Preacher, peddler, Beltway meddler
I spent a lot of time back then with Wead, a powerful figure in the sub rosa Amway network who had just moved into the state to run for the new seat and was the darling of the GOP’s growing religious right wing. Before coming to Arizona, Wead had been a White House aide to George Bush Sr.—the president’s liaison to the religious right.
Wead won the GOP nomination and seemed a lock for the congressional seat, but the aging Barry Goldwater, who had contempt for his party’s religious right wing, shocked the state with a last-minute endorsement of his Democratic opponent, Karan English. In a major upset in the conservative state, English won the seat. That was the closest Wead ever came to holding elective office. There’s no doubt that Goldwater’s shocking endorsement of the liberal Democratic woman cost Wead the election.
I probed deeper into Wead back then than any other reporter. My stories about him can be found through Lexis and similar search engines, but a Google search won’t retrieve them because the New Times archives from those early days aren’t readily available on the Web. Following is my first story from 1992 on Wead—before anyone even dreamt that Barry Goldwater would trump him:
Phoenix New Times
June 10, 1992
ARE YOU REALLY HAPPY with your current politicians? Perhaps Doug Wead can inspire you.
Arizona’s newest big-time politician, Wead often tries to display a disarming sense of humor. He doesn’t jab you in the ribs; he’s kinder and gentler.
At his May 12 campaign kickoff rally for the state’s newest congressional seat, he peered out over the crowd of 800 people at Pioneer Park in Mesa, spotted familiar pols like county supervisor Tom Freestone, whom he had recently scared out of the congressional race, and gently wisecracked over the microphone, “All the big shots are back there!”
Then he introduced two men sitting at the front of the crowd: Arizona Republican party finance chairman John T. Godzich and Phoenix First Assembly of God minister Tommy Barnett.
Doug Wead didn’t refer to those two as “big shots,” nor did he launch into any lengthy praise of them. That’s because the 46-year-old Republican, a self- educated man running for his first political office after less than 18 months’ residence in Arizona, has finely tuned political instincts. He knows when not to speak up. For almost two decades, Doug Wead has parlayed evangelical Christianity and a vast, multilevel marketing network of hundreds of thousands of Amway distributors into a fine living, a great business, astounding political connections and a seat near the center of the action. A person with little formal education, Wead earned a spin doctorate during the several years he served George Bush as a campaign aide and senior White House staffer. Like other Amway products, Doug Wead has not been available to the average consumer through traditional channels. Now he’s attempting to go public.
As he does so, Wead sends out different messages at the same time. He knows how to clue in Amwayers that he’s one of them. If you’re not an Amwayer or evangelical Christian, you probably wouldn’t understand the clues. But you might be intrigued by all these smiling, enthusiastic people who seem to be Wead followers.
Unless you were an Amwayer, you wouldn’t know that Lennon Ledbetter, a tall young man in a dark suit who served as the emcee of Wead’s campaign kickoff rally, was one of Wead’s Amway business associates in Arizona. Or that Wead campaign aide Billy Childers, who introduced Ledbetter, is the son of a prominent Amway friend of Wead’s who lives in North Carolina.
More important, you wouldn’t know that John Godzich, who runs an Amway-like organization in France and also builds American-style houses there, is someone Doug Wead met years ago through Amway, and that Godzich, himself a newcomer to Arizona, is a major source of money for Doug Wead’s political ventures—much to the ire of some Arizona Republicans. You wouldn’t know that Godzich is the older brother of Pastor Leo Godzich, the leader of the drive against Phoenix’s proposed gay-rights ordinance and associate pastor at one of America’s largest churches, Phoenix First Assembly of God, whose pastor is Tommy Barnett. This business of clues has been used by Doug Wead before. During the 1980 presidential campaign, he wrote a quickie book entitled Reagan in Pursuit of the Presidency. Timed for publication just before the GOP National Convention, it was a campaign-trail journal capped by a Reagan campaign speech before a wildly cheering crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina. Doug Wead himself introduced Reagan to the crowd. There were countless standing ovations. At one point during Reagan’s speech, the assembled masses erupted into “God Bless America.” Must have been quite a speech, right? Not necessarily. If you were an Amwayer reading the book, however, you knew exactly what was going on. Reagan was at an Amway rally, where practically everybody gets standing ovations.
