Ralph & the Rabbi: A Thinner Reed?

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews scrubbed co-founder Ralph Reed's name from its website after giving Reed's Century Strategies more than $800,000 in contracts

While Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s involvement with Jack Abramoff hasn’t exactly cost him many friends in the conservative Christian evangelical community, it has caused him to lower his profile a bit over the past several months. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who, in addition to his ground-breaking work raising huge amounts of money for Israel from evangelical Christians thru his International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and being a strong ally of U.S. Christian Zionists, has picked up the slack.

At a recent conference at the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College in New York City on the state of world Jewry titled “Is it 1938 again?”,Yechiel Eckstein, as shown in IFCJ infomercial. Rabbi Eckstein answered the question with an “emphatic yes,” the Florida Jewish News reported. “Eckstein called for a strategic alliance with evangelical Christians as ‘our best friends and closest allies,’ the newspaper pointed out. “He brushed off concerns about their supposed ulterior motives — converting Jews and advancing Armageddon — as a ‘figment of, if I can say it, this liberal, Jewish and journalistic imagination.'”

Over the years, Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ – website) has raised millions of dollars from conservative Christian evangelicals for his organization’s various projects. He is often credited as being one of the first Jewish religious leaders to advocate building relationships with conservative Christian evangelicals.

However, on the road to raising tens of millions of dollars, it appears that he has diverted a fair portion of the money to a half dozen media relations, direct mail and telemarketing companies, including Century Strategies, run by Ralph Reed, the Bigham Agency and Krieger Associates.

Founded in 1997, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Century Strategies LLC (website) is Ralph Reed’s post-Christian Coalition high-powered GOP-oriented political consulting firm. According to a July 2004 profile in the National Journal, Century Strategies, which also has offices in Washington, D.C., “has raked in millions of dollars by mounting grassroots lobbying drives and other campaigns — as well as doing some inside-the-Beltway advocacy — for two dozen or so Fortune 100 companies and lesser-known enterprises.”

The Carrollton, Texas-based Bigham Agency received more than $8 million from Eckstein-run enterprises between 2002 and 2004, according to an entry posted at the TPMCafe. Bigham is run by E. Paul Bigham, who is described as a “major right winger and member of the Council for National Policy,” a highly secretive group of right wing deciders.

Kreiger Associates (website), based in Paoli, Pennsylvania received more than $14 million between 2002 and 2004 for media management. Headed by Gail Krieger, a former vice president of Foote,Cone & Belding and Mediaworks, the company’s website claims that it “is a full service direct response and infomercial company that stresses personalized service to our clients, no matter how large or small.” Krieger provides fundraising services to IFCJ and several of its projects including On Wings of Eagles (transports Soviet Jews to Israel), Guardians of Israel (provides financial support to Israeli victims of violence), and Isaiah 58 (supporting elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union).
Stand for Israel

In late February of 2002, Yechiel Eckstein and Ralph Reed announced the founding of Stand for Israel.

Stand for Israel (website) — one of several Jewish/Christian Israeli solidarity groups formed since the turn of the century — aimed to “mobiliz[e] 100,000 churches and an estimated one million Christians in the United States to express solidarity with the State of Israel.”

In a statement, Eckstein said:

We have rallied Christian support for Jewish people worldwide for twenty years through The Fellowship, but today we’re telling the nation and the world to prepare for a concentrated, organized effort to tell the true story of Israel and the Palestinians — both past and present. I look forward to working with Ralph Reed, a leader and a friend who knows how to get that message out in a big way. Jews are only now beginning to understand the depth of support they have among conservative Christians. Once the potential of this immense reservoir of good will is fully comprehended by the Jewish people and strategically tapped by the Stand For Israel campaign, you will see support for Israel in the United States swell dramatically.

Reed, then riding high as a political consultant/kingmaker — before his involvement with GOP uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff was revealed — said he was “honored and excited to team up with Rabbi Eckstein to mobilize Christian support for Israel. America has always cherished its friendship with Israel, and religious conservatives and evangelical Christians are among those who are its strongest supporters. This can be the most important constituency to influence a foreign policy debate since the end of the Cold War.”

A recent Stand For Israel web posting pointed out that “The cornerstone” of its work “is the International Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel, an annual event that rallies churches and individual Christians around the world to pray for the Jewish state. The first Day of Prayer took place in October 2002 and involved more than 16,000 churches and 5 million Christians. The following year swelled the ranks even further, with 17,000 churches and more than 7 million Christians participating. Our most recent Day of Prayer was on Sunday, January 28, 2007.”

