Five conservative nonprofit organizations, including one run by prominent Republican Grover Norquist, "perpetrated a fraud" on taxpayers by selling their clout to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Senate investigators said in a report issued today.It entangles some great under-the-radar right-wing groups.
The report includes previously unreleased e-mails between the now-disgraced lobbyist and officers of the nonprofit groups, showing that Abramoff routed money from his clients to the groups. In exchange the groups, among other things, produced ostensibly independent newspaper op-ed columns or press releases that favored the clients' positions.
Naturally, Grover says there is nothing wrong with any of this.
The report states that the groups probably violated their tax-exempt status "by laundering payments and then disbursing funds at Mr. Abramoff's direction; taking payments in exchange or writing newspaper columns or press releases that put Mr. Abramoff's clients in a favorable light; introducing Mr. Abramoff's clients to government officials in exchange for payment; and agreeing to act as a front organization for congressional trips paid for by Mr. Abramoff's clients."
The groups are Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was co-founded by Norquist and Gale Norton before she became Secretary of the Interior; Citizens Against Government Waste; the National Center for Public Policy Research, which was a spinoff of the Heritage Foundation; and Toward Tradition, a religious group founded by Abramoff friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
Norquist's attorney told the Senate panel that as long as Americans for Tax Reform spends funds in keeping with its general purpose, "There is no 'abuse' of ATR's tax status."Personally I find it pretty hard to explain emails exchanges like this one:
The Senate report criticized "a troubling practice" by Americans for Tax Reform and other nonprofits of accepting tax-exempt donations from Abramoff's clients to advocate for their issues -- in op-eds, position statements and letters to members of Congress. ATR's advocacy "appears indistinguishable from lobbying undertaken by for-profit, taxable firms."
The e-mails show Abramoff and Norquist explicitly discussed client donations to Norquist's group in exchange for Norquist's support on issues.
On Feb. 10, 2004, Abramoff wrote Norquist: "I have sent over a $50K contribution from DH2 (the mutual fund client). Any sense as to where we are on the op-ed placement?"
Norquist wrote back: "The Wash Times told me they were running the piece . . . I will nudge again."