The book contained other clues: It was dedicated to Dexter Yager, a legendary Amway kingpin in North Carolina and Doug Wead’s Amway godfather. It showcased pictures of Yager and other Amway distributors with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. While other Amway people were mentioned in the book, the word “Amway” itself never appeared.
Author Doug Wead likewise doesn’t mention that he is an Assemblies of God preacher. Religion and politics often swirl around Wead. When he was an aide to George Bush, Wead provided what the nation’s most prominent lobbyists for religious conservatives termed “unprecedented” access to a president. Later Wead became a central figure in a 1990 dispute between the president and religious conservatives over the invitation of homosexual activists to the White House for the signing of bills against hate crimes and discrimination.
Wead let it be known to a congregation of religious conservatives that Bush “wasn’t served well” by the White House invitations to openly gay activists. Wead’s opposition to gays at the White House made him a hero—even a martyr—to the religious right. By most accounts, it also caused friction within the White House staff that resulted in Wead’s ouster.
As far as national gay-rights leaders are concerned, Wead’s a demagogue. However, his style is anything but shrill and strident. Though he says he’s against gay-rights laws, he strongly denies being homophobic.
“I think that when any individual is demeaned and ridiculed and is certainly the victim of a crime of hate, that all of society is cheapened by that, that we’re all hurt by that,” Wead says. “And I’ll defend any human being, heterosexual or homosexual, with every ounce of strength I’ve got against hatred or discrimination.”
Gay leaders—even gay Republicans—say they’re scared of him.
Prominent gay Republicans claim that homosexuality has replaced the menace of communism as the shibboleth of right-wingers. And some leaders of the religious right have acknowledged that the issue of homosexuality galvanizes their movement like no other topic—even abortion.
Marvin Liebman was a founder of Young Americans for Freedom back in the early Sixties, and served as one of the central strategists of the Goldwater movement that took over the Republican party decades ago. Today he is an openly gay Republican and says that even Barry Goldwater would be “way too liberal” for the GOP of the Nineties.
The religious fundamentalism that led to Reverend Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority in the Seventies and the presidential candidacy of televangelist Pat Robertson in the Eighties is far from dead, says University of Chicago theologian Martin Marty, a longtime student of religion and politics. “What we’re seeing in Doug Wead and people like him is a reshaping of strategy,” says Marty. “Falwell and Robertson were a wedge aiming for the White House, the Supreme Court—right to the top. Now they’ve learned to settle for a portion of the pie. People who aren’t household names call signals and beam them out into tens of thousands of local organizations. State Republican parties get taken over. It’s brush-fire style, but the same big-time thunder is there.”
Rich Tafel, leader of a national gay Republican organization, says that the current GOP infighting over homosexuality has moved the party further to the right. “Today, I think, a Wead would not have been fired from the Bush White House,” says Tafel.
Amway already is on the right side of the GOP spectrum. A social and business network of millions of people worldwide, it long has been identified with fundamental Christianity. Both of its founders, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, are members of Bush’s “Team 100,” the 249 rich people who have given at least $100,000 each to the GOP cause.
Despite the prominent role of Amway in his life, budding Arizona politician Doug Wead has played down his Amway connections. Why? To mention Amway “would offend other businesses,” Wead explains. He acknowledges that any movement that zealously recruits people, like Amway, can be offensive. And the last thing Doug Wead wants is to appear offensive.
As for his evangelical Christianity, Wead tells New Times, “Religion matters to me personally, but I don’t think it should be a litmus test for people running for office.” He complains that the press should be asking him about his tax-initiative drive, “It’s Time,” not his religion.
But Wead has mixed his religion with politics for years. And it’s been a blessing.
* * *
LIKE A REAL-LIFE Zelig—the Woody Allen movie character who kept turning up next to famous persons at famous events—Doug Wead has found himself in the most remarkable situations with a huge assortment of notable or notorious people.
Thanks to Amway and his religious fundamentalism, Wead may be one of the all-time great networkers.
