Image: Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed
Stephen Morton  /  AP file
Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed sent a message to Georgia Republicans, saying John McCain be coming to Atlanta for a "very special event."
updated 8/13/2008 2:50:30 PM ET 2008-08-13T18:50:30

A political strategist tied to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal is helping raise money for John McCain, urging his fellow Georgia Republicans to attend a fundraiser for the presidential candidate in Atlanta.

Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, touted himself as a member of McCain's "Victory 2008 Team" in an e-mail that solicited donations on McCain's behalf. The Republican National Committee is hosting the fundraiser set for an Atlanta hotel on Aug. 18.

A House investigative committee in 2006 found that Reed interceded with the Bush White House to help some of Abramoff's clients. Reed's public relations firm also received $4.2 million from Abramoff to mobilize Christian voters to fight the opening of casinos that could compete with Abramoff's Indian tribe clients.

Reed later said he regretted the actions, which contributed to his 2006 Republican primary loss in a bid to be Georgia's lieutenant governor. Abramoff went to prison for conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion.

McCain led a Senate investigation into Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, which included information about his ties to Reed. McCain said in a November 2007 presidential debate: "I led in the Abramoff hearings in the, in the obscure Indian Affairs Committee, for which people are still testifying and going to jail."

On Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean criticized what he called "McCain's decision to cozy up to one of the central figures in the Republican culture of corruption."

Reed didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The McCain campaign referred questions to the Republican National Committee.

RNC spokesman Alex Conant said, "It's laughable Democrats would try to make this a political issue, considering John McCain led the Abramoff investigations and has a record of fighting to reform Washington."

Conant noted that Democratic candidate Barack Obama has had fundraising controversies, too, including instances in which Obama returned donations from tainted contributors.

Candidate Brain TrustsThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Reed sent a message to an undetermined number of Georgia Republicans, saying that McCain "will be coming to Atlanta on August 18 for a very special event at the Marriott Marquis downtown and I have agreed to serve as a member of the McCain Victory 2008 Team."

Reed urged the recipients to donate money, saying, "If you select to use your credit card, you may fax the form to me."

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The House Government Reform Committee reported in 2006 that Reed, who was close to Bush political adviser Karl Rove, helped Abramoff obtain a spot on the administration's 2001 transition team at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency important to his clients.

"Do you think you might be able to contact Karl, as I am sure you have more weight there," Abramoff said in an e-mail to Reed. "Be happy to," Reed replied.

The House report found at least 14 instances in which Abramoff asked Reed to contact Rove on matters including political appointments "and obtaining favorable actions on client matters."

The report confirmed e-mails that Time magazine published in 2005 in which Abramoff asked Reed to help block the proposed appointment of the wife of Orson Swindle — who was a Vietnam prisoner of war with McCain — to an Interior Department job.

"Can you ping Karl on this?" Abramoff wrote. "I can't believe they just don't get this done."

Reed responded: "Talked to Rove about this and I think I killed it. He's on it. Keep this between us, don't want to raise expectations, but I banged on this one hard."

Swindle's wife did not get the job. Swindle has been an ally of McCain's campaign, criticizing Obama supporter Wesley Clark last month for saying that McCain's Vietnam service doesn't qualify him for the White House.

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