An ongoing RAW STORY investigation has uncovered further evidence which suggests collusion between fallen conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a conservative Washington nonprofit where he served as a director.
On Wednesday, this site reported that National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) president Amy Ridenour went to bat for the Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands, a small U.S. territory in the Pacific, in a series of editorials between 1999 and 2001. Abramoff earned millions representing the Marianas government while concurrently serving on NCPPR’s board of directors. This site also reported that Ridenour wrote an editorial attacking the political opponent of another Abramoff client, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad.
But in addition to editorials favoring the Marianas and the Malaysian prime minister, RAW STORY has uncovered four other Abramoff clients that the conservative thinktank supported in articles and newsletters: Magazine Publishers of America, Channel One, Pitney Bowes and Stoli Vodka.
The obscure nature of the clients and the unlikelihood that Ridenour would write editorials supporting six of Abramoff’s clients while claiming to know nothing of the nature of his lobbying work raises questions of how much Ridenour actually knew and whether the group received donations in exchange for supporting Abramoff.
Abramoff pled guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in January. Ridenour has asserted she knew nothing of Abramoff’s nefarious lobbying activity. Abramoff funneled $2.5 million through the group to support his own projects and underwrite trips for overseas former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX); Ridenour told a Congressional Committee she was used and betrayed.
Magazine Publishers of America
In May 2000, Amy Ridenour published a National Policy Analysis entitled “Proposed 15% postal rate increase would hurt everyone.” The article decried the effect such a “draconian” increase would have on the magazine publishing industry. According to Ridenour’s footnotes, some of the information she used was gathered from an interview with the Magazine Publishers of America.
The Magazine Publishers of America was a client of Abramoff’s. The association paid Abramoff’s firm, Preston Gates, $240,000 in 2000. Abramoff was also a member of NCPPR’s board of directors at the time.
“Magazine publishing is a notoriously difficult industry,” Ridenour wrote. “A price increase of this magnitude will cut down on magazine options for consumers, and put some Americans in the publishing industry out of work.”
Ridenour argued that anything more than a “single-digit rate increase” could result in a “widespread long term death spiral that eventually envelops the Postal Service itself.” In January of 2001, the Postal Service increased the rate by 9.9%.
In June 2000, NCPPR published another article that referred to the rate increase, this time written by David Ridenour, Amy’s husband and vice president of the thinktank. David Ridenour’s article didn’t mention the Magazine Publishers Association specifically, but was entitled “Split up the Postal Service, not Microsoft.” (Abramoff also lobbied for Microsoft; William H. Gates of Preston Gates is the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.)
In his plea agreement, Abramoff admitted that he and “others” provided “things of value” to Tony Rudy, then-Deputy Chief of staff to Rep. Tom DeLay. Abramoff said that gifts to Rudy were made with the intention of “stopping legislation regarding gambling and opposing postal rate increases.”
The “things of value” included the disbursement of “ten equal monthly payments totaling $50,000 through a non-profit entity” to Tony’s wife, Lisa Rudy. In January, the Washington Post reported that half of the intended bribe was paid for by the Magazine Publishers of America, who had hired Abramoff’s firm in 2000 for a “$20 million campaign against the postal rate increase.”
Rudy’s role in the Abramoff scandal has not been widely reported, and much of the money he received has not been traced. While no formal evidence has tied the National Center to Rudy, some of the money could have been donated to NCPPR. By law, nonprofits are not required to disclose donations.
Amy Ridenour did not return calls and email messages seeking comment. Nor did her lawyer, Noland MacKenzie Canter III, who served RAW STORY with a cease and desist order after an article revealing that Ridenour had helped Abramoff’s Malaysian client.
The Magazine Publishers of America wasn’t the only group to benefit from Ridenour’s pen.
In December 1998, Abramoff’s lobbying team signed Channel One, a for-profit entity which delivers educational programming to schoolchildren alongside commercials. Channel One paid Preston Gates over a million dollars for their efforts.
