Committee: Reed, Norquist Used as Pass-Throughs

Here are some damning details about Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, courtesy of the newly-released McCain Report. It goes into great detail describing Ralph Reed’s scheme to launder casino fees through non-profits.

Everybody who’s been paying attention to the Abramoff scandal knows that when Ralph Reed, the boy-king of the Christian right, went to work for Jack Abramoff’s Indian casino clients (his job was to roust grassroots Christians against competiting gambling platforms), he got skittish about accepting money from the tribes directly, since he’s, you know, supposed to be anti-gambling. So he used non-profits, like Grover Norquist’s American for Tax Reform, as pass-throughs to disguise the origin of the funds.

But it’s refreshing to hear the Senate Indian Affairs Committee not mince words in their report. As part of their retelling of Abramoff’s work for the Mississippi Choctaws, the report provides a damning blow-by-blow of how Reed came on this scheme, and how Norquist got started accepting a “management fee” (read: laundering fee) for his services.

The report is unequivocal. According to the Choctaw’s planner, Nell Rogers, the tribe agreed to launder the money because “Ralph Reed did not want to be paid directly by a tribe with gaming interests.” And at one point, she told the committee, Norquist became “nervous” about laundering the money. (But apparently not too nervous, because he kept on doing it.)

The section on Reed and Norquist begins on page 23 of the 373-page report, but I’ve reproduced the juiciest excerpt below (with my emphasis). In the beginning, Abramoff paid Reed through his lobbying firm Preston Gates (Abramoff even once suggested that the Choctaw pay Reed directly). But at some point, Reed became uncomfortable with that arrangement.

The report goes on (what follows is all excerpted):“By May 10, 1999, the Choctaw had paid Reed $1,300,000 through Preston Gates, with another $50,000 outstanding. For reasons unclear to the Committee, in late 1999 the Tribe discontinued paying Reed through Preston Gates. Rogers recalled that there came a time when either Reed or Preston Gates (or both) became uneasy about money being passed through Preston Gates to Reed. Abramoff thus searched for another conduit.

“Abramoff turned to his long-time friend Norquist to have his group ATR serve as a conduit for the Choctaw money. Earlier, on May 20, 1999, Norquist had asked Abramoff, ‘What is the status of the Choctaw stuff. I have a $75K hole in my budget from last year. ouch [sic].’ Thus, in the fall of 1999, Abramoff reminded himself to ‘call Ralph re Grover doing pass through.’ When Abramoff suggested the Choctaw start using ATR as a conduit, the Tribe agreed.

“In late 1999, the Choctaw paid ATR $325,000. In a 2005 interview with The Boston Globe, Norquist said that ATR had sent $300,000 of that $325,000 to Citizens Against Legalized Lottery (CALL). Norquist explained that he sent the money to CALL because the Tribe wanted to block gambling competition in Alabama. Out of the Choctaw’s $325,000, ATR apparently kept $25,000 for its services. According to Rogers, Norquist demanded that he receive a management fee for letting ATR be used as a conduit:

But I remember when we discussed needing a vehicle for doing the pass-through to Century Strategies that Jack had told me that Grover wouldwant a management fee. And we agreed to that, frankly didn’t know any other way to do it at that time.

“On a similar project in early 2000, Reed and Abramoff discussed using four groups instead of one as conduits to pay Reed: NCPPR, ATR, Toward Tradition and one unidentified have a c4” and asked Reed for ‘the name of the c4 you want to use (include address) and we’ll divide it among the three groups.’ Within days, Abramoff advised Reed that Amy Ridenour, president of NCPPR, ‘does not have a c4, only a c3, so we are back to ATR only.’

“Abramoff asked Reed, ‘Let me know if it will work just to do this through ATR until we can find another group.’ Though Reed did not respond, on February 2, 2000, Abramoff informed Reed, ‘We’ll have $300K for Monday and more shortly thereafter.’ This project apparently was centered on opposing a video poker initiative. The Choctaw made the first of three $300,000 payments to ATR on February 7, 2000. Abramoff warned Reed, however, that ‘I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter.’

“During this time, Abramoff advised Reed that the Choctaw might be limited in the amount of money it could devote to his activities. In response, Reed assured Abramoff that he was also seeking money from ‘national anti-gambling groups, Christian CEOs, and national profamily groups.’

“The Tribe was nevertheless able to continue funding Reed’s efforts. On February 17, 2000, Abramoff advised Reed that ‘ATR will be sending a second $300K today.’ This money, too, came from the Choctaw. Norquist kept another $25,000 from the second transfer, which apparently surprised Abramoff.

“On March 2, 2000, Abramoff told Rogers he needed ‘more money asap’ for Reed, and requested ‘a check for $300K for Americans for Tax Reform asap.’

“Abramoff’s executive assistant Susan Ralston asked him, ‘Once ATR gets their check, should the entire $300k be sent to the Alabama Christian Coalition again?’

“Abramoff replied, ‘Yes, but last time they sent $275K, so I want to make sure that before we send it to ATR I speak with Grover to confirm.’

“Rogers did not speak with anyone at ATR about using ATR as a conduit. As far as Rogers knew, ATR was not involved and was not considering getting involved in any of the efforts the Choctaw ultimately paid Reed and others to oppose. Based on everything Rogers knew, ATR simply served as a conduit to disguise the source of the Choctaw money ultimately paid to grassroots groups and Reed. Rogers told Committee staff that she understood from Abramoff that ATR was willing to serve as a conduit, provided it received a fee.

The Choctaw’s intent and understanding was that the money would pass through ATR and ultimately reach either Reed or a grassroots organization engaging in anti-gaming activities. It was never intended as a contribution to support ATR’s general anti-tax work.

“As far as Rogers was concerned, ATR was serving as a conduit on a project that had nothing to do with taxes and that was designed to oppose gaming.

At some point, Rogers recalled that Norquist apparently began getting nervous about his role as a pass-through. Rogers thought that part of Norquist’s discomfort derived from press accounts reporting that ATR was one of the largest contributors to an organization that was fighting against the expansion of gaming.

The question arises why the Choctaw paid money to Reed through various conduits, such as Preston Gates and ATR, rather than directly. Rogers told Committee staff, ‘I always assumed it’s because Ralph was more comfortable with that.’ Rogers understood from Abramoff that ‘Ralph Reed did not want to be paid directly by a tribe with gaming interests. It was our understanding that the structure was recommended by Jack Abramoff to accommodate Mr. Reed’s political concerns.’

“Nevertheless, the work Reed and his company Century Strategies performed and for which they were paid through Preston Gates and ATR was on the Tribe’s behalf and for its benefit. The Tribe has no complaints about the quality of work Reed undertook on its behalf.

“Once ATR ceased serving as a conduit, Abramoff and Reed looked for other conduits for the Tribe to route money to Reed’s Century Strategies. After he left Preston Gates for Greenberg Traurig in 2001, Abramoff suggested the Tribe pay into entities owned or controlled by Michael Scanlon. In 2001, the Choctaw paid money into American International Center (AIC), which Abramoff described as vehicle for passing money through to Reed. By the Committee’s accounting, the Tribe paid AIC $1,485,656 in 2001, and $1,170,000 in 2002.”

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