News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Renegade rabbi embraced by GOP in D.C.

Washington Post Service

Every few weeks or so Rabbi Daniel Lapin finds a reason to fly east from his home in Mercer Island, Wash., near Seattle, and spend a few days in Washington, D.C. He might be leading a Bible study on the Hill, having dinner with his ''close friend'' House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, breakfast with Karl Rove. Last year he came for a private Shabbat dinner with President Bush. ''The president recognizes my enthusiasm for his faith,'' says the rabbi.


Usually on these trips Lapin stays with Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who is an old friend of the Lapin family and one of a small elite who share Lapin's very particular niche in Washington: a practicing Orthodox Jew who is a renegade among the city's Jewish establishment but moves comfortably among conservative Christians.

Abramoff is under investigation for allegedly defrauding his Indian casino-owning clients and for allegedly breaking lobbying laws. In a stack of e-mails released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, several scandal sidekicks made unexpected cameos. Among them were Daniel Lapin and his younger brother David, rabbis from South Africa who are heirs to a 200-year-old rabbinical dynasty and very updated ambitions.

With a city increasingly dominated by the religious conservatives who appreciate Lapin, he can now be described as Republican Washington's Official Rabbi.

''When you're talking to a pastor he could be inspired by God, etc., but he may not have the scholarship,'' says Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of several Republicans who refer to Lapin affectionately as ''my rabbi.'' ``When you're talking to Rabbi Lapin you know you're getting an expert, someone who's the equivalent of a PhD at a major university.''

For evangelicals who are used to reading about Jews as God's chosen people, Lapin solves an essential mystery: ''A lot of people are surprised when they leave church and encounter essentially Dershowitz Judaism, Jews who are liberal,'' says conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is also a friend. ``Lapin is the opposite of that.''


For conservatives searching for biblical foundations for their political positions, Lapin is validation from the original source. His specialty is finding support in the Torah for what turns out to be the current Republican platform: lower taxes, decreased regulation, pro-traditional family policies.

''The principles of the Republican Party and the convictions of our president more closely parallel the moral vision of the God of Abraham than those of anyone else,'' Lapin said at the dinner with Bush, hosted by Ralph Reed.

Lately he has joined the crusade against what conservatives call ''activist judges.'' In an interview, he said, ``It's like the verse in Jeremiah where God says, I will be your king and I will be your lawgiver and I will be your judge. Therein lies the core. The founders enshrined three branches of government . . . and I find unusual this seizure of power by judges that rightly belongs to the people.''

Daniel Lapin is standing over by the drinks table in an upstairs room of the Manhattan Jewish Center, at a Jewish singles event organized by his daughter Rena, 22.


Lapin is known as a fluid, captivating speaker -- he has coached members of Congress in speaking -- and right now he looks like he's in a trance, summoning energy to address the crowd of about 50.

Lapin's subject this day is ''Jewish guilt'' -- more specifically, ''Why the Torah discourages guilt about sex and money,'' and much of it is drawn from one of his books. It may sound ''anti-Semitic,'' he says, but there must be a reason why Jews are disproportionately represented on the Forbes 400 list, and he concludes that the best explanation is that ''Jewish success is embedded in the Torah system.'' We don't believe it to be an evil process.''

''Does God want people to be rich?'' he asks. ''Yes!'' he says, and explains how God ''wants us to be obsessively preoccupied by one another's needs,'' a habit that the commerce relationship fosters. ''Wealth is a consequence of doing the right thing,'' he says, ``and this is one of the secrets of Jewish success.''

Several members of Congress are under investigation for illegally accepting perks from corporations they oversee, and among those under suspicion are many of Lapin's close political pals: Abramoff, DeLay, Reed and, distantly, Norquist. But Lapin dismisses it all as an accounting error.

''You can't just make money and then as an afterthought think of ethics as a cost item, something that cuts back profits,'' he says. ``The right way is the best way.''