These days, the Stand for Israel website features a picture of Eckstein. Reed is nowhere in sight, nor is he mentioned in the “About SFI” section of its website.

According to a TPMCafe blogger named mrs panstreppon: On the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) 990 Schedule A, Part II, the organization “listed compensation of five of the highest paid independent contractors for professional services as required. [Reed’s] Century Strategies was among the five in 2002 and 2003. The type of service provided by Century Strategies was described as ‘project management fees.'”

Century Strategies “project management” fees included $472,498 in 2002 and $295,775 in 2003. There was nothing listed for 2004.

A bio of mrs panstreppon states that she is a “retired brain surgeon who enjoys bridge, opera and Moscow at midnight.”

“The IFCJ does not account for ‘Stand For Israel’ campaign expenditures separately in its 990s,” mrs panstreppon wrote. “A breakout of ‘Stand For Israel’ expenditures is, however, provided in the IFCJ annual reports. As noted above, the IFCJ 2004 and 2005 annual reports are available online.” While figures for 2002 are not available, Stand For Israel lists campaign expenditures of $545, 905 in 2003, $3,761 in 2004 and $772,995 in 2005.

In a July 12, 2002, story about Yechiel Eckstein in the Forward, he is quoted as saying that he has raised more than $60 million from Evangelical Christians. According to the Forward‘s Ami Eden, “the fellowship — with 250,000 donors — is well known in evangelical circles. Its promotional videos features endorsements from a list of Christian luminaries including Pat Boone, Charles Colson, Reverend Jerry Falwell and Reverend Pat Robertson. Eckstein, who narrates the fellowship’s infomercials on Christian media outlets, is the only rabbi that many Evangelical Christians have ever heard of.”

Eckstein has done as much as anyone in the Jewish community to build bridges with evangelical Christians. In 1994, after the Anti Defamation League “released a scathing report on the Christian right, Eckstein organized a closed-door meeting between Jewish and Christian leaders to clear the air. “It was a start of a new relationship with the Jewish community, at least for me,” Reed told the Forward.

That “new relationship appears to have worked out well for both the IFCJ and for Ralph Reed. A New York Times Magazine story, “The Rabbi Who Loved Evangelicals (and vice versa)” by Zev Chafets (May 24, 2005) pointed out that 400,000 evangelical Christians contributed to Eckstein’s IFCJ, including contributions of $250 million in the last past decade. Those numbers, mrs penstreppon pointed out “are much higher than the 250,000 contributors and contributions of $60 million quoted in the Forward article and elsewhere.”

Via e-mail I asked IFCJ the following questions:

* Is Ralph Reed still associated with Stand for Israel?
* Is Century Strategies still doing consulting work for either Stand for Israel or the IFJC?
* Was Jack Abramoff ever involved with or associated with the organization?
* How active is Stand for Israel these days?

They did not respond to either my email or phone call.

Reed isn’t mentioned in the section of Eckstein’s official biography that talks about the founding of SFI.
Spreading the wealth

According to mrs panstreppon’s research, the total contributions received by the IFCJ by year from the 990s (Schedule A Part IV-A requires total revenue by category for the five years preceding the current one disclosed): 1998 – $17,422,986; 1999 – $20,530,725; 2000 – $27,973,664; 2001 – $26,454,926; 2002 – $34 .890 .654; 2003 – $39 ,749,336; and 2004 – $44,122,841. She wryly points out that “If Rabbi Eckstein was a CEO, he’d have gotten annual bonuses for significantly increasing revenue by at least 10 percent every year but one. The 36 percent increase in revenue in 2000 over 1999 is remarkable, and in a presidential election year, no less. In 2002, another election year, Rabbi Eckstein increased reveneue by 32 percent.”

By examing the IFCJ’s “Schedule A Part II – Compensation of the Five Highest Paid Independent Contractors for Professional Services,” mrs panstreppon found that the list of contractors included:

Bigham Agency (direct mail services) — Carrollton, Texas2002 – $3.3 million, 2003 – $4.5 million, 2004 – $567k

Krieger Associates (media management) — Paoli, Pennsylvania2002 – $7.3 million, 2003 – $6.4 million, 2004 – $722k

Century Strategies (project management) — Georgia2002 – $472K, 2003 – $296k, 2004 – $0

Hanover Marketing (direct mail services) — Richmond, Virginia2002 – $646k, 2003 – $654k, 2004 – $786k

LDTV (media production) — Chicago, Illinois2002 – $439k, 2003 – $505k, 2004 – $240k

Infocision Management Corp. (telemarketing) — Akron, Ohio2004 – $356k

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.