Newly released documents in the Jack Abramoff investigation shed light on how the lobbyist secretly routed his clients' funds through tax-exempt organizations with the acquiescence of those in charge, including prominent conservative activist Grover Norquist.
The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators' attention, sources familiar with the matter said.
Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist's organization kept a small cut, e-mails show.
The Senate committee report also details Abramoff's dealings with two others from the College Republicans crowd: Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition executive director; and Amy Moritz Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, which sponsored a golf trip in 2000 to Scotland for then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
"Call Ralph re Grover doing pass through," Abramoff wrote in a stark e-mail reminder to himself in 1999, a year in which Norquist moved more than $1 million in Abramoff client money to Reed and Christian anti-gambling groups. Reed was working to defeat lotteries and casinos that would have competed with Abramoff's tribal and Internet gambling clients.
In a recent interview at The Washington Post, Norquist said that Americans for Tax Reform and Abramoff's gambling clients worked together because they shared anti-tax, anti-regulatory views. He denied that Americans for Tax Reform was used to conceal the source of funds sent to Reed.
Norquist's relationship with Abramoff's gambling clients began in 1995 when Congress was considering taxing tribal casinos.
Abramoff, then a newly registered lobbyist with Preston Gates & Ellis, e-mailed a colleague that Norquist was willing to fight a tax opposed by another of his clients -- a beverage company -- if the firm became "a major player with ATR." Abramoff suggested the firm donate $50,000 to the group.
"What is most important however is that this matter is kept discreet," Abramoff said in an e-mail on Oct. 24, 1995. "We do not want the opponents to think that we are trying to buy the taxpayer movement." He promised that Norquist would be "very active" on the issue.
The following year, according to the Senate committee report, the Choctaw tribe donated $60,000 to Americans for Tax Reform to oppose a tax on Indian casinos. By 1999, ATR was getting large sums of Choctaw money. "What is the status of the Choctaw stuff?" Norquist asked Abramoff in an e-mail that May. "I have a 75g hole in my budget from last year. ouch."
I make no accusations nor do I know if this report is accurate, but I would be highly disappointed if I found out it was true. The fight for the freedom of the American people is far more important than any one man, but Mr. Norquist has been on of my favorite fighters in the modern conservative movement.