Lapin's first taste of ministering to the powerful came in Venice Beach in the '80s, when, newly arrived from South Africa, he ran the Pacific Jewish Center with conservative radio host and movie critic Michael Medved. The center was housed in a synagogue on the boardwalk that had lapsed in membership. Lapin and Medved targeted young Jewish strays, people looking to rediscover their roots. Young people would roller-skate in, and Lapin would invite them over for Shabbat dinner; eventually some Hollywood stars discovered the charismatic Lapin.


Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss came. Elliott Gould was a regular, and the shul held a fundraising banquet in his honor, with Pia Zadora and Burgess Meredith and his friends, recalls Meyer Denn, a synagogue leader.

Around 1990, Abramoff flew in to meet Lapin and Medved. Abramoff had been living in South Africa filming his B-list Cold War thriller Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren. A convert to Orthodox Judaism, Abramoff had bought a house next door to the Lapins to attend younger brother David Lapin's Torah study center. Abramoff wanted publicity for his movie, so David Lapin suggested he look up his brother and Medved, Orthodox Jews who knew Hollywood types.

David and Abramoff are spiritually closer. ''My brother was very influential in Jack's odyssey of practicing Judaism,'' says Daniel. Abramoff and Daniel, on the other hand, were a much more natural match. Daniel was then only dabbling in politics -- he'd preached in favor of Ronald Reagan. But in a few years he and Abramoff would move in the same direction as practicing Orthodox Jews who found a home among conservative Christians in Washington.

Some Jews are prominent neoconservatives -- Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol -- but their relationship with the evangelical wing of the Republican Party is somewhat rocky and often distant. Orthodox Jews are socially conservative but until recently have shied away from participating much in American politics.

That left Abramoff and Lapin to fill the vacuum. Neither fit in well with the Jewish establishment. Lapin developed a habit of defending the Christian Coalition at the expense of more liberal Jewish leaders. They became close enough that Abramoff credits Lapin with introducing him to DeLay.

Lapin became popular in conservative Christian circles in 1999, after he published America's Real War, a polemic along the lines of Pat Buchanan's famous culture wars speech at the 1992 Republican convention.

''We are really two separate nations,'' he writes, one side supporting and the other opposing ''Judeo-Christian morality playing a role in American public life.'' He then took on every issue dear to the Christian right -- atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, pornographer Larry Flynt, the gay rights movement -- and added liberal Jews as a target.

To Lapin, the great constitutional debates about religion in public life are beneath consideration.

''I've always thought it was a quaint notion, the separation of religion and politics,'' he says. ``It's preposterous. Politics is nothing other than the practical application of your most deeply held moral and spiritual values.''

Lapin was invited by some senators to teach Bible classes on the Hill. He gave sessions to members of Congress explaining the biblical roots of conservative policies. In one session on ''Joseph and Taxation,'' he explained that in ancient societies taxes never rose above 20 percent. ''They were fascinated by that,'' he says, ``to learn that this was not an accident, that the tax rate was designed by the Great Architect in the sky.''

Lapin became a keynote speaker at conferences for the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. ''It was phenomenal,'' recalls Eli Piepsz, who traveled with him at the time. ``The crowds loved him. People would come up and say, `It's amazing to finally meet someone of the original faith who is true to his faith.'''

''The 700 Club is one of my big all-time favorites,'' Lapin said in beginning an interview last year with Pat Robertson, and then proceeded to call other prominent Jewish leaders, particularly Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, ''breathtakingly arrogant'' for calling Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic.

Lapin took that spat one step further in an essay that ran in the Orthodox paper The Jewish Press in January. He complained that Jewish leaders criticized Gibson but ignored Jews such as Howard Stern and the producers of Meet the Fockers who were ``debasing the culture.''

''With all due respect, the good people don't know the difference between one rabbi and another,'' Foxman says about the Christian leaders. ``They see a beard and they know he's super-kosher, so they think he's mainstream Jewry. But he's so conservative he's off the wall. He's on the fringes of the Jewish community.''

After he left Venice Beach, Daniel Lapin moved to Seattle -- ''yachting is my religion, Judaism is my life,'' he says. From there he founded Toward Tradition, a group ''working to advance our nation toward the traditional Judeo-Christian values.'' Abramoff is on the board, gave $10,000 to the group and helps deliver senators to its conferences, says Medved, who lives near Lapin in Seattle.