The following May, Ridenour defended Channel One’s use of commercials after Ralph Nader’s Commercial Alert urged Congress to investigate the practice. Ridenour said Nader’s charge was spurious.
“Commercial Alert turns benefits of Channel One on its head,” she wrote in an editorial. “Instead of seeing the free 10-minute current events program and 250 hours of educational programming and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and servicing as a benefit received by the schools in exchange for one to two minutes of commercials, Commercial Alert sees the schools as exploited and those who benefit from Channel One's services as 'forced' to watch ads.”
“The schools are voluntary participants in the arrangement, and they can cancel the service at any time,” she added.
SPI Spirits Ltd.
Perhaps the most glaring of Ridenour’s efforts to aid Abramoff’s clients was her crusade for Stoli Spirits Limited, the makers of Stoli vodka. In 2002, SPI Spirits paid $200,000 to Abramoff’s second firm, Greenberg Traurig, to lobby Congress on “trade with Russia and intellectual property rights.”
In May 2002, Ridenour admonished Russian bureaucrats who “have demonstrated a troubling tendency to use Soviet-style tactics when dealing with private companies,” including against SPI Spirits.
“Vodka production is Russia's second biggest industry,” Ridenour wrote. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1991 the government sold the assets of the Russian vodka industry to private industry. SPI International, now based in the Netherlands, bought the rights to Stoli Vodka and has run the company successfully for over a decade. Over one and a half million cases of Stoli Vodka are imported into the U.S. each year.”
“But last October, the Russian state trademark industry turned SPI's vodka trademarks over to the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, which subsequently declared the trademarks void,” Ridenour continued. “A Russian court intervened on behalf of SPI but, to the chagrin of independent observers, the Russian government is ignoring the court's findings and orders. In fact, the government seized the company's assets and trademarks for its own purposes.”
Abramoff’s client apparently appreciated Ridenour’s article, since a copy of it is published in the ‘Press Center’ at the Stoli Website.
Ridenour’s article also bears a strong resemblance to language used by Greenberg Traurig’s Richard A. Edlin during his testimony before the Subcommittee on Trade of the House Committee on Ways and Means in April 2002. Edlin was also U.S. Counsel for SPI Spirits.
“Vodka is the second largest industry in Russia,” Edlin told congressmembers. “Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, trademarks to Russian vodka products were state-owned. Beginning in 1991 or thereabouts, many Russian industries, including the Vodka industry, were privatized.”
Ridenour also lobbied for Pitney Bowes, another Abramoff client. From 1998 to 2000, Pitney Bowes paid Abramoff and his associates over a million dollars to lobby Congress.
“Technology is changing how we communicate, and forever changing the U.S. Postal Service,” Amy Ridenour wrote in December 1998.
“For instance,” she continued, “Pitney-Bowes, the Stamford, Connecticut-based manufacturer of postage meters and other office equipment, has received post office approval to beta test "Click Stamp" - new technology that lets the 16% of letters that are generated by personal computer have the postage affixed through the PC itself, literally as the envelope is bring printed.”
In February 2000, Ridenour even went so far as to publicly attack Pitney Bowes’ competitors. She complained that “government intervention causes harm to consumers” and that “suspicions have arisen that the government is playing favorites among the companies vying to bring this technology to the market.”
In her article, she fulminated against Stamps.com, noting that the former U.S. postmaster was a board member at the group. Pitney Bowes and Stamps.com have long been at each other’s throats; each has accused the other of patent infringement.
Ridenour also wrote about Pitney Bowes in March 1999, when she heralded the company for its contributions to African-Americans in a Black History Month retrospective.
“Pitney Bowes has a 38% minority workforce, placed its headquarters in an area where minorities need jobs and has received many awards for being one of the best companies in America for African-Americans to work for,” Ridenour remarked. “They don't see Black History Month as an exception - they live it 12 months a year.”
Raw Story researcher Muriel Kane contributed to this report.