On a November day in 1979, Doug Wead was on the Thailand-Cambodia border, walking amid starving refugees. The next day, he was at Ronald Reagan’s house in California—thanks, he says, to Amway and evangelical connections—having dinner with Pat Boone and sympathetically squeezing Nancy Reagan’s hand. A few days later, Wead witnessed his friend Jim Bakker, the now-imprisoned televangelist, give presidential candidate Reagan the spiritual litmus test. (Bakker asked Reagan: “Who is Jesus?” Reagan’s Zen-like response: “He is who He says He is.”)
In 1980 Doug Wead attended a high-level Carter campaign strategy session involving evangelical leaders. The same year, he was introducing GOP candidate Ronald Reagan to a frantically cheering Amway convention.
On one November day in 1984, GOP congressman Jack Kemp (whom Wead met on the Amway lecture circuit) and the son of Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk visited Wead’s home in Springfield, Missouri, on separate missions.
People keep popping into and out of Doug Wead’s life. Or is it the other way around? The name “Wead” grows wild in indexes of books about other people.
In the early Eighties, according to a book on Jim Bakker’s empire, Wead heard born-again actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. fret on a Florida golf course about rumors that Bakker was having a homosexual affair with a young man named David. A short time later, Wead, a longtime off-and-on associate of Bakker’s, was standing in the televangelist’s steamy massage room, telling Bakker and David that the rumors were flying. He gave Bakker some advice on how to handle the rumors.
On April Fool’s Day in 1986, the beleaguered Jim and Tammy Bakker celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at a dinner party carried live on their PTL television network. Doug Wead, who was one of the speakers, delivered a lengthy joke about TV evangelists in hell. “Jim and Tammy Bakker,” he cracked to the crowd, “are raising money to build a water slide and air-condition the place.”
Wead has written books with presidents Reagan and Bush and ex-Interior secretary James Watt and a string of biographies of Amway people—for sale to other Amway people—in which the reader discovers Christ, Amway and wealth.
Yes, Wead has been in the black holes of Calcutta and both wings of the White House. Though he never came close to earning a college degree, in 1990 Wead won an honorary degree from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He told the ORU graduating class: “God didn’t put you here to watch television! He put you here to be on television!”
During the 1988 presidential campaign, Doug Wead helped prepare his boss, George Bush, by acting out the part of televangelist Pat Robertson in a months-long series of exhaustively researched and well-financed mock presidential debates.
One of Doug Wead’s other memorable performances occurred last Thanksgiving weekend at an Amway seminar in Miami, Florida. That Saturday night, Wead explained to the thousands in attendance about the It’s Time tax-initiative drive on the other side of the continent, in Arizona.
The real performance occurred the next morning, in front of a large crowd of Amway Christians.
Amway distributor David Selph of Augusta, Georgia, recalls it vividly: “Doug Wead is fantastic! Are you a Christian? Listen, he delivered the “Sermon on the Mount”—from memory! The whole thing! It was almost like Jesus was up there!”
A few days later, David Selph sent a check for $30 to the It’s Time campaign.
That same month, Wead spoke about It’s Time at another Amway rally, this one in Nashville, Tennessee. “He’s a fabulous speaker,” says distributor Louise Longanecker of Gardner, Kansas. “He tugs at everybody’s patriotism, motivates people to have an awareness. He creates a spirit of patriotism. He talks about family values, community awareness and responsibility and free enterprise.” Wead told the Amwayers in Nashville about the It’s Time tax-initiative drive in Arizona. “He talked about some of the things he was hoping to bring about, and he asked for help,” she recalls. A few days later, Louise Longanecker and her plumber husband, Curt, sent a check for $30 to It’s Time.
Loyalty—some would call it obedience—is a prime force in Amway’s network, and it drives Doug Wead, too.
* * *
THE AMWAY NETWORK is outside the normal channels of life in that it’s not on television and not on your store shelves. But it’s all about the basic facts of life that also drive mainstream politics. “One of the ways that Amway recruits is to create discontent,” says Nicole Woolsey Biggart, a scholar from the University of California-Davis who has studied Amway, Mary Kay, and other direct-selling organizations. “They incite people. They say, Are you really happy with your job?’ That’s precisely what politicians do. In Amway you don’t give money. You can only give them hope. That’s precisely the same type of skills that politicians need.”