In an earlier set of e-mails, Abramoff calls his Indian clients ''morons'' and ''monkeys.'' For that, Daniel Lapin found the language to criticize his old friend, calling his insults ''horrible, awful.'' But he stops short of saying what Medved does, that as an Orthodox Jew Abramoff ''disgraced the Torah.'' Instead, he edges more toward pastoral forgiveness.

''Abramoff created an extremely effective ideological machine, and I think that bothered many people on the moderate side,'' says Lapin. ``Nobody claims Abramoff did anything different than anyone else. He's a friend of mine and I've seen him do many, many wonderful and decent things.

``My argument is that a human being is a very complicated amalgam. We've all done things we're not proud of.''

Funding race in full swing

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
> Published on: 07/09/05
Three years after Sonny Perdue defeated Gov. Roy Barnes despite being outspent six to one, he's showing the power of incumbency when it comes to raising money.

Perdue on Friday reported having raised $7.6 million for next year's re-election campaign, with $6.6 million left in his bank account a year out from the primaries. That's slightly more than Barnes had at the same time in 2001, a year before his unsuccessful bid for re-election.

Perdue has now raised about twice as much money as he spent to beat Barnes in 2002.

"Georgians have had an opportunity to get to know the governor and they support what his agenda has been," said Nick Ayers, the Perdue campaign's executive director. "The money has come in without him picking up the phone. He has focused on governing and raised that kind of cash."

The Democrats hoping to beat Perdue — Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor — made strong fund-raising showings as well, according to their campaign finance reports. Friday was the deadline for state candidates to report fund-raising totals for the first half of 2005.

Cox reported taking in $2.1 million and having $1.9 million in the bank, good numbers considering that she didn't truly crank up her fund-raising machine until after the legislative session that ended in March. Taylor raised $1.48 million since the beginning of the year. He has taken in $3.3 million since the middle of last year, and reported having almost $3 million on hand on June 30.

Meanwhile, Republican lieutenant governor hopeful Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, reported collecting $1.4 million during the period, doubling the total of his GOP rival, state Sen. Casey Cagle (R-Gainesville). Reed has continued raising money despite a steady stream of news reports and documents from U.S. Senate hearings that put him at the edge of a Washington scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with Indian tribal clients. Reed has not been accused of wrongdoing.

In the governor's race, Perdue began collecting checks from big-money interests almost as soon as he beat Barnes in November 2002, and he consistently has reported strong fund-raising numbers since then.

In 2002, Barnes raised and spent about $20 million, while Perdue ran a low-budget grass-roots campaign.

He complained about Barnes' fund-raising, at one point saying, "We're going to reach out to voters. Roy is trying to buy them."

This time around, it appears all three major candidates will have enough money to flood the TV airwaves with ads touting their positions.

Perdue, Cox and Taylor have raised $13 million so far, compared with the 2002 race in which the three candidates for governor had raised about $4.5 million by the same point.

"It's going to be a very competitive season and the media buyers are going to make a lot of money," said Matt Towery, CEO of an Atlanta political and media polling firm.

Cox was helped by polls showing her neck and neck with Perdue and well ahead of Taylor, who has spent the past year building support among black voters and the Democratic Party establishment.

"Based on the support we've received from Republicans and Democrats and independents, it's clear that Georgia is ready to move beyond partisan politics," Cox said Friday.

Taylor said, "Our citizens are thirsty for state leadership, and they want a governor who will fully fund their schools, protect HOPE scholarships from more cuts, and recruit higher paying jobs in every part of Georgia."

The reports indicate that Perdue raised far more money than Taylor or Cox from big businesses, companies that do business with the state, and traditional big-money campaign donors — a common state of affairs for an incumbent. Among Perdue's contributors were Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who gave $5,000; Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who contributed $2,000; and House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram), who donated $10,000. Taylor got in on the baseball theme, receiving $5,000 from home run king Hank Aaron.

