A Mercer Island-based religious foundation was one of five conservative nonprofits groups that appear to "have perpetrated a fraud" on taxpayers...
A Mercer Island-based religious foundation was one of five conservative nonprofits groups that appear to “have perpetrated a fraud” on taxpayers as they rallied to the aid of now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to a report released Thursday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee.
Toward Tradition, which describes itself as dedicated to advancing “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” is headed by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Lapin is also a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host.
The report includes e-mails and other documents that offer new insights into the relationship between Lapin and Abramoff, once a high-profile Washington lobbyist and board member of Toward Tradition. Abramoff was convicted on felony corruption charges.
“E-mails show that Mr. Abramoff could turn to Rabbi Lapin for a friendly newspaper column that put a client in a positive light. Indeed, the e-mail communication indicates that Mr. Abramoff planned how best to use Rabbi Lapin as a source,” the report said.
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Tax-exempt groups are barred from paid lobbying or public-relations work.
The report also questioned the efforts of Americans For Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, The National Center for Public Policy Research and Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.
These organizations “engaged in what amounted to profit-seeking and private benefit behavior inconsistent with their tax-exempt status,” the report concluded.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, could have blocked the Democratic staff report’s release. Grassley said Thursday he would consider the report but said it should have looked at more nonprofit groups. “The problems are widespread and won’t be resolved just with Mr. Abramoff going to jail,” Grassley said.
Lapin has denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with Abramoff.
On Thursday, he told The Seattle Times that his organization had been hurt by “unfounded allegations” by Democratic members of some committees. He said his organization had no intention of ceasing its work and had activities planned for the rest of the year.
Abramoff’s dealings with Toward Tradition were looked at as part of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department that resulted in a plea agreement on corruption charges earlier this year.
Abramoff admitted to funneling $50,000 from two clients through Toward Tradition, which used the money to hire the wife of an aide to then House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Abramoff said it was part of a scheme to influence the Delay staffer.
Lapin has said Toward Tradition took the $50,000 but has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Abramoff’s lobbying scheme when he agreed to hire the woman.
The report, released Thursday, details a 1999 effort by Abramoff to have Lapin write a column on behalf of one of its clients, Channel One.
Lapin wrote a lengthy defense of the broadcast company, which was under fire for offering a controversial mix of newscasts and advertising to students in the classroom.
According to e-mail records, the draft was e-mailed to Abramoff, who then sent it to Jeff Ballabon of Channel One for review. In meetings with Channel One, Abramoff also suggested that Toward Tradition give awards to Channel One.
In response to the report, Lapin said that “I do not believe that Toward Tradition ever gave any award to Channel One,” and that the article on Channel One “never saw the light of day.”
Times reporters Hal Bernton and David Postman contributed to this report. This story includes material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press.