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Ralph Reed Firm Draws Criticism For Dirty Tricks In Virginia Race.

A top official of Ralph Reed's political consulting firm has been accused of involvement with dirty tricks in a GOP congressional primary in Virginia.

According to news media reports, Tim Phillips, vice president of Reed's Atlanta-based Century Strategies, helped create a supposedly "non-partisan" tax-exempt organization called the Faith and Family Alliance allegedly to drum up support for conservative causes in Virginia. But just four days before the state's June 12 GOP primary, the Alliance sent out a mailing attacking congressional candidate Eric I. Cantor.

The Alliance mailing was apparently intended to boost the prospects of State Sen. Stephen H. Martin, Cantor's Republican congressional opponent and the man who hired Phillips.

However, critics say the Alliance mailing distorted an incident in Cantor's past in which a business partnership ran into financial difficulties. The mailing slammed Cantor as a "millionaire lawyer [who] says he wants to cut your taxes ... but he didn't pay his own. He got caught. He got fined. And he finally was forced to pay $31,527.17 in back taxes."

The Charlottesville Daily Progress reported that the controversial mailing was prepared and sent by Robin Vanderwall, a Virginia Beach man who serves as president of the Alliance. Vanderwall said he used $15,000 from an anonymous donor to pay for the materials, which went to 40,000 voters in the district. He identified himself as a friend of Phillips who has worked with him on campaigns in the past.

Phillips told the Richmond-Times Dispatch he knows Vanderwall but had no involvement in the anti-Cantor mailing.

The newspaper indicated that Cantor's financial problems were more complex than the mailing indicated. "Court documents;" the daily reported, "show that a partnership, Old Cox Road Associates, in which Cantor and other family members were involved, bounced a check on March 11, 1994. Henrico County issued a tax lien against the partnership in June 1997. The back taxes were paid off in 1999, after the partnership mortgage was refinanced."

Republican Del. Paul C. Harris of Albemarle County blasted the Faith and Family Alliance for its actions. "I am profoundly displeased with the revolting tactics of the Faith and Family Alliance and the Martin campaign" Harris said. "Eric Cantor is one of Virginia's most honest, capable and trustworthy public servants." (Cantor is a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates.)

The attack failed in the end when Cantor squeaked by Martin in the GOP primary, winning by just 264 votes.

The Faith and Family Alliance is organized as a "527 political organization" under the Internal Revenue Code. 527 groups are not permitted to "expressly advocate the election or defeat of any clearly identified candidate for public office," although they may "educate" voters about candidates. Critics say the organizations have often been created to use funds from anonymous donors to attack candidates. Federal legislation was passed recently to curtail the activity.

"[527s] are usually deceptively named," said Steve Calos, executive director of Common Cause of Virginia. "They are being done simply to conceal things from the voters that the voters should know."

Century Strategies' Reed, who served for years as executive director of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, is known for his hardball politics. Reed was the architect of the Coalition's voter guide program, which uses churches to distribute fliers distorting candidates' stands on the issues.

Ironically, Reed has publicly professed the highest religious and ethical standards, even while engaging in underhanded politics. In an October 1999 speech to the Coalition in Washington, D.C., Reed said, "When people look at us, let's make sure they see Jesus Christ.... Serve Him, not any party or politician. Love your enemies.... In the end, we are not required to win -- because He will take care of that -- but we are required to be faithful."

Reed has made fewer media appearances since he left the Christian Coalition, but he's still quite active in politics. He is currently working as a behind-the-scenes adviser to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.

"I'm doing as much or more than I've ever done, but I just don't talk about it," Reed told the Associated Press in September. "When you're a campaign adviser or consultant, the first things you've got to learn are discretion and confidentiality."
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:705
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