Monday, February 06, 2006

Abramoff Spinsanity

Nina Easton (former Presstitute of the Day), spouse of Republican strategist Russell Schriefer, in today's Boston Globe:

Abramoff's grand aims came early
Made powerhouse of GOP group

Today's Republican spin, I mean article, sets up Abramoff as always outside the Republican mainstream. Crazy guy, that Abramoff, always tilting against the good Republican party. Republicans have been working to keep the crazy rogue elephant Abramoff down for decades:

As Abramoff saw it, the only hitch to his Napoleonic-scale ambition was the pea-sized budget that his sponsors at the Republican National Committee were willing to commit.


His money pleas unheeded, Abramoff spent the next four years, from 1981 to 1985, bypassing the RNC chain of command -- the organization legally responsible for the College Republicans -- to build his own financial juggernaut to advance the group's hard-right agenda, according to memos from College Republican files and interviews with GOP officials involved.

Unbeknownst to the RNC
, he launched an expensive direct-mail campaign that left the group in debt, and vendors complaining about unpaid bills. He set up at least two tax-exempt groups to raise money -- over the objections of an RNC lawyer who warned that such groups could not legally engage in political activities. He borrowed money for his cause, even from his father.

''Jack was a freebooting pirate as far as I was concerned," said a Washington attorney, Mark Braden, then the RNC's house counsel. ''He had a strong belief in his own correctness. It was damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."


Looking back, Abramoff's critics inside the Republican Party say his tenure at the College Republicans should have provided a crystal ball into the turns his life might take. ''Look how the seeds of his current destruction are so evident," said Richard Bond, who as RNC deputy chairman repeatedly confronted Abramoff over spending issues.

Ronald Kaufman, then the RNC's political director, described Abramoff's management as ''living on the edge. . . . I don't think any of us thought he was an evil person. But we were really worried about the group and the direction they were taking."

''I remember them being in debt and constantly having financial issues," said William I. Greener III, a former RNC communications director. ''You had the sense of grabbing at air to try to get specifics and details" about where the money had gone."


Paul Erickson, who served as the College Republicans treasurer under Abramoff, dismissed the accusations of RNC officials as untrue and ideologically-based, saying Abramoff's critics were moderates allied with Vice President George H. W. Bush, who ''didn't want conservatism promoted in any sense."


That kind of charged rhetoric repeatedly landed Abramoff in ''hot water" with RNC officials, as RNC communications director Greener noted in a 1983 memo. ''Bad use of words!" Greener scribbled on an Abramoff memo that described efforts to ''smash" PIRGs and United States Student Association chapters, and ''drive the final nail into their coffin sometime within the next year."

Abramoff was admonished by RNC official Bond
after a letter to the Palestine Liberation Organization went out over RNC stationery, according to a memo.

''It got to the point where the CR's played it like a war and Republican leaders rolled their eyes," Kaufman said. ''You couldn't trust them not to get in trouble."


Bond, now a former RNC official, characterized Abramoff's assertion that he had gained access to the RNC contributor list as ''outside the realm of reality. That list is like the Holy Grail . . . You can see his early prevarication."


Champing at the RNC bit

Like other RNC affiliates -- groups that represent GOP women, African-Americans, and the like -- the College Republicans were allocated an annual budget. Abramoff's defenders say he was trying to build a far more potent political force than other affiliates, with a national program to train conservative activists.

''We fought, begged, and pleaded" for more funding, recalled Erickson. ''We were sick to death of being on the RNC leash."

The precise amount of the debt was unclear from memos, as well as the memories of RNC officials. But, Bond said, ''speculative direct mail" by the College Republicans was ''completely unauthorized."

So were loans to the College Republicans, but a July 1982 memo from Abramoff to his father, Frank, shows that he borrowed $5,000 for the group. ''If I had known the CRs were out getting loans from people that they potentially couldn't pay back, I would have stopped them dead in their tracks," said Bond.

Determined to find financial footing independent of the RNC, Abramoff proposed setting up a separate group, the College Republican National Fund, whose income would be tax-exempt. But in a March 1982 memo, Braden, the RNC counsel, told Abramoff such a group would skirt tax laws.

'Such organizations may not engage directly or indirectly in political activities," Braden wrote. ''I received last week a print order for stationery for the College Republican National Fund. This activity cannot be funded through College Republicans, nor will the RNC permit the use of its facilities for these purposes."

Memos show that Abramoff set up the fund anyway.
As one solicitation suggests, the fund had clear political intent.


The College Republican tactics and unpaid bills led the RNC to demand that Abramoff leave the building and move the group elsewhere, former RNC officials said.

''Jack was a difficult person to work with from a lawyer's point of view," Braden said. Disturbed by the College Republican operation, ''we threw him out. I don't remember what precipitated it, but I remember [the incident]. It was painful. He was a very difficult personality. There were all types of management problems and a lack of trust between us and them."

Bond and Kaufman also recalled asking Abramoff to move out.


Dissent within the ranks
Questions about Abramoff's financial management prompted rumors to circulate within the organization. One competitor in Abramoff's 1983 race for reelection accused Abramoff not only of generating a debt but of embezzling money that he had deposited into a Swiss bank account.

Nothing came of the claims, but they prompted one Abramoff supporter to issue a letter to College Republican convention delegates rebutting these ''personal attacks and character smears."

A short time after leaving the RNC building, Abramoff set up another nonprofit, the USA Foundation, soliciting money from such New Right donors as the Olin Foundation. Although he organized it as a nonpartisan, tax-exempt group, Abramoff served as chairman of both the foundation and the College Republicans.

In 1984, the foundation helped organize ''Student Liberation Day" in support of Reagan's invasion of Grenada. On College Republican stationery, Abramoff wrote: ''While the Student Liberation Day Coalition is nonpartisan and intended only for educational purposes, I don't need to tell you how important this project is to our efforts as CRs. I am confident that an impartial study of the contrasts between the Carter/Mondale failure in Iran and the Reagan victory in Grenada will be most enlightening to voters 12 days before the general election."

By then, the College Republicans had been banished not only from the RNC premises but also from the Reagan White House. At the close of the Student Liberation Day celebration, Abramoff, Erickson, and others traveled to the White House to attend a reception for the American medical students who had been rescued in the invasion. They were blocked.

''Deaver had crossed us off the list," Erickson recalled in a reference to the Reagan adviser, Michael Deaver.

A year later, Abramoff left the College Republicans to pursue other ventures. By then, his four-year tenure had made him a divisive figure.

Erickson defended Abramoff, saying he was promoting the cause of Reagan conservatism, not getting rich. ''Jack governed by sheer force of will," Erickson said. ''Things happened because Jack willed them to happen."

His detractors at the RNC took a different view. Greener said: ''I have found in life that individuals who believe what they are doing is so right and so good and so important are also the individuals that have a high-frequency level of rationalizing away unacceptable behavior."

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