Senate Report Slams Norquist, Charities for Cheating

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A long-awaited report by the Senate Finance Committee accuses Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and other Abramoff-linked non-profits with committing acts that are likely in violation of their tax-exempt status.

You can read the full report here. The document is 608 pages in total, but most of that is devoted to appendices and exhibits; the report itself is 55 pages long.

The report hits ATR for a number of activities unrelated to its nonprofit purpose. Like the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Report on Abramoff, the Senate Finance Committee criticized ATR for acting as a lobbying operation, advocating certain positions in exchange for donations from Abramoff clients.

The panel began investigating the use of charities by disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff in spring 2005. A bipartisan effort, the report was released today by the Democrats alone. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) did not release a statement on the report, nor did he announce hearings. A Grassley staffer told the Washington Post that the senator endorsed the report but said he “did not co-author the report because he had hoped it would have included Democratic groups that he believes also breached their tax status.”

The panel found that ATR set up meetings for Abramoff clients with administration officials, such as President Bush and Karl Rove, in exchange for hefty contributions.And ATR officials, including Norquist, also wrote Op-Eds in The Washington Times and other papers in exchange for contributions from Abramoff clients. On a couple of occasions, the Op-Eds were written by Abramoff’s lobbying associates and simply printed under Norquist’s name. One email obtained by the committee shows Abramoff hitting Norquist up for an Op-Ed in favor of his client Channel One back in 1999:

Ariana Huffington has now joined Ralph Nader and [Rep. George Miller (D-CA)] in attacking Channel One. . . . We want to do an oped which smacks her big time, and also swipes at Nader’s guy and the other loonies on this. We have $1,500 to do this piece and get it placed. Are you interested (we can write it for you)?

“Jack, yes, go ahead and draft a copy for me,” Norquist replied.

The committee also wags its finger at ATR for serving as a pass-through for Indian casino payments to Ralph Reed. But despite all that finger wagging, the report stops short of saying that ATR definitely broke any laws, only saying that they’re probably in some trouble. ATR’s violations “could, under certain circumstances,” the report reads, “result in penalties under current law, including excise taxes on officers of ATR, revocation of ATR’s exempt status, and even criminal tax fraud penalties.”

Carol Guthrie, spokeswoman for ranking member Max Baucus (D-MT), said that copies of the report, which details possible violations of law and tax code, were delivered to the Justice Department and the IRS, along with “brief explanatory” letters from Baucus. She would not release a copy of the letter.

“The Justice Department and the IRS will have to determine whether tax laws were broken,” Baucus said in a statement sent to reporters. “But in my view, these groups’ dealings with Jack Abramoff certainly violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter,” of the law.

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