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Bill Berkowitz: Wead In The Rose Garden

Wead In The Rose Garden

Doug Wead, a Bush family advisor and counselor to Dubya, has a history of crass opportunism and the release of the Bush tapes was only the most recent example
By Bill Berkowitz

Most of Doug Wead's political career has been spent out of the public eye. Except for a failed run for an Arizona congressional seat in the early nineties, he's generally worked behind the scenes, first serving President George H.W. Bush and later, advising George W. He's generally avoided the headlines in the mainstream press. Last month, however, Wead came charging into the hot glare of the media spotlight. When you scratch beneath the surface you find an Assemblies of God minister who divorced his wife, a man involved with pyramid schemes, televangelizing faith-healers and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Wead put in yeoman's work during Bush Senior's administration, serving as liaison to the evangelical community. (The full story of his resignation, or dismissal, has yet to be told.) It was not surprising then that Wead would befriend George W., and become a sounding board during the period he was considering a run for the presidency. Wead's input on how to navigate the challenging waters between the religious and secular right and mainstream voters was valuable to the aspiring candidate. Unlike his father, who never fully gained the trust of fundamentalist leaders or was able to fully engage Christian right grassroots activists, George W. knew the terrain; he'd been there and done that. In what was to become an oft-repeated tale, Bush's conversion to Christ had been facilitated in part through conversations and consultation with the Reverend Billy Graham and one of the Christian right's most well-known televangelists, the Rev. James Robison.

That Doug Wead chose, without the consent or knowledge of George W., to tape their conversations -- which began in 1998 and ended just before the Republican National Convention in 2000 -- was certainly surprising. That he decided to let the world in on the conversations by releasing the tapes to the New York Times was shocking to many.

Negative reactions to Wead's tape and tell was instantaneous. "Doug Wead Betrays Bush?" was the headline at, a blog "focused on politics, and [which] seeks the construction of a Republican majority in the United States." "Bush was betrayed by a 'friend' and so-called Christian" headlined a piece by conservative columnist Kathleen Parker. Other former friends and allies of Wead quickly branded him a "Judas" for releasing the tapes. Some observers accused him of trying to pump up the volume for his recently released book "The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders" (Atria, $26, 512 pages) -- the second volume, following the New York Times bestseller "All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of the First Families" in Wead's trilogy on first families. Wead denied the profiteering charge, telling CNN that he "lost a million dollars by delaying the book after the election, where it would have been driven by partisan interests."

According to the Associated Press, One of the things the "tapes show [is] Bush... repeatedly worrying that evangelicals would be angered by a refusal to bash gays and that secular Americans would be turned off by meetings with evangelical leaders."

Writing for his Consortium News Web site, investigative reporter Robert Parry pointed out that the tapes "reveal an ambitious Gov. Bush in 1998 honing his religious pitch to conservative Christians, rehearsing how he would nail down their support by stressing his devotion to Jesus Christ." Parry wrote about Wead's influence on the Bush family in his book "Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq" (The Media Consortium Inc., 2004). "Wead's motto was 'signal early and signal often,' meaning that sprinkling speeches with references to God and meeting with celebrity evangelists sent a message to this important political group that would pass over the heads of non-evangelicals."

George W. became a big "fan of the memos." "George would read my memos, and he would be licking his lips saying, 'I can use this to win in Texas,' Wead said. Later, Bush would demonstrate that he could use Wead's strategies to win by attracting evangelicals throughout the South and across the country."

"As you said, there are some code words," Bush said on one of the tapes given to the New York Times. "There are some proper ways to say things and some improper ways. ... I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement."

Bush said, "I'm going to tell them the five turning points in my life: accepting Christ, marrying my wife, having children, running for governor, and listening to my mother." Acknowledging "immature" actions without delineating them is "part of my shtick," said Bush.

When the Times story hit, Wead had his story ready: First he claimed he released the tapes for the sake of history. Then he maintained his publisher made him do it. However, according to Ronald J. Watkins, the author of, "it turns out his publisher isn't in control of the tapes at all -- Doug Wead is, as he has always been, despite his protestations."

At his own Web site, Wead issued a brief statement of regret: "My thanks to those who have let me share my heart and regrets about recent events. Contrary to a statement that I made to the New York Times, I know very well that personal relationships are more important than history. I am asking my attorney to direct any future proceeds from the book to charity and to find the best way to vet these tapes and get them back to the president to whom they belong. History can wait."

The White House hasn't denied the authenticity of the tapes: "The governor was having casual conversations with someone he believed was his friend," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, referring to Bush.

