WASHINGTON - October 19 - The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) calls on the IRS to further investigate the alleged involvement of five nonprofit organizations in Jack Abramoff's illegal lobbying activities. The recent report by the Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee pointed to correspondence between Abramoff and these organizations showing how the lobbyist routed money from his clients to the groups in exchange for producing newspaper op-ed articles that favored his client’s positions.
“It is important that the IRS looks into these allegations to determine if any of these organizations are guilty of breaking the law, and appropriately penalize those that did. Philanthropic organizations and nonprofits have a special responsibility to uphold standards of accountability,” said Mary M. Lassen, NCRP’s interim executive director. “This is an opportunity for the IRS to demonstrate that it is serious about holding tax-exempt organizations accountable, no matter the people or the politics surrounding each case.”
Since 2004, NCRP has detailed and denounced the variety of Abramoff’s misuses of philanthropy, particularly the illegal grantmaking of his Capital Athletics Foundation (CAF). NCRP repeatedly called for IRS investigations, but even when Abramoff’s indictment and subsequent plea agreement in January 2006 acknowledged the repeated abuse of CAF, the IRS failed to step in.
According to information published on the GuideStar web site, CAF seeks to support “programs and activities that develop sportsmanship, particularly for disadvantaged populations.” The foundation received over $6 million in contributions – mostly from Indian tribes that Abramoff represented - in the space of four years; less than one percent of this amount was spent on related sports programs for the youth. The majority of CAF’s grants went to support the Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish private school in Maryland that Abramoff established in 2002 and which closed its doors in 2004.
A Washington Post article in 2004 cited emails from Abramoff describing Eshkol as a “front group,” and a reminder for his friend Michael Scanlon, former spokesman for Tom Delay and owner of the public relations firm where Abramoff would direct his tribal clients for political campaign services, “to make sure that the next $1m[illion] from Coushatta for me goes to Eshkol Academy directly. Please tell them that we are 'using the school as our conduit for some of activities.' "
CAF funding was also used to fund sniper equipment and sniper training for a school in Israel as well as international golf trips for Abramoff, lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, then-General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian, and Rep. Robert Ney. The latter recently pleaded guilty to taking bribes in return for official actions favorable to Abramoff and his clients.
“Foundations and charities should use the Abramoff scandal as a motivation to push for new regulations that will help protect tax-exempt groups from the tentacles of special interest groups,” said Lassen. “Recent improvements in the IRS are small steps in the right direction, but we need full disclosure of donors and grants, continued oversight and enforcement, and tighter ethics rules to govern lawmakers. All these are necessary to ensure the integrity of the charitable sector.”
Founded in 1976, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is dedicated to helping the philanthropic community advance the traditional values of social and economic justice for all Americans. Committed to helping funders more effectively serve the most disadvantaged Americans, NCRP is a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes public accountability and accessibility among foundations, corporate grantmakers, individual donors and workplace giving programs. For more information on NCRP or to join, please visit www.ncrp.org or call (202) 387-9177.