Many of the people attracted to networks like Amway are those who have felt “disenfranchised” economically or politically, she says, “and the message is that you don’t need a college degree to get the status and adulation the rest of the world won’t give you.”
The “revival” nature of Amway meetings also is well-suited to politicians’ use, says Biggart, whose book on the subject is called Charismatic Capitalism. “The meetings are very orchestrated. They give out awards. They hand-pick people to go up there. People give testimonials: Let me tell you where I was.'”
In networks like Amway, Biggart says, people who get swept up “are discouraged from free thinking and are encouraged to actually mimic the exact sales behavior of those upline” in their families. “Dexter Yager is particularly strong at that unthinking obedience,” she says.
Biggart, who talked to many Amway distributors and attended numerous rallies, says, “It’s a form of organization that is set up to take not just people’s labor, but their emotional lives, their spiritual lives, their political lives. It takes all those strands and puts them to work for business ends. It’s exploitative or liberating, depending on your point of view.”
* * *
FOR SUCH A momentous occasion in his life, Doug Wead’s memory is vague.
It happened after Dexter Yager got the ball rolling for him, so it probably was sometime in the late Seventies and it was somewhere in either Pennsylvania or New York. After one of Wead’s Amway speeches, a distributor named John Godzich came up to him and asked him to speak to his Amway group in France. As Wead recalls: “I said, Fine, I’m going to Germany, anyway, I’ve got a big group there I’m going to speak to, about 15,000.'” Wead says Godzich had been reluctant even to ask because his own group didn’t have any money, but Wead said he’d speak for free. He got invited back, and “just to help him get going,” Wead says, he continued to speak to Godzich’s group for free.
“It was similar to going to Carolina, when I met Dexter,” says Wead. “Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life were when I was doing something out of friendship, to be nice to somebody rather than career, door- opening things that you would think would really help. And that’s happened many times in my life.”
At some point, says Wead, Godzich paid him “a huge check, I forget how much, and I said, ‘John, I don’t need this. This is too much.'”
Both men talked about someday moving to Arizona, which they did.
Just as Dexter Yager introduced Doug Wead to a life, so John Godzich introduced Wead to a wife, a French woman named Myriam in Godzich’s Amway group. (Wead’s divorced from Gloria, his first wife.)
John Godzich also is the Arizona GOP’s finance chairman, and he’s helping Doug Wead get going. Godzich wrote a $50,000 check that helped land Wead a spot on stage during a May 28 fundraiser for Senator John McCain. He also wrote a $50,000 check to the It’s Time tax-initiative drive.
Serendipity is in the Amway canon. In the Yager-Wead book Becoming Rich, they emphasize that you must take advantage of it anytime it happens. Now could be that time for Doug Wead.
He’s running in a new congressional district and so far he has only one opponent, Mike T. Meyer, in the primary. Two veteran state senators, Karan English and Alan Stephens, are expected to fight it out for the Democratic nomination, but District 6 has a Republican edge in voter registration. The district fans out from Mesa to encompass most of eastern Arizona and even parts of Flagstaff.
Republican Tom Freestone, a longtime county supervisor from Mesa, stunned supporters when he dropped out of the race even before the District 6 boundaries had been set. Freestone was scared out of running by the specter of Wead’s deep pockets.
Wead already has flexed his financial muscles, including the mailing of tens of thousands of slick campaign videos, a direct-selling approach that brings to mind Wead’s Amway roots. (The Wead touch: As a narrator talks about religious figures” without naming names, there’s a clue for Mormons—a shot of Wead shaking hands with Mormon leader Ezra Taft Benson.)
Local Republicans mutter the word “carpetbagger,” but Wead has tried to mend fences by, among other things, getting Freestone to show up at the May 12 kickoff rally and by funneling some campaign money to help Freestone run for the Arizona Corporation Commission—newcomer Wead called it the “Corporate Commission” at the rally.
