When Right Does Wrong

Two conservative environmental groups tied to lobbyist Jack Abramoff possibly broke tax laws. By Sarah Parsons

Abramoff seemed willing to comply, and asked a favor of Federici concerning one of his tribal clients, the Coushattas. “Absolutely,” he wrote. “We’ll get that moving asap. The Coushattas are coming to DC next Thursday so I’ll hit them [up] immediately. By the way Gov. [Mike] Foster (Louisiana) just sent Gale another letter pushing a new compact he signed for jena [a band of Choctaw Indians whose proposed casino in Louisiana would’ve rivaled one run by the Coushattas]. Can you make sure Steve knows about this and puts the kibosh on it?”

National Center for Public Policy Research

Background and Mission: Founded in 1981, NCPPR, which is also based in Washington, describes itself as a “communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems.” The group deals with many facets of policy, including an environmental branch through its John P. McGovern M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs.

Much like CREA, most of the organization’s stances differ from those of the typical environmentalist. The group received donations from ExxonMobil, and voices its skepticism about global warming, particularly in the National Center Blog, which NCPPR’s president writes. The group touts the Endangered Species Act as an ineffective piece of legislation that punishes private landowners, and insists that drilling in ANWR would not harm the environment.

Head Honchos: The group’s president and founder, Amy Ridenour, may have assisted Abramoff. Ridenour’s long-time relationship with Abramoff dates back to their involvement with the College Republicans. At one point, Abramoff also sat on NCPPR’s Board of Directors. Ridenour’s husband, David Ridenour, serves as vice president of the organization.

Involvement with Abramoff: According to the Committee’s report, NCPPR engaged in a number of activities that violated its tax-exempt status. For instance, the group accepted donations from Abramoff’s clients, and then used the money to finance trips for various members of Congress, such as the infamous golf outing in Scotland that Tom DeLay attended. Two months later, DeLay voted against legislation opposed by Abramoff’s clients. Coincidence? That’s the question. Abramoff also supposedly donated client money to NCPPR, and then directed the group to give the money to other organizations. In one instance, the report suggests that NCPPR simply re-routed the money directly back to Abramoff’s own foundation, possibly to provide him with a greater tax write-off on the donation—which amounts to tax evasion. Finally, the Committee alleges that Ridenour published favorable op-ed pieces about Abramoff’s clients in exchange for donations to NCPPR. Writing op-ed pieces is part of the organization’s work, and between 1998 and 2005, the group claims to have published 5,801 opinion pieces in newspapers. Ridenour maintains that she wrote pieces about Abramoff’s clients independently, but e-mail exchanges between Abramoff, his clients, and Ridenour suggest otherwise.

On May 19, 1999, Abramoff wrote to Jeff Ballabon, then executive vice president of public affairs at Primedia’s Channel One, a client of Abramoff’s. At the time, a coalition sought to ban the network in public school classrooms because Channel One showed advertisements, which they said was inappropriate.

“When we are through the hearing, we have to discuss getting Amy a contribution as we discussed,” Abramoff wrote. “She was going to do 5 pieces for $10K. We can chat on this next week.”

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