Out of the Weadwork

In a short bio posted at a Web site called The 3 Percent Club, Wead is praised for his willingness to work behind the scenes and stay out of the spotlight: "Whether he's speaking to 10,000 people at a city arena, or sitting at a negotiating table with a handful of the world's most powerful people, Doug Wead is the epitome of what he teaches: He never promotes himself."

The bio continues "Participate in a conversation with him for an hour and you still won't know a thing about him. But talk to anyone who really knows Doug Wead, and you discover unsurpassed respect and -- more importantly -- unshakable faith and reliance upon this man... "

In fact, Wead has been a master of self-promotion within the evangelical community. He has written 27 books and they have sold over five million copies. For years he has been a well-paid motivational speaker. He has been interviewed on numerous television programs including The Today Show, The O'Reilly Factor, CNN, MSNBC and CBS. In 1979, along with Entertainer Pat Boone, Dan O'Neil and Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law, Doug Wead established Mercy Corps International, a charity which claims to have given more than $500 million in famine relief and medical supplies.

Marketing schemes seem to be Wead's specialty. Over the years he has had a major league association -- he was a Diamond distributor -- with Amway, the pyramid scheme founded by Rich DeVos and Jay VanAndel. These two founders contributed millions to the Republican Party and conservative organizations and causes over the years. (For more on the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, see here. Wead has been a regular speaker at Amway conventions according to a highly documented two-part series, Bush + Republicans + Amway = Fraud by Evelyn J. Pringle. (For more on Amway and its relationship to the GOP see the Merchants of Deception Web site.)

According to Pringle, "Wead and another kingpin, Jean Godzich, eventually branched out and set up an Amway in France. In 1986, the French government began investigating it and decided the company was a dangerous mind-control cult, and a fraudulent business. Amway France terminated the distributorship of Godzich, from whose group most of the complaints had originated.

"So what do Wead and Godzich do next? They set up a new MLM in France, called Groupement or GEPM. Its product line consisted of Amway products, its business structure was identical to Amway France, and its cultic activities were just as blatant as they were in the first operation.

"After receiving numerous complaints about GEPM, French authorities moved in to shut it down, but this time it issued criminal arrest warrants, 13 for the company's distributors, and 2 for Godzich and Wead. Godzich took all the cash and fled the country and Wead never returned to France."

Wead also sits on the board of Global ProNet, "a network marketing distributor training services company serving a community of over 400,000 independent distributors. He is a member of the Advisory Board of, another marketing venture which describes itself as a "network of Members and Merchants." According to its Web site, which as of February 26th features an announcement of Wead's appointment, "As an Agent of AtlasMall you... receive commissions for shopping at stores in your local community that are Merchants in the AtlasMall system. Getting others to become Members will also reward you. Any time they shop at Merchants in their community you will receive commissions and so will they."

Wead also sits on the Board of faith-healer Benny Hinn's ministry, the World Healing Center Church. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hinn's outfit received $89 million in donations in 2002. His ""Miracle Crusades" -- really mass faith-healing events -- draw thousands to sports arenas, while his "This Is Your Day" television show "is one of the most-watched Christian TV programs in the world, with viewers in 190 countries."

Politically, Wead has been the consummate inside player: He served as Special Assistant to the President in the Bush Senior White House; Time magazine described him as an "insider in the Bush orbit"; and, in a 2001 interview with the Unification Church-owned Insight magazine Wead claimed to have coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism," a key phrase in the Bush arsenal that has been more publicly associated with Marvin Olasky.

Wead may also have ties to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. On January 19, 2001, one day before George W. was inaugurated, the Washington Times Foundation, an operation that is part of the Moon empire, held an Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington D.C. According to the True Light Education Ministry, the committee that sent out the letter for the luncheon wasn't part of the Washington Times Foundation and included Doug Wead as a signatory.

In a January 21, 1992 broadcast of PBS' Frontline entitled The Ressurection Of Reverend Moon, Wead had words of praise for the Rev. Moon's American Freedom Coalition:

Narrator: The American Freedom Coalition's Desert Storm rallies are only the latest effort by Sun Myung Moon to influence American public opinion. Moon's Unification Movement has long supported the projection of American military power overseas. Moon has also consistently promoted a conservative political agenda in the United States. His efforts have not gone unnoticed at the White House. Douglas Wead was a Special Assistant to President Bush responsible for liaison with conservative groups.

Wead: I'd say right now there are probably two groups among conservative organizations that really have an infrastructure, that have grassroots clout -- Concerned Women of America would and the American Freedom Coalition would.