Some of Freestone’s ex-allies, such as East Valley businessman Chuck Wahlheim, now back Wead. The Lincoln Caucus, a group of conservative business people, likely will be in the Wead camp—the group’s president, Sydney Hoff, is one of Wead’s campaign consultants.
Wead denies he moved to Arizona to run for the new congressional seat—he says he always wanted to live here. But life’s easy when you can convert the name of your tax-reform initiative, It’s Time, which has garnered you name recognition, into a campaign slogan—”It’s time for a change.”
Plus it doesn’t hurt to have a friend who’s the state GOP’s finance chairman. Old friends Doug Wead and John Godzich still share offices, and they even registered to vote in Arizona on the same day: January 27, 1991.
Godzich literally lives on Easy Street at pricey Gold Canyon Ranch east of Apache Junction. He’s a director of ICB Inc., which exports construction materials to France, where his firm Les Batisseurs aims to build U.S.-style houses, says ICB president Waverley J. Wheeler. (Wheeler says the project has had to overcome “cultural challenges” to the idea of U.S. model homes in ancient France, and has built five houses so far. Godzich was in France and unavailable for comment.)
Godzich, says Wheeler, also heads Groupement Europeen de Professionnels du Marketing, an Amway-style, multilevel marketing company of 60,000 to 70,000 distributors. The Godzich-Wead ties are firm: Younger brother Leo Godzich was the incorporation agent for Wead’s company. Another Godzich brother, Dan, is a campaign aide.
Wead’s financial and political connections aside, he’s not an incumbent in an election year in which incumbents wear a scarlet letter. And although George Bush’s coattails are tattered by the Perot Factor, Wead’s got it covered with other Republicans. His martyrdom over the gay-activists furor back in 1990 is cited in the campaign literature of religious right winger Pat Buchanan. Wead also is an old pal of Jack Kemp’s.
On May 30, both Kemp and Buchanan addressed the Arizona GOP Convention at Phoenix Civic Plaza. In the past few years, religious conservatives have seized numerous party posts, so it was no surprise the invocation warned that “countries fall because of morals.”
And it was no surprise that Pat Buchanan talked about the National Endowment for the Arts and the case of a religious figure being portrayed as having sex with a 6-year-old boy. Such inflammatory talk wouldn’t come from Doug Wead, however. He does not want to appear directly offensive to anybody. His jobs as Christian evangelist, Amway evangelist, and Bush evangelist called for him to accentuate the positive and look for the silver lining. He says he doesn’t even want to talk about his own evangelical Christianity.
“I’m not going to promote it,” he says, “because if I did, people would then draw the conclusion that I want to impose my religious views on people—or they would draw all kinds of conclusions that are not me.”
His friend Leo Godzich is fighting the Phoenix gay-rights ordinance, but Wead says, “I have not participated with him at all on that.” Wead has no animus against homosexuality, he says, “but I do not favor gay-rights bills that call for a special status. From any court definition I’ve seen of minority status, economically deprived or artistically or socially deprived, I see the opposite. I see the gay community thrive. I mean, they’re three times more likely than the norm to be a frequent flyer, they’re higher than average in income, they’re higher than average in education, in almost every area. And so that’s the only position I’ve taken.”
At his campaign kickoff, the only comment he made on any social issue was that he was pro-life. He did not elaborate, nor does he in interviews. Railing for or against something is not his thing, either.
Produce a morsel of distasteful controversy, and Doug Wead tries to convince you it’s caviar. Responding last week to a question about carpetbagging, he replies: “Well, now, wait a second. Amway has I don’t know how many meetings here in Arizona, but it’s dozens and dozens. I’m told that 3,000 distributors meet in north Scottsdale on a monthly basis, 3,000 down in Mesa on a monthly basis, there’s a function at Sun Lakes, a big function. These are Arizona people, and when I spoke for Amway, I was coming to Arizona every year to speak for Amway, too. To Phoenix. Every year.”
Well, why didn’t he talk about his Amway background at his campaign kickoff rally? “Is that the proper thing for me to do at my kickoff, to get up and talk about my Amway background? … That would signal to people that that’s what I’m going to do. I didn’t work for Amway in the White House, so why would I do it in Congress?”
