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Abramoff problem, Norquist solution

In Jack Abramoff's world, prominent Washington tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist was a godsend.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In Jack Abramoff's world, prominent Washington tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist was a godsend.

Moving money from a casino-operating Indian tribe to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition founder and professed gambling opponent, was a problem. Lobbyist Abramoff turned to his longtime friend Norquist, apparently to provide a buffer for Reed.

The result, according to evidence gathered by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, was that Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform became a conduit for more than a million dollars from the Mississippi Choctaw to Reed's operation, while Norquist, a close White House ally, took a cut.

Without citing any specific group, the Senate panel found numerous instances of nonprofit organizations that appeared to be involved in activities unrelated to their mission as described to the Internal Revenue Service.

Thursday's 373-page Senate report on Abramoff's influence-peddling said some nonprofits channeled money from one entity to another in an effort to obscure the source of funds, the eventual use of funds and to evade tax liability.

The report said some tax-exempt organizations apparently were used as extensions of for-profit lobbying operations. The committee forwarded 108 documents to the Senate Finance Committee in February about nonprofits, 28 of them dealing with Norquist's group.

Norquist's office says its tax-cut mission is the same as that of the Choctaws, who were bankrolling a grass-roots campaign by Reed's organization to block potential competitors.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press responding to earlier requests for comment, Americans for Tax Reform spokesman John Kartch said, "As the Choctaws have testified in open hearings before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, they have been regular, general contributors to ATR due to our commonality of policy goals."

Nell Rogers, a planner for the Choctaws, told the Senate that the arrangement was never intended as a contribution to support ATR's general anti-tax work.

Rogers said she understood from Abramoff that ATR was willing to serve as a conduit, provided it received a fee.

In an e-mail obtained by the committee, Abramoff told Reed that "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter."

Asked about Abramoff's e-mail, Kartch told the AP that Americans for Tax Reform has "no way of knowing what Abramoff meant in any e-mail to any third party, particularly when testimony has shown that he misrepresented things - intentionally or unintentionally - in his e-mails."

Relying on an e-mail by Abramoff, the Senate report said "Norquist kept" $25,000 from each of two transfers from the Choctaw to Reed. The report provided evidence about four transfers for about $1.2 million in all.

Norquist is part of a large cast of characters in the scandal.

Another is Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who told Senate investigators he made no effort to help an Abramoff client, despite extensive evidence to the contrary. Ney was not even familiar with the Tigua tribe of El Paso, Texas, the congressman told the committee.

Yet the report says Ney assured tribal leaders of his support for legislation on two occasions in 2002, once in person and once via telephone. The legislation would have allowed the tribe to reopen its shuttered casino.

Others in the scandal
-Former deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, who denies giving Abramoff or his clients preferential treatment. The department's Bureau of Indian Affairs is involved in granting casino approvals. The committee was "unable to arrive at any definitive conclusions as to the veracity of Griles' testimony."

-Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton's political fundraiser, Italia Federici, who in 1999 founded the nonprofit conservative group, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, with Norton and Norquist. The report said Abramoff apparently had his clients contribute to the group because he believed Federici would help him possibly influence tribal issues. The committee said it remains unclear what Federici or Griles, who was "her working contact at Interior," actually did for Abramoff's clients.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges in connection with his lobbying work as part of a wide-ranging influence-peddling probe that focuses on his dealings with Congress.