Saturday, December 17, 2005

Charity as a Campaign Tool

Over at AmericaBlog this AP story is getting attention. Apparently, Senator Bill Frist, has a charity devoted to helping the victims of AIDS. Frist's, World of Hope Incorporated, raised $4.4 million from a group of big money (anonymous ) contributors and then used a big chunk of the money to pay consulting fees to many of the same people who are part of Frist's campaign organization.

"The rest of the money went to overhead. That included $456,125 in consulting fees to two firms run by Frist's longtime political fundraiser, Linus Catignani. One is jointly run by Linda Bond, the wife of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo.

The charity also hired the law firm of [Frist's lawyer Alex] Vogel's wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel, and Frist's Tennessee accountant, Deborah Kolarich.

Kolarich's name recently surfaced in an e-mail involving Frist's controversial sale of stock in his family founded health care company. That transaction is now under federal investigation.

Jill Holtzman Vogel, who is raising money for a run for the state Senate in Virginia in 2007, has received thousands in contributions this year from Catignani & Bond and from her husband, among numerous other sources, according to data released by the Virginia Public Access Project."

World of Hope used roughly one third of the money donated to it to pay for overhead and fees. Often a large part of a charity's overhead costs are for fund raising, but in this case it appears that Frist's donations came from the same campaign contributors who had business before Frist and the Republican congress. Big money health related companies such as Blue Shield and Eli Lilly, and Wall Street heavyweights like Goldman Sachs. Not a lot of cost associated with getting these big boys to write a check to Frist's little money laundry.

"The returns for World of Hope Inc., obtained by The Associated Press, also show the charity raised the lion's share of its $4.4 million from just 18 sources. They gave between $97,950 and $267,735 each to help fund Frist's efforts to fight AIDS...

Political experts said both the size of charity's big donations and its consulting fees raise questions about whether the tax-exempt group benefited Frist's political ambitions.

"One of the things people who are running for president try to do is keep their fundraising staff and political people close at hand. And one of the ways you can do that is by putting them in some sort of organization you run," said Larry Noble, the government's former chief election lawyer who now runs the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that studies fundraising.

Kent Cooper, the Federal Election Commission's former public disclosure chief, said the big donor's motives are also suspect. "These tax deductible gifts were earmarked through Senator Frist," Cooper said. "They were raised in the political arena at the 2004 Republican Convention and the natural question is were they given to the Senate majority leader to gain favor or were they given for true charitable purposes?"

World of Hope's donations went largely to groups associated with the religious right such as Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse. Samaritan Purse reciprocated by paying for highly publicized visits by Frist to Africa.

Corruption thy name is Republican.