In the lieutenant governor's race, Reed reported raising more money than any other lieutenant governor candidate ever during the initial reporting period. As of late Friday, Reed's report had not yet been posted on the secretary of state's Web site, although the candidate's staff said his numbers were filed before 6 p.m.

Cagle collected more than $600,000 during the period, also a strong showing for a lieutenant governor candidate.

The Democrats in the race have had fund-raising success of their own. Former state Sen. Greg Hecht reported taking in $426,000. And former state Rep. Jim Martin, an Atlanta Democrat who once headed the state Department of Human Resources, raised more than $200,000 in about a month since he joined the lieutenant governor's race.

—Staff writer Nancy Badertscher contributed to this article.

Nonprofits sector face changes, challenges

Chuck Raasch/Baxter Bulletin

WASHINGTON — It may come as a surprise to learn that the nonprofit sector accounts for more than 10 percent of the U.S. economy and that it employs 11.7 million Americans.

Those are the findings of recent reports by the Government Accountability Office and a panel of nonprofit leaders that convened at the behest of Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Spurred by allegations of nonprofit abuse after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress is taking its first serious look at nonprofits in 35 years. There may be political self-interest at play. An exploding universe of tax-exempt organizations — from to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — played major roles in the 2004 political campaigns. Political money is like water, so when Congress shut off big donations to the national political parties, tax-exempt groups popped up like so many buckets under a leaky roof.

Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist who allegedly bilked Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars, funneled some of that money through nonprofits he set up, including one in which he and his wife were the only board members, according to testimony at a recent Senate hearing.

Such news makes leaders of the nonprofit sector cringe. As past scandals involving the United Way and other nonprofits showed, Americans want to feel confident that the billions they give annually to charities are not wasted. When nonprofits are set up as financial shells, as Abramoff's apparently were, leaders of legitimate charities worry that they'll be smeared by a broad brush.

Fearing Congress could crack down, some nonprofit leaders are urging reforms that include better reporting to the IRS and more scrutiny of board members. Some nonprofit leaders are even begging for more media coverage.

"You help us keep the public trust in our institutions," Emmett Carson, president of the Minneapolis Foundation, told journalists at a Knight Foundation conference on nonprofits at the University of Mississippi. "When you expose things, you help keep our standards high."

According to the GAO and the report to Grassley:

The IRS recognizes about 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations, from tiny neighborhood groups to the mammoth foundations of Ford, Bill Gates and other wealthy donors. This is up by at least 50 percent in the last 20 years. From 1975-1995, assets held by charities expanded by more than 300 percent while the economy experienced 74 percent growth.

Despite the explosive growth, the IRS in 2004 had only 2,122 regulators watching tax-exempt groups, roughly the same as in 1974.

Many U.S. hospital systems are nonprofits, and many are now being sued by a group of lawyers claiming that they are not fulfilling their tax-exempt status because they allegedly overbill the poor. The plaintiffs have struck out in federal court, but the lawyers — led by Mississippi attorney Richard Scruggs, a veteran of the tobacco lawsuits — are filing cases in state courts all across the country.

There is a growing movement to make nonprofits more businesslike and cost-efficient, but critics say the bottom line isn't always the best measure of charity. If nonprofits are pushed to take on the most cost-efficient causes, they will be reluctant to take on the most difficult problems that require risk and innovation to solve.

Spurred on by aging baby boomers seeking something other than fat 401(k)s for meaning in their lives, business veterans of the go-go '90s are shifting into the nonprofit sector. "We are at the front end of a wave on this," said Jeffrey Bradach, a former Harvard Business School professor who five years ago formed the Bridgespan Group to help for-profit executives move into the charity world.

The University of Mississippi nonprofit seminar is the brainchild of Burnis Morris, a journalism professor at Marshall University, who is crusading for greater coverage of the sector.

At the recent seminar, nonprofit heads, state regulators, fundraisers and journalists all agreed on one thing: Despite the Bush administration's push for "faith-based" initiatives, private philanthropy will never be able to match the federal government's ability to address poverty, homelessness, health care and other problems.

"At best," said Carson, who is also chairman of the Council on Foundations, "we will always be a complement to government."


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