He does hint that he feels there’s prejudice against Amway. Why? “Because it’s a recruitment organization,” he replies. “Same reason there would be that some people would take offense at evangelicals and members of Latter-day Saints and some religious groups that are evangelistic that by their nature feel they should recruit. … It offends people.”
Fear of offending people is why he says he didn’t use the word “Amway” at all in his 1980 Reagan book, despite the book’s climax with a stupendous Amway rally for Reagan. Still, he sees nothing wrong with slipping in indirect references, like the buzz words “Dexter Yager” and names and photographs of Reagan with Yager and other Amway distributors.
The buzz word “Amway” would have offended some people, he says, but the names of Amway people were buzz words that helped sell the book. Wead sees nothing contradictory there. “Politicians use buzz words often to communicate to groups of people,” he says. “I don’t see anything duplicitous about that. I think it would be offensive to single out one company or something and promote one corporation. And that was basically a religious publisher, so there needed to be a theme that was somewhat inspirational. The readers of that publisher would want to know what is Ronald Reagan’s faith, for example.”
Isn’t all this a little devious? “I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, and I’ve never lost sleep over that,” says Wead. “I feel guilty about almost anything, and I don’t feel real guilty over that. Certainly my intention was not to deceive anybody by giving the impression that Reagan is more popular than in fact he was. And that book is so poorly written I don’t see how it could influence anybody. I’m amazed you could even read the book to the end.”
Wead maintains that he really doesn’t like his books, most of which he calls “terrible.” Now, however, he realizes it all makes sense that he wrote those books.
Amway, he muses, is a unique subculture. “America’s filled with pockets like that that we are unaware of.” In his case, it was a pocketful of miracles that he says he didn’t understand until he landed in the White House.
“Politically, I felt very integrated—the Amway element and the evangelical element came together and at last had some useful utility in the Bush campaign,” he says. “So I felt then that there was a sense of purpose for some of these experiences. But to live and die my whole life in any one of those pockets would not have been real satisfying for me.”
He sees yet another “huge pocket” on the horizon that can provide money in one area and a spruced-up image in another. There apparently is a reason Doug Wead has insisted that his leaving the White House actually was because he took an unpopular stance in staff discussions concerning Bush’s breaking the pledge not to raise taxes.
“Is all my money going to come from Amway?” he asks and answers. “The answer is no. There’s another huge pocket of dollars that’s going to come to my campaign, from conservative leaders across the country. There’s a lot of Republican money out there right now because the presidential candidates are limited to $50 million, and there’s a lot of money out there for Republican candidates, and there’s a lot of disillusionment among Republicans over the breaking of the tax pledge and the Richard Darman compromise and other things. And there’s a lot here in Arizona. There’s Republican and conservative leaders who are not giving to national candidates who will get behind somebody they think they can count on in terms of a philosophy of government.”
On the matter of “family values,” a buzz phrase that lots of other politicians are talking about these days, Wead returns to one of the key lessons he has learned in his life.
“There ought to be some way to teach values in education, and I don’t know how,” he says. “But there ought to be some way.”
Which values? He mentions an article he read that pointed out employees believe their bosses want efficiency and consistency. However, he adds, the article pointed out that the No. 1 quality that bosses want is loyalty.
“Of course!” Wead exclaims. “They don’t want some staffer out there who’s working his brains out ’til 10 o’clock at night who answers the phone and says, ‘I don’t know where my boss is. He always goes home earlier.’ They don’t want efficiency. They want loyalty. So where in the school system and where in higher education can some poor kid learn about loyalty?”
This is a subject he obviously feels strongly about. “There’s not a book written on it, there’s not a semester course in it,” he says. “There’s not a discussion in the classroom of it.”
It’s pointed out to Wead that he learned that lesson through Amway. “I did, but where do they learn it? They don’t,” he says. “And then they get into the work force and they can’t figure out why they’re not rising or falling. They can’t figure out what’s going on—’I did my work on time, I do it right.’ They get mad at their boss. So it seems to me there are some values that are not controversial, not religious, that could be discussed as part of the educational process that would be helpful to people.”
With Doug Wead, questions of loyalty are always an issue.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 21, 2005