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Published on Monday, April 24, 2000 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Microsoft Consultant Ralph Reed Hands Embarrassment To Client Bush
by Mark Shields
 
Of the Congregationalists from the North American continent who prospered while settling Hawaii, writer James Michener once observed, "They came to do good and they did very, very well."

Maybe it was that historic model which inspired Ralph Reed, the senior consultant to and frequent television spokesman for the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Reed, the recognized mastermind behind the ascendancy of religious conservatives within the Republican Party, founded his own political consulting firm, Century Strategies, which for most of the past year has been on the payroll of both the Bush campaign and Microsoft Corp.

According to the Reed company's internal documents, the mission was to identify and recruit prominent Bush supporters to personally write and lobby Bush to back Microsoft, the losing defendant in an antitrust suit brought by the Justice Department. It's not a bad deal if you're Reed. First, you get paid to develop the no-holds-barred -- and winning -- South Carolina primary campaign strategy for Bush against Sen. John McCain, which included phone banks branding McCain as untrustworthy on abortion and for being a little too cozy with gays. And second, Microsoft compensates you handsomely for conducting a secret lobbying campaign with your own candidate. Double dipping for a double agent.

When this conflict of interest was exposed and Reed was embarrassed by The New York Times, the former Christian Coalition director's consulting company said in a statement, "We should have been more sensitive to possible misperceptions, and it is an error that we regret."

Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClelland reported that neither Bush nor anyone else in his campaign had been lobbied on Microsoft by Reed or any of his company employees (which, of course, was not the company's stated mission) and that Reed would remain with the campaign, adding, "The matter is closed." McClelland told me: Reed's Microsoft contract "was an unpleasant surprise for us."

That Ralph Reed was not immediately dropped like a bad habit for compromising the campaign of the presidential candidate by whom he was paid is further evidence of the moral numbness that has polluted our money-besotted politics. Can anyone seriously imagine a Robert Kennedy showing mercy to a "fifth columnist" on his campaign who was being overcompensated to lobby RFK's position on an issue? Not for a New York minute would such an individual have been stomached. Where is the moral outrage of the Reformer with Results?

James Carville, the chief strategist for Democrat Bill Clinton's winning 1992 presidential campaign, is no Ralph Reed. The brassy Carville, who frankly has done about as much for personal reserve as the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen, has been running successful campaigns for Democratic governors and U.S. senators for nearly a generation.

Not surprising, foreign governments and leading multinationals, sensitive to the president's respect for the Louisiana native's judgment, have been trying and failing for years to get Carville on retainer. To provide legislative strategy and political counsel to corporate backers of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Carville and his friend and colleague Paul Begala were offered -- and turned down -- $1 million. Carville has turned down every lucrative offer to lobby.

Carville once explained this costly decision to me: "I run political campaigns. I advise political candidates whose values I share. That is how I make a very good living. I know that any corporation, foreign country or major do-gooder organization that offers me a big-bucks retainer just wants me to open doors, make calls and provide friendly cover. It's not my mind or knowledge or judgment they want."

The last time I checked, James Carville was not supporting a constitutional amendment to stop the unreported national epidemic of flag burning, nor was he urging an official prayer in the nation's public schools. But in the simple matter of ethics and loyalty, I'll take Carville's brand any day, thank you.

Mark Shields is a political columnist based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular commentator on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and CNN's "Capital Gang." His column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.

1999-2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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