Narrator: During the 1988 election, the AFC printed and distributed 30 million pieces of political literature, including these glossy voter scorecards.

Wead: I think the scorecards and some of the independent literature published had an enormous effect. In fact, we had huge notebooks filled with published materials from a wide variety of organizations. The best was probably the AFC's. It was by far the slickest and the finest produced material. And when that doesn't cost you anything, and it is not charged against the campaign and is widely distributed to mailing lists across the country, that has a very important impact.

Narrator: The AFC's activities have prompted renewed questions about Sun Myung Moon's involvement in American politics. The AFC calls itself a grassroots organization committed to supporting conservative causes. AFC leaders deny that their group is an "appendage" of Moon's movement, and they are sensitive about the issue. When we asked Robert Grant to discuss AFC ties to Moon, he refused. In a letter to FRONTLINE, Grant stated "I see no point in speaking with you either on camera or off camera."

On December 19, 2002, while many Americans were caught up in Trent Lott's troubles, the Corporation for National and Community Service announced the appointment of David Caprara, the former president of the American Family Coalition, as director of AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Caprara was recently named director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the federal government's Corporation for National and Community Service.

On March 1, Wead turned the tapes over to the White House, Reuters reported. If there is anything positive to come out of Doug Wead's tape-and-tell episode for Team Bush, it is that the story managed to shove embarrassing headlines on the Jeff Gannon Affair out of the spotlight.

No Goldwater endorsement, no victory

In 1992, Wead was one of three Republicans candidates vying for a seat in Congress from Arizona. By amassing a much larger treasure chest than the other candidates and by trying to hitch himself to for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's legacy, Wead won the primary. In the election, however, Wead was handily defeated as Goldwater endorsed the Democratic candidate. We will give Ronald J. Watkins who knows, but is not a friend of Wead, the last word. He recently detailed his impressions about the man and his character on his blog,

He'd arrived in Arizona fresh from his former career as an Assembly of God minister with a new young wife on his arm. No mention was made of the wife he'd divorced to marry this one, even though he campaigned hard on family values, as I recall. He was with Amway then, was reportedly a Diamond. Most of his sizable war chest was from out-of-state money, unlike his two opponents. Wead had been a Special Assistant in Bush Senior's White House, but had been asked to leave, or elected to leave, under cloudy circumstances. One current report holds he left because he objected to gays being on the White House guest list. My recollection has something to do with the improper use of the White House mailing list for personal advantage.

Wead campaigned hard on Barry Goldwater's tailcoats, claiming he worked on the Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964, though no one ever came forward to support the assertion. He displayed a portrayed of Goldwater in his office and released a video wrapping himself firmly in the Goldwater mystic. On it he claimed to have gladly suffered ridicule because of his support of Goldwater. 'I'll never forget in 1962, in speech class, our teacher assigned us to nominate someone for president,' he said. 'So I nominated Goldwater, and everybody laughed. The teacher laughed. But I've lived to see the principles of Barry Goldwater vindicated all over the world.'

What I found most disturbing, however, was Wead's association with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of PTL fame. Wead had been a frequent guest on the Bakker show and an active fund raiser for him. I spoke at length with Jessica Hahn, to whom Bakker paid hush money over his tryst. She found Doug Wead's political aspirations quite amusing, as she did his attempts to distance himself from Bakker. She told me that Wead and his first wife were the only regular guests on the Bakker show who stayed in the Bakker private residence.

Money talked in the primary and Wead buried his opponents, including my man, a distinguished pubic servant with long ties to the state. It reportedly came as a surprise to Wead a few weeks later when Barry Goldwater endorsed his Democrat opponent and lifted her to victory. I don't think Barry liked being used by a self-promoting opportunist. 'Doug Wead does not know or understand Arizona,' Goldwater said, 'and his record in Washington D.C., is not the best.' But the more famous Goldwater comment is, 'I don't think God should be sold for money.'

Wead went on to France where, with a shady partner, he started a French clone of Amway, a company ultimately shutdown by the French government. There are reports a warrant was issued for his arrest there.

The man I saw speak, and with whom I shook hands, struck me as an opportunist. Now we know he befriended the current President Bush, secretly tape recorded him, and has now released those tapes to huckster his latest book. As an author myself, one who has had several publishing contracts, I find his claim that his publisher made him release the tapes amusing. It doesn't work that way. Really.

No, Doug Wead was an opportunist when he shilled for Jim Bakker, an opportunist when he ran for Congress in Arizona, an opportunist when he taped the president and he's an opportunist today as he generates publicity to sell his book, all the while claiming the devil made him do it.


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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