A conservative leader known for his vehement opposition to LGBT rights is engaged in work on Capitol Hill on behalf of the cable juggernaut that owns the progressive-leaning network MSNBC, according to two sources familiar with the industry.
Ralph Reed, who led efforts for the recently concluded Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in D.C., has been doing unofficial consulting work on Capitol Hill on behalf of Comcast, which has owned NBCUniversal, including MSNBC, in its entirety since 2011.
Sources familiar with Reed’s work, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they could not document that Reed has been engaged in this work, but that it’s well-established among insiders.
“It’s widely known because Ralph’s been on conference calls,” one insider said. “It’s been at least eight years; it’s been quite some time.”
Century Strategies, the Atlanta-based firm Reed owns, has been on retainer with Comcast for eight or 10 years, the source said.
Reed has a long history of working to curtail LGBT rights as a leader in the social conservative movement. During the 1990s, he was executive director of the Christian Coalition and criticized the policies of the Clinton administration.
Just last week, Reed, during the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, made the striking comparison of federal court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case, which affirmed slavery rights in the United States.
“Anybody heard lately that we’re losing the marriage issue? Anybody heard that argument? You notice some similarities?” he said. “I’m not comparing slavery to same-sex marriage, OK? I’m just pointing out that when you have these fights, what’s interesting is that if you look at same-sex marriage, it’s now legal in 17 states.”
“Only six of them, six out of those 17, six out of 50 states, had done it by referendum or by state legislature,” Reed continued. “In every other case, it was imposed by courts. Just like the courts had to impose Dred Scott. Because they couldn’t do it on the country because the country didn’t agree with it. The country, by the way, doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage.”
Reed’s math is a little off. A total of 19 states and D.C. have enacted marriage equality. And 11 states and D.C. have legalized marriage equality through the legislative or referendum process, although Reed reportedly said he wasn’t counting states after the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
The anti-gay leader’s opposition to same-sex marriage stands in striking contrast to much of the commentary featured on MSNBC, the Comcast-owned network that seeks to engage a progressive audience and undertakes efforts in covering LGBT issues. Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, hosts a popular political talk show that devotes regular attention to LGBT issues and has a significant LGBT following.
Over the weekend, the network’s website ran a piece asking whether D.C. would see the election of its first openly gay mayor by electing independent candidate David Catania to office.
Comcast didn’t respond to a request for comment about its reported engagement of Reed’s company. Century Strategies also didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Washington Blade to confirm the reports.
Reed’s anti-gay views have landed him in trouble before. In 2005, Microsoft dumped Reed as its lobbyist following backlash from the LGBT community because the company dropped support from a non-discrimination bill in Washington. Microsoft had hired Reed in the run-up to the 2000 election and reportedly had paid him $20,000 a month.
According to sources, Reed’s conservative outreach on Capitol Hill is short of the legal definition of lobbying. Reed would have to register with Comcast if he were to engage in official lobbying for the company.
Sources are disclosing Reed’s work on behalf of Comcast to the Washington Blade just months after Comcast proposed to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion. Comcast began the regulatory review process with the Federal Communications Commission by filing the appropriate paperwork in April.
Congressional review is part of the process; the House and Senate judiciary committees held hearings on the proposed merger in the spring. However, the congressional hearings have no direct impact on the FCC review process.
It’s unclear whether Reed is working on the Comcast merger with Time-Warner, although sources say it’s a safe assumption that completing this deal is part of his work on Capitol Hill.