Monday, August 18, 2008

McCain nets $1.75 million at Reed-linked event

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John McCain raised more than $1.75 million for Republicans Monday at a fundraiser clouded by confusion over the role of a political operative connected to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The downtown event was promoted by Ralph Reed, a former head of the Christian Coalition. McCain's campaign said the event was organized by the Republican National Committee — not Reed, who was linked to the Abramoff scandal that McCain investigated in the Senate.

McCain didn't raise the issue during his 22-minute appearance. Instead, he thanked donors to the Republicans' umbrella campaign fund.

"Everybody in this room could be someplace else," the Arizona senator told the crowd of several hundred. "Everybody in this room could be donating to some other cause or to their own well-being. But I want to thank you."

Reed was not seen inside the hotel ballroom; a McCain campaign spokeswoman said he did not attend. But Democrat Barack Obama's rival presidential campaign sought to make him an issue, asking how much Reed-linked money was raised or would be kept.

"Faced with the embarrassing prospect of holding a fundraiser with one of Jack Abramoff's closest associates, the McCain campaign scrambled today to scratch Ralph Reed from tonight's program, but voters deserve to know the answers to the real questions raised by Reed's involvement," Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

"If the McCain campaign won't return the money Reed has raised for them, then voters should rightly ask why it matters that Reed didn't show up at tonight's event. The real question isn't why Reed isn't showing up, but why a so-called reformer would invite him at all."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Reed said he had agreed to be on McCain's "Victory 2008 Team." In a follow-up statement to reporters, he said he has no position in the McCain campaign.

Reed did not return telephone calls Monday seeking comment.

McCain adviser Mark Salter said Reed sent the messages on his own and was not coordinating with the campaign.

McCain led a Senate investigation into Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, which included information about his ties to Reed.

A House investigative committee in 2006 did not call Reed as a witness, but concluded that he 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 did not mention Reed or Abramoff, but decried the "extreme left-wing organization" of and Obama's policies.

"I respect Sen. Obama for his victory. I respect his candidacy," McCain said. "And I will always have admiration for what he's been able to achieve. But I can also tell you there are very stark differences for the future of this country, and we will continue to draw them."

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