The Quiet Power of Jack Reed

By IAN DONNIS  |  August 13, 2008

The son of a homemaker and a school custodian from Cranston, he now makes his Rhode Island residence in Jamestown. Some of the glamour of the Senate fades, though, Reed says with a laugh, “When you’re sitting in the airport for six hours.” Becoming a husband and a father, he says, “makes real the notion that what we do has long-term and lasting consequences. You have to work hard and do your best.”

An opponent of the war in Iraq, Reed avoids sharp partisan rhetoric. In offering the Democratic radio address after returning from the Middle East in July, for example, he focused on the need for the Iraqi government to make tough political compromises and deliver basic services to its citizens.

This just-the-facts quality aggravated Mitchell Bard, who groused on the Huffington Post earlier this month about how Reed “sat silently on ABC’s This Week while Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) spouted a steady stream of Tass-worthy propaganda about the candidates, specifically that [John] McCain’s position on Iraq had been consistent and correct.”

Reed, however, got equal time during the exchange, and Lieberman’s statements seemed unlikely to win fresh converts.

The senator and his opponents
Even GOP opponent Bob Tingle, whose political differences from the senator can be seen in how he favors abolishing the IRS, instituting a “fair tax,” and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, doesn’t hesitate in describing Reed as “a good man” whom he respects and admires. Tingle says he’s running his low-budget effort since “there should always be a race, and it looked as if Jack was going to go unopposed.”

Reed’s other opponent, Democrat Christopher F. Young, who is making his third campaign for Senate, has a Web site (wheretovote.com) depicting George W. Bush making a Nazi salute, and it offers a pastiche of criticism of various elected officials, including Reed, Obama, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline and Hillary Clinton.

Striking a quasi-populist stance, Young (who did not return a call seeking comment) suggests on his Web site that Reed is to blame for rising prices for oil and various consumer items, including flour, bread, and milk. He also charges that Reed is a captive of his campaign contributions, including those from banking interests and the federally-backed mortgage industry.

In the realm of Rhode Island politics, there’s no doubt that Reed is a high-flier; the senator has spent $1.7 million from his campaign fund since 2003, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org).While individual contributions represent 57 percent of his fundraising total over the last five years, according to the CRP, his top five contributors by industry over that period are as follow: Lawyers/Law Firms ($428,856); Securities & Investments ($348,038); Real Estate ($206,550); Insurance $189,850); and Commercial Banks ($161,849).

Asked about the influence of campaign contributions, Reed, who sits on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, says he tries to make good decisions based on the substance of an issue.

In May, Financial Week reported that Reed was starting to make waves through his chairmanship of the Banking Committee’s subcommittee on securities and investments: “Reed has been particularly tough on the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Accounting Standards Board for not doing enough to require adequate disclosure from banks that engaged in rampant securitization using off-balance-sheet entities during the past several years.”

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