed a private lawsuit in federal court against Ralph Reed, Abramoff and others accusing them all of racketeering and fraud. 

-by Brooks Jackson and Emi Kolawole

Correction July 18: Our original story said Cagle's ad contained a "made-up newspaper quote." In fact, the quote is accurate but appeared in a different newspaper and on a different date than the Cagle ad said.

The ad shows the words "Reed Confirms Fees From Indian Casino Lobbyists," and attributes them to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Nov. 3, 2005. In fact, that headline appeared in the Washington Post on August 30, 2004. We called the words a "false quote" because no such words appeared in the newspaper story cited or in any other Journal-Constitution story we could find. An alert FactCheck.org reader later pointed out the Post headline to us, showing that the quote was accurate and only the ad's citation was incorrect.

Sources

Jim Galloway & Alan Judd, " Reed's fees all paid by casino ," Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3 Nov. 2005; A1

"'GIMME FIVE'—  Investigation of Tribal Lobbying Matters ," Final Report Before the Committee on Indian Affairs, 109th Congress, 2nd Session, 22 June 2006.

Thomas B. Edsall, "Another Stumble for Ralph Reed's Beleaguered Campaign," The Washington Post, 29 May 2006:A5.
US Department of Interior, "
Babbitt statement on the Marianas Islands," 31 March 1998.

Gamboa, Suzanne.  "Texas Tribe Names Abramoff, Reed in Suit," The Associated Press.  12 Jul 2006. 

Galloway, Jim.   “Reality Check; An occasional look at the credibility of campaign claims,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  7 Jul 2006. 

Cagle: Everybody does it,” The Savannah Morning News.   11 June 2006.  

Healy, Patrick.   “In a Southern Foray, Giuliani Helps a Friend but Skirt an Issue,” The New York Times.  19 May 2006.

Galloway, Jim.   “Gaming probe set to resume today,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  2 Nov 2005.  

Editorial.   “No!,” Richmond Times Dispatch.  29 May 2006.  

Galloway, Jim.  “Cagle’s TV ad slams Reed-Abramoff link,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  4 Jul 2006.

Larrabee, Brandon.   “Reed No Shoo-In In GOP Contest,” The Augusta Chronicle.  2 Jul 2006. 

Thomas B. Edsall, Reed Confirms Fees From Indian Casino Lobbyists, The Washington Post. 30 Aug 2004:A3.