Veteran political strategist Ed Rollins brought a burst of positive media coverage to Rep. Michelle Bachmann when he signed on as campaign manager of her sometimes loopy presidential bid, but Rollins continues to hide a dark secret from one of his previous national campaigns.
For two decades, Rollins has withheld evidence about the identity of a top Filipino politician who admitted delivering an illegal $10 million cash payment to Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rollins, who ran Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984, mentioned the admission in his 1996 book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, recounting how the Filipino casually asserted over drinks in 1991 that he had carried the money in a suitcase to a Republican lobbyist who was representing the Reagan campaign.
"I was the guy who gave the ten million from Marcos to your campaign," the Filipino told Rollins. "I was the guy who made the arrangements and delivered the cash personally. " It was a personal gift from Marcos to Reagan."
In his book, Rollins described this stunning news with a light touch. The first thought that raced through his head, he wrote, was "Cash? Holy sh*t."
However, Rollins has refused since to divulge the name of either the Filipino politician or the Republican lobbyist. And it speaks volumes of the mood during the mid-1990s -- when Ronald Reagan's legacy was taking on mythic status -- that no one pressed Rollins for details of this crime.
Nor did anyone in the top ranks of the U.S. news media or law enforcement apparently expect that Rollins should take his evidence to authorities. That Rollins could drop this tidbit into his memoir, go mum on identifying the direct participants, and still remain a respected Washington insider says a lot, too, about the morality of America's political/media establishment.
In his memoir, Rollins tried to minimize the significance of the suitcase full of cash by suggesting that the illegal contribution might never have reached the campaign or President Reagan. "I knew the lobbyist well and I had no doubt the money was now in some offshore bank," Rollins wrote.
But Rollins had no way to know for sure -- and it would have been a very risky move for the lobbyist to divert $10 million in cash that Marcos was sending personally to Reagan, especially since the lobbyist would have to assume that Marcos had told Reagan that the money was on the way.
There also was a history to the allegations of Marcos-Reagan payoffs.
Dancing with Mrs. Marcos
The Marcos-Reagan relationship dated back at least to 1969 when President Richard Nixon assigned Reagan to represent the United States at the gala opening of Imelda Marcos' multi-million-dollar cultural center in Manila.
Reagan charmed the Philippine president and his wife, as the former Hollywood movie actor twirled Mrs. Marcos around the dance floor.
By 1980, Marcos had another reason to root for Reagan. Marcos was weary of President Jimmy Carter's nagging about human rights violations in the Philippines. Marcos also was unnerved by Carter's inability to protect another friendly despot, the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979 and forced into a humiliating exile.
If Reagan were to defeat Carter, Marcos could expect that the human rights lectures would stop and U.S. officials would look the other way when it came to Marcos' staggering corruption.
Carter's reelection campaign also was hobbled by his inability to free 52 American hostages then held by radicals in Iran, a year-long crisis that set in motion Reagan's landslide victory.